The 10 best Tolkien games, with one winner to rule them all

One does not simply become one of the most popular fantasy worlds of all time without inspiring a video game or two. Middle-earth plays host to a multitude of games, from humble text adventures to sprawling MMOs, with the latest Tolkien adventure, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, out next week. Who would've thought a fantastical world full of powerful wizards, sentient trees, and immortal elves would make for good video games, eh? Oh... right.

In any case, hold on to your elven cloaks and prepare to gaze into the Mirror of Galadriel, as we prepare to run the 10 most precious Tolkien games of all time. 

10. Lord of the Rings: War of the Ring (2003)

Although it released after the Peter Jackson trilogy, War of the Ring decided to focus on - you guessed it - the wars fought over the one ring of power, as told in the novel. It's interesting to see a game that focuses on events that were skimmed over in the movies and, even better, developer Liquid Entertainment lets you discover your dark side by commanding Sauron's armies, from the lowly Orc to the mighty Nazgul. 

In terms of gameplay, its a nice gentle introduction to strategy, which is maybe a kind way of saying it's quite basic. Nevertheless, there's something undeniably exciting about having control of a whole battlefield rather than a single, individual Orc.

Play it on PC

9. Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (2004)

Turn-based battles might not seem like an obvious fit for the all action seen in the Lord of the Rings movies, but imagine playing something akin to a LOTR / Final Fantasy crossover, and it starts to make sense. Inspired by classic moments from Tolkien's epic, The Third Age lets you relive them through a combat system refined by stealing ideas from a bazillion JRPGs.

Granted, this doesn't boast quite the complexities of Final Fantasy, but that's not really the point. Instead of deep, challenging gameplay, The Third Age provides a heavily streamlined romp through Middle-earth, and that's hardly a bad thing.

Play it on PS2, Xbox, and GameCube

8. The Lord of the Rings: War in the North (2011)

After the stories explored in the LOTR books had been retold by both films and video games alike, it was time to see things from a different angle. War in the North follows three original characters as they aim to help turn the tide on Sauron in ways that the books never explored. In essence, it's a spin-off, but don't hold that against it. 

The main draw of War in the North is its 18+ rating, which basically comes down to being able to chop orcs up more gruesomely than ever before. Although the Jackson trilogy took the bloodless approach, this more than makes up for it, with bucket-loads of the stuff spewing from every enemy you encounter. Lovely.

Play it on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360

7. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2002)

Despite releasing around the same time as The Two Towers, this quiet classic from WXP Games is completely separate from Peter Jackson's trilogy, and instead emulates its own interpretation of Tolkien's source material. You'll spend your first hours enjoying the quaint serenity of The Shire as Frodo, before eventually heading out into the great unknown in your quest to destroy the titular ring of power. You know how the story goes...

Fellowship of the Ring has a real, humble charm that you rarely see in games these days, so I implore you to seek it out and give it a whirl if you can. Now that we're so used to Jackson's version of Lord of the Rings, for better and for worse, it's a genuine treat to experience an interpretation that has nothing to do with what we've previously seen on the big screen. 

Play it on PC, PS2, and Xbox

6. Lego The Lord of the Rings (2012)

From guts and gore, to bricks galore, Lego's adaptation of Lord of the Rings results in a fine, fine game indeed. You can free-roam almost all of Middle-earth, with cute details everywhere you turn. Sure, it's a little less slapstick than its predecessors, but it's still funny. If you don't crack a smile at the sight of Gandalf drinking hot cocoa instead of smoking his usual pipe, then you need to have your humour glands examined.

For anyone who's ever played a Lego game, there's not many surprises here, but it's daft fun nonetheless, and with the audio taken straight from the movies, it surprisingly feels more authentic than many of the other games in this list.

Play it on PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, PS Vita, and Nintendo 3DS

5. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Hear that? Its the sound of the Oh-God-Its-A-Movie-Tie-In klaxon going off in your head. But hold your horses, because this one is actually decent. For a start, it's got Sir Ian Gandalf McKellen on narrating duties. 'Nuff said there. But on top of that, you've got a seriously cinematic adventure that lets you clobber various evil sorts in a variety of locations from the films.

Okay, its perhaps a little button-mashey, but the combos make you feel ridiculously heroic, whether you're cutting through your first orc or your 500th. And besides, if you've ever dreamed of starring in the LOTR movies (and who hasn't?) then this is probably as close as you can get. The Two Towers game is also worth a look, though its not quite as refined as its sequel.

Play it on PC, PS2, Xbox, and GameCube

4. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)

After all the scepticism and misplaced comparisons to Assassin's Creed, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor came out in 2014 to blow everyone away with its rich visuals and next-gen mechanics. In fact, it went on to win several Game of the Year awards, and rightly so.

The Nemesis system, which imbued many of the game's enemies with distinct personalities that could organically evolve over time, was one of the first genuinely game-changing ideas that the medium had seen in quite some time, and the fact that it actually worked was a miracle in itself. A veritable playground of unique stories and player-driven interactions, Shadow of Mordor is a must-play for the Middle-earth fanatic, or anyone else for that matter. 

Play it on PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360

3. Lord of the Rings Online (2007)

It was only a matter of time really, wasn't it? Expansive lands, memorable locations, and an array of different species... it's literally the perfect recipe for an MMO. An accurate portrayal of Middle-earth is always impressive, but to build an engrossing, cinematic and addictive game in that world is downright astounding, which left developer Turbine with a lot on its hands in 2007. 

Yet Lord of the Rings Online manages to achieve both of those things and more, as proven by the fact that it's still alive and well as an MMO today, despite releasing over ten years ago. If you're invested in the idea of a Lord of the Rings MMORPG, then you'll find a lot to love here, and even those who aren't so sure might just find themselves converted to the idea after a few hours spent wandering its quietly enchanting landscapes.

Play it on PC

2. Middle-earth: Shadow of War (2017)

As an unexpected hit of 2014, Shadow of Mordor had the power of surprise at its side. Now, in 2017, its sequel, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, had the new challenge of launching to great anticipation from an army of fans. Luckily, I can confirm that, with the exception of a few flaws, Monolith's follow-up is a rip-roaring success.

The Nemesis system from the first game returns in full force here, allowing Talion not just to manipulate the army of the enemy, but intricately build and lead his own militia of brainwashed Orcs. The main story itself is a bit of a damp squib, but it doesn't matter, as the stories you discover as Talion, via your interplay with a host of randomly generated Orc captains, is where Shadow of War comes to life. It cares little for Tolkien lore (Shelob as a seductress? No thanks) but, forgive its shortcomings, and Shadow of War is a suitably epic adventure worthy of its Middle-earth branding. 

Play it on PC, PS4, and Xbox One

1. Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth 2 (2006)

The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth 2 (or 'lotr:bfme2', as it's known more fondly) takes the Command and Conquer engine and delicately blends it with Tolkien's source material to create a delicious real time strategy cocktail. In fact, by comparison, it makes War of the Ring - an earlier attempt at a LOTR RTS - look like a lukewarm mocktail.

Anyway, weird analogies aside, The Battle for Middle-earth 2, as well as being a cracking game that even strategic dunces like myself can get into, represents the best slice of interactive LOTR fan service seen in games to date. That interactive Middle-earth map alone is properly breathtaking stuff, and a testament to the game's sublime efforts to wrap you up in the atmosphere of its sweeping battles.

Play it on PC and Xbox 360