Tales of the Shire is more than Lord of the Rings-branded Stardew Valley, and it fixes one of the genre's biggest problems

Tales of the Shire
(Image credit: Private Division)

The most shocking thing about Tales of the Shire is that it somehow never existed before. The aesthetics of life in JRR Tolkein's Shire are a perfect match for the vibes of cozy gaming – you know, up until the point where The Lord of the Rings actually happens. After a short hands-on spin with Tales of the Shire during Summer Game Fest, I came away pleasantly surprised. This isn't just a Stardew Valley reskin with a licensed gimmick, it's a game that smartly builds on both the cozy genre and the Middle-earth setting to create something uniquely compelling.

It's got everything you could want from a cozy game, from planting and watering a garden to befriending local townsfolk. There's a fishing minigame, and cooking, and options to decorate your home. There's a colorful patch of countryside to explore with plants to forage and a town full of shops and people to meet. It absolutely ticks the genre boxes.


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A cozy hole in the ground

Tales of the Shire

(Image credit: Private Division)

But it's immediately apparent that Tales of the Shire has learned the right lessons from the cozy games that have come before. You can open a menu to track villager locations, and a trail of helpful blue birds will lead you directly to whatever person you're trying to find. As somebody who always romances Leah in Stardew Valley but can never actually find her when I wanna drop off a gift, this feature sounds like a godsend.

The big central gameplay feature here seems to be the cooking system. Each recipe requires certain ingredients, and while some of those will be preset requirements – a certain soup might require a tomato base, for example – others will let you choose anything that fits a category like 'fish' or 'heart vegetable.' Individual ingredients have attributes like salty or sweet, influencing the overall flavor of the dish.

Tales of the Shire

(Image credit: Private Division)

On top of that, you get access to cooking stations that let you influence the texture of the meal. So if an ingredient needs to be prepared at the chopping board, how long you spend there moves determines how chunky or smooth its contribution to the overall dish is. Actions like this determine where the meal lands on a sort of texture graph in the corner of the screen, and landing right in a predetermined sweet spot will make the dish a special one with a higher star rating.

In true Hobbit fashion, you primarily win friends by feeding them, so getting to know everyone's flavor preferences and cooking accordingly is the fastest way to their hearts. The devs tell me you don't have to fully engage with the depths of the cooking system if you just want to progress through the game, but those intricacies are there if you want them.

I spent most of my 30 minutes with Tales of the Shire cooking, and I could've spent a lot more doing just that. I barely touched the fishing, the trading, and I didn't even think to take a look at the hands-on decorating system that looks so impressive in the gameplay footage I've seen. But that brief time with the game was enough to convince me that this could be something special, smartly blending familiar cozy game mechanics, smart upgrades of those systems, and a delightful delve into a beloved setting.

If you're looking for more games like Stardew Valley, you know where to click.

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.