For me, survival games typically fall into a few categories in what defines them at their core. There are intense ones, where at any moment you feel like your life could be snuffed out, where guns rule and lead to power. A prime example is DayZ. Your life feels fragile and in an instant, you can be back on the shores of Chernarus with nothing but the clothes on your back.
Then you have the creative games, Minecraft being the main one that allows for massive amounts of creativity when sculpting the land, and building huge bases with all the freedom you could want.
Finally, you have games that thrive in exploration. Around every corner a new discovery. Each new biome offers new riches to harness. Valheim always springs to mind when I think about exploring interesting lands.
That’s not to say that each of these games doesn’t share these traits, because they do. All survival games share most of these traits in some way or another. It’s just that one feels more prevalent than the others.
Return to Moria
The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria feels like it revels in the exploration and I’m really enjoying it.
The first few hours has you delving back into the mines to reclaim them, to rebuild them to their former glories. As soon as you enter you can see the remains of civilisations that have crumbled. The remains of structures, camps, cold hearths, and huge forges sit idly waiting for you to repair them and fire them up once more. Grand halls adorned with statues and brilliant architecture show a kingdom that has fallen to Orcs and Goblins.
Rebuilding will take grit and determination as you fight back against the new inhabitants. Crude structures have been erected around the once wonderful Mines and it’s up to you and your band of Dwarves to take it back.
To help you fight back you will need to mine resources around you to craft weapons and other items. With Axes, swords, bows, shields, and more you will quickly be fighting back against the Orcs.
Most of your traditional survival mechanics seem to be here. Building bases is handled with the same sort of grid-based system most others use. There is a hunger meter to keep an eye on. You gather resources and turn them into other resources to build better things that then allow you to gather better things and turn those things into even better things. It’s not doing anything wildly new in this area. But it does a solid job. Those familiar with survival games will immediately know what to do. Additionally, the combat is simple yet pretty well done. You have light and heavy attacks, a dodge mechanic, and can block and perform counter attacks. It’s pretty straightforward to get the hang of.
Dig deep and you shall reap the rewards
After a couple of hours exploring, fighting, and building I can safely say that Return to Moria is off to a good start. The exploration is probably the most enjoyable part. As you progress deeper into the mines there are moments filled with a sense of awe as you break through the rubble to a new section. Intricate structures tower over you. Massive spaces are filled with new possibilities. It reminded me of part of Deep Rock Galactic where you would be digging through tightly packed spaces for it to suddenly open up into vast caverns where the darkness hides the sheer size of the space you’ve found.
Whilst it has only been a few hours I’ve enjoyed it all. The matchmaking was a little wonky and only seemed to work one way i.e. me joining someone as they couldn’t join me. There was also another section where a quest progress seemed to break and we couldn’t progress. That being said, a quick relog sorted it and those were the only issues we found.
I particularly enjoyed a moment when we found a massive old forge and had to repair it. Finding the missing parts scattered around we slotted them in. The forge roared to life which then brought a massive wave of enemies to fight off. It was exciting, and fun, and had us running around like mad dwarves trying to survive.
I know there is still loads to discover. I just hope there is a lot more cool stuff like this buried deeper within that has the same sense of wonder I got from the first few hours.
The question for me is how well it gets supported. Embracer Group who own the rights to Lord of the Rings doesn’t exactly have a great reputation at the moment. They’ve been criticised for closing down several studios and projects. Furthermore, the launch of Return to Moria has been met with mixed reviews. Hopefully, that doesn’t affect the future of the game too much. I think it’s got a solid game to build upon and make something really fun for fans of Lord of the Rings. Some patches have been rolling out at a steady rate squashing bugs and tuning systems. For now, there is an optimistic feel about the game and I hope it continues in an upward trend.
Obviously, I have no idea on what kind of involvement Embracer has I just hope developers, Free Range Games get room to make something great. Because we need a good Lord of the Rings game after Gollum slithered out of its cave.