Developed by Beam Software and published by Melbourne House in 1986, The Lord of the Rings is a text adventure game made by essentially the same team who created the classic Spectrum text adventure, The Hobbit.
Was it the first official Lord of the Rings game ever made? Possibly. There were definitely many unofficial Lord of the Rings rip-off games on the market before this, but this is arguably the first properly-licensed Lord of the Rings game for home computers.
Like The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings features a complex engine that allows text input in order to issue commands to an array of characters. The game can even be played from the perspective of Frodo, Sam, Merry or Pippin by using the BECOME command. That said: I don’t want to elevate this game into something that it isn’t – it’s not a masterpiece of programming, or anything – it’s a text adventure, with a parser that you type commands into, and occasionally it will even display colourful illustrated scenes which – like The Hobbit – are generally supplied (very) sparingly.
Something else that is probably worth knowing about this game is that it certainly doesn’t cover the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. This interpretation of Lord of the Rings basically covers The Fellowship of the Ring – up to the point in the story where The Fellowship meet Galadriel and ask for her help. It deviates from the book somewhat, but as the instructions point out: if you couldn’t deviate, or go to places and do things that aren’t in the book, then you may as well just read the book. It does include an interesting game of cat and mouse with The Black Riders, and the encounter with the Balrog in the mines of Moria, which is good.
While The Lord of the Rings is clearly an ambitious and well-designed game that was programmed with care, it does have its downsides. For starters: it causes me pain to hear the Spectrum beep after every single keypress when typing stuff into the parser. There was absolutely no need for that and it makes the experience of playing this game a mixed one. On the one hand I appreciate the complexity of the game, but on the other hand the bloody beeping is a throwback to the bad old days of gaming, when programmers did stupid things without thinking of the consequences on a player’s mental health… The game is also very slow. Typing commands and waiting for your companions to do things takes a lot of time and you cannot enter commands until the game has finished processing and allows you to.
You have to eat food all the time to keep your strength up, which is ridiculous (but in keeping with the book), and many crucial scenes in the book are reduced to their bare minimum, like the Council of Elrond, which is basically reduced to a single paragraph.
The Lord of the Rings wasn’t anywhere near as successful as the The Hobbit text adventure and was criticised for lacking the real-time interactive elements of its predecessor. It was also meant to be the first game in a trilogy of adventures, but that didn’t happen as part one wasn’t a success. Initial pressings of the game actually came with a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring and cost fifteen pounds, which was a lot of money for a game back in 1986. Combine that with the fact that The Lord of the Rings was a slow and turgid experience and it’s no surprise that it flopped.
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan then you might enjoy playing this game, but most other people are going to have zero interest in text adventures about Hobbits. Even if they’re as lovingly crafted as this has been.