Great character customization
Engaging voice acting
Lovely Dwarven singing
NPCs glitching into walls
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Platform reviewed: PC
Available: PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC
Release date: October 24, 2023
The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria has the potential to be something much greater than what it is. The premise of fighting and regaining power over the grand halls of Moria is enough to spark excitement in any fan. Unfortunately, the stumbles over this great potential and the result is very disappointing.
In multiplayer crafting survival game The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria, you can venture forth by yourself or in a group of up to eight players to conquer the orc-infested mines of Moria. Instead of speaking friend and entering the Western Gate, you break through the side of the mountain to find another entrance into the depths. Once inside, you slowly make your way through the abandoned halls, fixing up old buildings and discovering new pathways, reclaiming the Dwarven home as you go.
While there may be a lot to see here, there is almost nothing to do. Crawling around the mines becomes monotonous as everything looks the same, with only a few pieces of scrap metal, ore deposits, and barrels to distinguish different hallways.
Return to Moria starts strong with a customization menu that’s surprisingly detailed and fun to use. This menu lets you choose from numerous hair and beard options as well as voice, origin, and other features that help create a Dwarf that’s unique to you.
I’ve always loved the Dwarves for their unique style, which has never shied away from non-binary features. Anyone can have a beard or facial hair, while body shape and clothing tend to be indistinguishable between the sexes. Luckily, Return to Moria managed to stay true to this essence with its customization options. I spent almost 20 minutes cycling through all the options available, rejoicing at all the face shapes that had no focus on sex or gender. I chose to have a regal face, broad shoulders, red hair, and an outfit from the Misty Mountains.
Unfortunately, this was the first and the last time I was pleasantly surprised. While there were brief moments in which you could relish your choice of voice actor while singing mining songs as you broke down a coal-riddled wall, most of the time my Dwarf felt lifeless and generic.
One is the loneliest number
After you set up your first base by the entrance to Moria, you can finally adventure ahead and discover what else lies in wait for you. At first, I was expecting to find some grand mines full of gigantic forges or maybe fiery braziers that lit the path through the mountain. Unfortunately, what I was greeted with was much less impressive.
Finding an elven grove inside the mines of Moria was beautiful and reminded me of how spectacular The Lord of the Rings is. Thanks to this poignant moment, I’ll start rereading the books.
Most of the spaces look remarkably similar. So much so that it’s very easy to get lost in the endless halls. Many of them are littered with buckets and broken wooden chairs, with rats, badgers, and wolves loitering around, but apart from these wild animals, there isn’t much else to see. While the rubbish left lying around can be helpful if you’re gathering crafting materials, they mostly just get in the way and, after a while, blend into the background.
I wanted to reclaim Moria for its rightful owners, the Dwaves, so badly. I set out with grand expectations of building magnificent dining halls and creating vast mining networks. Unfortunately, I ended up spending more time than I’d care to admit cleaning away broken buckets and making small forges and fires in derelict houses. No matter how hard I tried to breathe life back into the cold, dark halls, I just couldn’t create anything worthwhile or characterful. The crafting options were limited to basic forging tools, walls, and ceilings. It was even impossible to use warm decorations such as carpets or curtains to create unique spaces.
There are more than just aggressive badgers and wolves in the mines, though. Every now and then, you’re greeted by raiding orc parties, who have traveled from the depths of Moria simply to break down one of the walls you just finished building.
These green menaces arrive in groups of three or five, armed with swords and axes. You’re alerted to each raid by the sounding of a horn that’s followed by rapid footsteps that close in on your location. They tend to attack the closest hearth or base, so if you aren’t home, you usually return to see orcs destroying your dwelling like some underwhelming house party gone wrong. However, if you are close by, then you’re high on their hit list. If you have an iron sword on your hip, then these attacks are more frustrating than fearsome. One at a time, you can take out an entire party in less than a minute.
It’s unfortunate that these hunting parties are so underwhelming. The orcs found in these mines simply aren’t as terrifying as my younger self remembered. It’s also annoying how, no matter where you are, these raiders always find you. There’s no way to prevent incoming attacks or disengage from fights without dying. I’m just trying to sweep up the market; I don’t want to engage in some bar-side brawls.
Many of these evil-doers also end up embedded in my walls, forcing me to either destroy the entire structure or be forced to take a hit every time I go to collect stone from storage. They aren’t the only ones to get stuck in precarious locations, either. On my travels through the mines, I often encountered badgers who were wedged into the walls. I also found it difficult to consistently place items intentionally as they would rapidly glitch around when I tried to put anything in a tight space.
So, unfortunately, it’s another sad day for Lord of the Rings fans. This year has been unkind to the fantasy universe, with the Lord of the Rings: Gollum also releasing in a state that left many players and fans utterly dismayed and disappointed. Return to Moria follows this pattern as the title was unable to capture the incredible scope, adventure, and fantastical setting that this series is loved and known for.
I’d love nothing more than to play as Dwarves retaking their homeland alongside friends, but sadly, this is not the game to do that in. Besides the setting, there’s not much else to celebrate in Return to Moria.
For the time being, it seems like the only thing Lord of the Rings fans can do to maintain their immersion in Tolkien’s world is to rely on the books and movies, and, if you’re desperate to create your own Dwavern city, try to do so in Vanilla Minecraft - you’ll likely have far more success than if you try to do the same in Return to Moria.
There's not much in the way of accessibility settings in Return to Moria. Apart from basic subtitle settings enabling you to change the size and background, there isn’t much else in the way of customizing your in-game experience. However, you can change the volume levels for voice and UI effects if you want a quieter playthrough.
How we reviewed
I played Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria for around 10 hours on PC. I encountered multiple glitches that impacted my experience in the game, from orcs and badgers being trapped in walls to storage pallets shifting all over the place if I set them down in a tight spot.
While I tried to explore all the mines had to offer, I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to get too far by myself, so I spent a lot of time fixing up and clearing the chambers I did have access to while slowly trying to weed out all the orcs which were found in the elven sector.
Elie is a Features Writer for TechRadar Gaming, here to write about anything new or slightly weird. Before writing for TRG, Elie studied for a Masters at Cardiff University JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs or editing the gaming section for their student publications.
Elie’s first step into gaming was through Pokémon but they've taken the natural next step in the horror genre. Any and every game that would keep you up at night is on their list to play - despite the fact that one of Elie’s biggest fears is being chased.