Available now on PC, The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is also coming to PS5. As a survival sandbox title set in Middle-earth, it offers a mix of crafting, building and combat as players control Dwarves venturing through the vast regions of Moria. Here’s what you should know before picking it up when it launches on December 5th.
Set During the Fourth Age
It’s tough to talk about The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria without acknowledging its background. Set during the Fourth Age, it sees Lord Gimli Lockbearer (yes, the same Gimli from the Fellowship of the Ring) who calls upon his fellow Dwarves to reclaim Moria. The plan needs some work, to say the least, as the main entrance is blocked by some mysterious means. After players end up trapped inside, it becomes a journey to reunite with the other Dwarves and learn more about the shadow curse afflicting the region.
Unfortunately, you won’t be playing as Gimli, creating a custom Dwarf instead. The range of options is decent, from beard color and styles to various faces, hairstyles, eye color, tattoos, scars and much more. You can also choose a personality, from Grim to Happy Go Lucky, with a matching voice and suitable origin, whether it’s a Dwarf from The Glittering Caves or The Lonely Mountain (which determines your starting outfit).
Procedurally Generated Caverns
Return to Moria features procedurally generated caverns. Like Terraria or Valheim, you generate a world and make your way through it. Some locations, like the Elven Quarter and the Lower Depths, are preset and don’t change, but the halls and corridors you traverse are all random in their layout, placement of resources and more.
If you’ve played any of the previously mentioned sandbox titles, you’ll have some idea of how Return to Moria’s gameplay works. Explore, mine resources, craft better armor and weapons, expand your base with different structures, explore some more, and repeat. You’ll fight enemies and hostile creatures while environmental hazards like the mysterious shadow curse and corrosive geysers get in the way. The overall pace of the campaign is quite linear – you have to visit specific landmarks in a predetermined order with no opportunity for sequence breaking.
Of course, there’s also darkness. At nighttime, your Dwarf will tire and their maximum stamina reduces, so resting becomes important. However, the darkness is ever-prevalent and causes your morale to drop. Placing torches as you venture the caverns of Moria is key, especially since they keep you warm, but you can also light various braziers with whatever fuel is on hand.
Carrying a torch in your offhand as you explore Moria is important, though switching from it is necessary when wielding a bow or two-handed weapons. It also doesn’t warm you up, so you’ll need to rely on external torches and other sources of light when necessary.
It wouldn’t be a survival sandbox without enemies to fight, and it certainly wouldn’t be a Lord of the Rings title without the forces of evil – or their remnants. Orcs, Goblins and other threats await, including wild creatures like wolves and bats. As you venture through Moria, various bosses – like The Watcher in the Water – may emerge to impede your progress. Upgrading and improving your gear is necessary to progress forward in these cases.
Perhaps one of the weakest aspects of the game is its combat. You can use regular and charged attacks – with different weapons like axes having spinning attacks – and block attacks with the shield or shield bash enemies to knock them down. The bow and arrow allow for long-range attacks, though there’s no drawing of the bowstring for stronger hits. Based on the PC version, combat feels clunky and repetitive, especially when surrounded, not to mention tedious as you run around, picking off scores of enemies.
On the other hand, the crafting isn’t too shabby. As you forge different hammers, you can repair statues throughout Moria to unlock blueprints for new armor and weapons. Discovering new materials affords opportunities for new structures, whether it’s Piers for traversing the water or Rope Ladders to climb higher. Armor and weapons must be repaired regularly, so a Repair Station at your base becomes necessary.
Before you can get into crafting, you’ll need a Hearth. There are some specific locations throughout Moria with existing structures to repair, but any place can become a temporary refuge with a Campfire Hearth. Invest in a Stonefire Hearth to extend the buildable area, creating a Forge and Smithing Table, Map Stone for teleportation, an Oven for consumables on the go, chests to store materials and much more. You can reinforce these locations with walls, banisters, stairs and more.
Mining and Refining
The mining in Return to Moria is a little…odd. You can break down wooden boxes and rocks, pick up Metal Bits and Cloth, and discover patches of materials in the walls like Coal, Iron, Tin, Silver and so on. Stronger pickaxes are required to mine higher tiers of materials, but you can’t just mine anywhere. Several walls are unbreakable, thus restricting your path, and will only yield one stone when mining. Once you get enough materials, refine them into Ingots for crafting various structures, armor and weapons.
Once you’ve discovered some gems and constructed a Rune Table, you can augment your weapons with Runes. These provide several unique enchantments to weapons, from increased damage to Orcs and Trolls to increased attack speed and setting enemies on fire. Different gems are required for each Rune, so you’ll need to manage Sapphires, Topaz and more on top of all the other materials.
Venturing through Moria, you’ll happen upon Great Forges, which provide access to stronger weapons. There is some light puzzle solving, as you locate different components to repair them, like Cranks, Gears and Pipes, but they’re essential to progress. On the bright side, these components can be crafted if you can’t find them. However, ensure your Forge is near, or prepare for a long slow trek when carrying them.
One of the few redeeming factors for the game on PC is playing with up to eight players. What feels lonely and desolate suddenly becomes more lively, even if there have been performance complaints. Unfortunately, on PS5, co-op only supports up to four players. Director Jon-Paul Dumont told WCCF Tech that it’s working on expanding the number in the future, but there’s currently no ETA.
Return to Moria supports DualSense on the PS5, though Free Range and North Beach Games haven’t gone into much detail beyond utilizing vibration and the Adaptive Triggers. Perhaps some weapons feel different when charging up their attacks, and materials emit unique feedback when struck. Either way, we’ll need to wait for more details.
Based on PC reviews, you would think that the game would be abandoned soon after launch, but thankfully, that’s not the case. Dumont confirmed a year of post-launch support, from cross-platform play and shared world saves to new adventures that will advance the story. Further details are still pending, but there should be enough reason to revisit it later.