Saturday, March 19, 2011

Game 50: War in Middle Earth (1988)

Before describing War in Middle Earth, I should probably justify its inclusion in this blog at all, because some of you have said it's not a CRPG, and indeed I don't think it is. After claiming that I was following a Wikipedia list for over a year, I have finally updated my "rule" to reflect that the CRPG list comes from several sources. I have erred on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion--if someone reasonably authoritative thinks it's a CRPG, it will be on my list.

A couple of times I have arrived at a game, played it for a few minutes, and rejected it as a CRPG immediately. Dracula in London was a recent example. Finally, after thinking it over, I decided to set the following rule: no matter who thinks the game is a CRPG, if it does not have at least two of the following three core elements, I can skip it:

  1. Non-puzzle-based inventories. This means that you have to be able to find and carry things that aren't necessary to solve a puzzle, like swords and potions and such. Adventure games have inventories, but the items are meant to solve puzzles, so they don't count.
  2. Character leveling and development. This refers to the accumulation of experience points, the ability to increase attributes, or other types of character improvement other than better inventories.
  3. Combat based at least partly on attribute-derived statistics. Whether you connect with your opponent, how much damage you do, whether you avoid your opponent's attack, and how much damage you take should be based on numbers attached to your attributes, not simply on your chosen weapon and on how fast you click the mouse.

This rule gives a better framework for deciding whether a site like MobyGames got it right, and it makes my decision to reject a CRPG less arbitrary. Frankly, I just didn't like the look of Dracula in London, but that shouldn't be an excuse to violate my six-hour rule unless I have something else to base it on. Also, from now on I will periodically do a "rejected" posting in which I explain which games I rejected and give you a chance to defend them as CRPGs. I can still break the rules in favor of inclusion (Pirates! had none of these elements) but not in favor of exclusion. Got it?

(Anyone who thinks, "Hey, man, it's just a game. Do you have to have so many rules? Can't you just relax and play what games you want?" needs to spend more time pondering the consequences of giving too much leeway to an addict.)

These rules will mean that a lot of games that are primarily some other category--adventure, simulation, strategy--will appear in this blog if they have sufficient "RPG elements." This is fine with me. I'm not interested in being pedantic about what constitutes an RPG. And I still have my six-hour rule if it turns out I don't like it.

That brings us to War in Middle Earth, which is listed everywhere but the title screen as J.R.R. Tolkien's War in Middle Earth. I already don't like it, but I can't dismiss it out of hand because it has one of my elements (probability-based combat) and may have another (inventories, although just barely). In the game, you control the various "good" characters in The Lord of the Rings, who are collectively attempting to get the ring to Mount Doom while Sauron's forces are trying to seize it and take it to the fortress of Barad-Dur. Secondary objectives revolve around retaining certain key strongholds.

You control the game at three levels. The first is the full map level, where you can see all the forces arrayed throughout Middle Earth. This was actually somewhat interesting to me because I've watched the movies but never read the books (oh, all of you calm down), so I was never very clear how the different kingdoms were arrayed.

Just out of curiosity, why couldn't the Fellowship go around the mountains surrounding Mordor? Judging by the map, it would only add another 30% or so to the journey.

The second level is the campaign level, in which you control armies and give orders. You start with the ability to control the party of hobbits, and later you get several armies of Rohirim, and some armies in Gondor.

The lowest level is the "animation level," where you can control some individual characters, including the ability to talk to NPCs (although it appears that only they can initiate conversations) and pick up and use items.

A healing draught?! I'm glad you told me! I was about to waste my time destroying the ring and saving the world.

Now let me tell you why I don't like this game. First, I tend not to like games based on the plots of movies and books. Either one of two things happens: the game follows the plot too closely, and you just feel like you're riding a track from beginning to end, or the game diverges from the plot, and you experience a kind-of geek dissonance. For instance, War in Middle Earth starts with three pathetically-animated, identical-looking hobbits trudging down the road: Frodo, Sam, and Pippin.

What happened to Merry? Who knows. A better question: if you had to pick one of the two, could you pick the one not prone to starting cooking fires when you're supposed to be hiding, making a lot of noise when you're supposed to be sneaking through a ruin, or screwing around with a palantir after Gandalf explicitly instructs him not to? Merry's addicted to heroin, granted, but at least he can hold a sword.

Similar problems: Isengard already has armies of Uruk-hai as Frodo and his band set out, Frodo can die but another character can become the ring-bearer and solve the quest, you can move armies to places they don't appear in the book, and so on.

Second, there isn't much you can do in the game. Even at the animation level, you basically just watch your characters walk along. You can't direct them individually, or force them to stop and talk to an NPC, or whatever. At the campaign level, you have none of the options of other strategy games, in which the fun is carefully managing your resources, building armies, and so on. You just tell armies where to go and hope they win the battle when they arrive.

Finally, there's an awful lot of just sitting and watching in the game--not a lot of "playing." If you had more forces at your command, it might be more exciting as you tried to juggle all of their movements.

"Four ring-wraiths are behind you. Where the other five clearly shown to me on the campaign map."

The first time I played, I tried following the plot of the film as much as I could. I directed Frodo and his band to Rivendell. They evaded a few Nazgul and fell in with Aragorn at a crossroads. Then they walked and walked for ages, even with the game speed set to "very hasty."

Occasionally, you encounter foes, sometimes random. When that happens, you see your individual characters or armies, and you have four options: charge, engage, withdraw, and retreat. If you win, the only real benefit is that you stay alive, as there are no experience points or levels in the game.

Yep, that sounds like Frodo.

On the way to Rivendell, I was attacked by all nine Nazguls at once and somehow managed to defeat them all. Elrond mysteriously came charging out of Rivendell to assist. Nothing about Arwen and the magic river, but I hear those weren't in the books, either.

At Rivendell, the Council met as in the books and Frodo was appointed the ring-bearer and so on. Gandalf, Boromir, Legolas, and Gimli joined the band. They ran into Bilbo, who tried to give some sort of side quest and then left the mithril shirt just lying in the middle of the road. I'm glad I noticed it.

At this point, I directed the group to the Gap of Rohan. I don't care if "the way south is being watched." It still makes more sense than going under or over a mountain.

There are a couple of combats with wolves, but nothing serious. But then the group encounters a Balrog. Outdoors. In the middle of some trees. The entire party is killed, and I get a message that the third Nazgul (I thought I killed them!) appeared and took the ring.

Then Gandalf is summoned by Galandriel (I thought he was dead!) who tells him something but I can't see it because of emulator problems, I guess. I send Gandalf on the track of the Nazgul, but apparently Gandalf needs to stop and camp now and then while the Nazgul doesn't. After a brief stop for a copy protection question...

...the Nazgul makes it to Bard-Dur and Sauron wins:

 If I play again, maybe I'll try to go after that healing draught first.

Later edit: My second game ended almost immediately, when a Nazgul found the hobbits and killed them:
The thought of Pippin facing a Nazgul alone while Frodo and Sam lie dead at his feet actually gives me a little tingle.
I've decided that the game doesn't meet the criteria I outlined at the beginning of the posting because combat is not based on attributes. The only thing it has going for it is an inventory--you find potions and weapons and such along the route--which isn't enough. I would have moved on as soon as I hit six hours anyway.


  1. Wow. I had read a little bit about this game before, but I had no idea that it was this bad. It is fortunate for Tolkien that he never lived long enough to see it. He had enough problems with the people pitching film adaptations to him that grossly distorted the novels. Peter Jackson grossly distorted them too, but at least his end product was still cool, and was true to the spirit of the books. You really should give them at least a skim sometime.

  2. I like the idea of this game. That you could control the heroes as well as having to direct the wider strategy is quite novel. It's a shame that the game is tied to a story that doesn't fit with the gameplay. And a shame that they seemingly made a poor job of it all.

    The game itself reminds me rather a lot of Spirit of Excalibur, which is based on the Arthurian legend. I recall it being quite good but difficult, but it's so long ago that I played it I couldn't reliably say for sure. Mobygames lists it as an RPG, amongst other things, so perhaps you'll see it in the distance of 1990!

  3. Bard, I HAVE tried to read the books. Four or five times now. The problem is that while I think he could tell a decent story, he was an awful writer. Or perhaps "boring" is the better term. The Cliff's Notes version of The Lord of the Rings is as good as The Lord of the Rings.

    Jackson's films overcome some of the weaknesses, but also have some of their own. In fact...I think a special topics (or "off-topic") posting is coming up.

    Andy, Spirit of Excalibur is on my list. 96 games away.

    1. Thank you for affirming that I'm not the only person with this opinion. I, too, have tried to read the books 3 or 4 times. I even got through the first one once.

      I love the concepts, and love the influence the books had on the industry, but as far as pleasure reading goes, I prefer just about any random genre paperback.

    2. You know how people left when you quit on Faery Tale (which was also a favorite of mine)? This might be my equivalent. I literally don't understand how a person of taste could hold such an opinion. Alas, I guess i just won't think about it.

    3. The books can be rather difficult to read. There are a couple of different audio versions out there with reasonably talented voice-actors which make them much easier to follow.

    4. I rather agree with Skeezix, although I'm not "stop reading the blog" offended. I personally can't imagine people preferring those awful movies. In fact I'm working on a video about why the movies are horrible, of which there's too much to summarize in one post.

      Tolkien's style is not for everyone and even he admits this, but he is by no means *bad* at writing--just has a style that can be a turnoff. If you can acquire a taste for it though, you find stories the wonder of which borders on a religious experience.

    5. My apologies if my previous comment would up being submitted multiple times. I keep forgetting that NoScript doesn't play nicely with Blogger. As for this game, I remember it being all right but not exactly the best. Also instead of going straight for Rivendell you probably should go to Tom Bombadil's house--he's an important subplot that got cut in the movies.

      Still, I'm hoping that Interplay's Lord of the Rings games are more to your liking. I remember those being pretty good.

    6. I thought the fellowship was a particularly good example of turning a fantasy epic into a film. You never go into a film thinking they'll change nothing - and I think the fellowship changed pretty much the optimal amount. I never found that Tom Bombadil added much to the plot so it seemed a sensible excision. Similarly, the scouring of the shire in RotK is anti-climactic. The end already drags. LotR has a lot of good qualities, but it could deal with a greater level of parsimony. I don't think the hobbit is worth reading, except for historical interest; it's emotionally featureless. The movies too are poor cousins of the first trilogy.

    7. That changes were made isn't really the problem, but its the nature of the changes. The problem is that Peter Jackson created a trilogy of movies that were misrepresentative of the books they're based on. Tolkien's works weren't merely about a quest or battles. They were about grace, subtlety and beauty. They showed a stark contrast between the light and the dark and their minglings, they showed a love of nature and history and a mourning acceptance of a world in transition. Do me a favor, if you have a copy of Fellowship of the Ring, open up to the chapter "Lothlorien" and read the last two paragraphs in it. Those sum up what Rings is about in a nutshell to this reader.

      Jackson instead gave us a twelve-hour episode of Xena Warrior Princess that makes the occasional Lord of the Rings reference. It's annoying to watch, it gives the whole thing a cynical tone that doesn't fit with the book, and it introduces plot holes that weren't there. What's worse is due to media colonization, the film is actually replacing the book in the mass consciousness. Soon, people won't be able to create a version of Middle-earth in their heads that isn't somehow influenced by these movies, and that's just sad.

    8. Tristan, Two essays you should look up:

      "Summa Jacksonica" by David Bratman,
      and "Mithril Coats and Tin Ears" by Janet Brennan Croft.

      The former debunks just about every difference ever offered of Jackson's films (including the famous "if you don't like the movies, you can just ignore them"--no, no we can't. This very blog is living proof) while the second points out actual storytelling flaws in the films, while also showing how they could have been better--and ironically most of the improvements Croft suggests would have been more in line with the novel.

      Unfortunately I think both these essays are only in print, but the book which contains them is very easy to get. There might be a PDF somewhere, though I wouldn't know where.

    9. See, when i read LotR, I thought it was just about an adventure in a declining world which the author was a little indulgent in describing.

      While there are aspects of the films that bugged me - a bit too much exposition, a bit too much dwarf tossing and elf posing, and a poorly realised battle of the hornburg - for the most part they captured the grandeur of the books.

    10. The grandeur, yes, I just wish he had captured everything else.

      Just to not drag out this argument further, there's three scenes (all from Fellowship becase its the one I remember most clearly) that sum up the problem with the movies.

      1. The Council of Elrond, and in particular that the movie version has everyone acting like a-holes. It succeeded in making everyone unlikable and making their heroic proclamations come off as phony. What's more is it removed several character motivations, such as Gimli's desire to find out what happened to his cousin Balin. Jackson has a bad habit of not understanding tone--every place feels dangerous, when the book was better about letting the characters (And the reader) rest from the tension before heading into more tension. Lothlorien is a great example--calm and relaxing in the book, ominous and threatening in the film.

      2. The Moria sequence. In the book and the Ralph Bakshi animated version, this is my favorite part of the entire trilogy. Jackson does not do it justice--he takes a journey through a mysterious realm (which kinda evokes Zork to me) and turns it into an over-the-top action sequence. He also has a bad habit of giving away future plot developments--Saruman outright tells the viewer that the Balrog is down there, and the handling of Gollum (again, just telling us its him rather than making it a mystery like the book did) is a travesty. If I ever make those videos I wanted to make, one of them is gonna be dedicated to this whole chapter.

      3. The battle on Weathertop. The ringwraiths, the villains of the movie, are reduced to screaming little girls, easily overpowered by Super-Aragorn. In general the handling of the wraiths was terrible, as they come off as incompetent buffoons rather than terrifying spectral beings. Tolkien's interpretation was more in line with Lovecraft, while Jackson... well, he made horror movies, and they weren't good ones.

      Well, that's that. Incidentally I checked and I DID find a version of the essay "Mithril Coats and Tin Ears" online. It was abridged, but that was fine--the abridged version discusses Moria alone, and she makes a lot of the same arguments I would have.

      If I ever make those videos, I'll link to the first one here.

    11. While the battle on Weathertop was rather lame in the movie, I found the scene in the book pretty bad as well. Five Nazgul, lead by the greatly feared, eons old, night unkillable Witch-King of Angmar, have cornered their prey. Frodo puts on the ring, which, if anything, makes him more vulnerable. The Witch King rushes forward, intangible, almost invisible, murder in his heart. Frodo says a magic word(?!) and stabs him in the foot, and all five Nazgul flee. Pretty weak that so much time was spent building up their fearsome nature only to have them wimp out at the merest resistance when they'd all but succeeded in retrieving the essence of their master.

    12. Ah yes. I have a friend who mentions that scene a lot.

      Two things about it though. First, the Witch-King had poisoned Frodo with his magical evil blade. He figured that Frodo was dead anyway, and why risk pain if the battle is already won? (Even if you can't be killed conventionally, that doesn't mean you like being hurt, and I know that in some strategy RPGs, when I know I'm gonna win anyway, I start playing it safe). You'll note that they put up more of a fight later at the Ford of Isen, ignoring the other members and heading right for Frodo, because that was the moment where their victory wasn't quite assured anymore.

      Second thing is Frodo evoked the name of Elbereth, the maker of the stars and who was the valar who most chiefly opposed Melkor, Sauron's master. Since unlike the real world, the gods are a known reality on Middle-earth, they probably had a good reason to fear that him calling her might actually, well, call her. To use a real-world context, if I were a demon of Satan and someone evoked Michael or Gabriel on me, yeah I'd probably show concern too.

      All in all, they still didn't scream like little girls. ;)

    13. Yeah, I get what you're saying but it just doesn't feel credible. The ring was within touching distance. There were five of them. They're practically immortal.

      I admire Tolkien's world building but the story had some unconvincing moments, and that one robbed a previously fearsome presence of a lot of its authenticity.

    14. Perhaps, although honestly I think having them trample all over the good guys might've driven the story into Dragonball Z territory.

      That being said it seems like older authors in general weren't as keen on high power levels as more recent ones are. H.P. Lovecraft wrote about godlike beings men couldn't even comprehend, and yet was perfectly fine with how his friend Robert E. Howard used to have his heroes hold their own against such fiends (one such hero, Bran Mak Morn, Lovecraft actually liked enough to convince Howard to make a series out of).

      That stuff just makes me think that they saw things differently back then. I can see where people are coming from when they aren't convinced by the wraiths' being driven off like that, but we're coming from a day where we're informed by D&D monster manuals, video games, wiki entries, in other words things that give everything narrow and strict measurements. Tolkien and company were in different straights where they had to divine their knowledge from the natural world, which in some ways was an advantage. In nature, after all, you learn that no matter how strong a tree is, enough chops with an axe will fell it. Or for that matter, a Sherman Tank still needs its treads oiled or it'll break down.

      On that note, I think my biggest problem with the movies is they felt like they could be any fantasy environ, they just happened to be using LOTR names. Despite the stereotype, Middle-earth is quite unique and has a lot to set it apart from its imitators (just for a freebie: men weren't the ones who "above all else, desired power" like the movies would have you believe--it was actually the Elves who did the most to help Sauron forge the rings. Really, where are you gonna see another fantasy where ELVES are the big eff-ups?)

    15. Another thing that has been missed is that the knife Frodo stabbed him with had been specially forged to harm Ringwraiths. I don't recall exactly, but my Dad and I were talking about magic weapons once and he talked about how Sting was better for orcs and goblins, since it had been forged by Dwarves who fought them constantly, while the knives the hobbits found in the barrow mounds had been forged by a new fallen empire of men who had been constantly at war with the Witch King. So getting stabbed with that knife was much, much worse then getting stabbed with pretty much any other weapon, plus he has heard a name of power invoked (and recall, the name itself might have power), and he thinks he has done his job already. If Frodo dies then someone else has to bear the ring; Wouldn't it be great if Aragon or Gandalf picked it up and became corrupted? That would be even better for Sauron's plans then just getting the ring back.

    16. Edmsworld here, posting as anonymous because I've been having trouble posting replies lately.

      I remember telling some people here that I was working on a review of the LOTR movies. Well, I made a start here, posting some vlogs, though I hope to use this as a springboard to making actual reviews:

      I'm still not turned off of the CRPG Addict's blog, I'm just horribly disappointed, and I have to flinch every time I see a knock against Tolkien (like in the Crystals of Arborea article). If that kind of thing keeps up I may very well stop reading, but I doubt it'll be so bad.

      Also if the Addict ever gets to Interplay's Lord of the Rings games I hope he brushes up on the books before playing. I don't want another case where he's doing the wrong things because he's following a bastardized version of the story.

  4. Yay, we can see Might and Magic II on the horizon!

  5. I loved this game as a late teen. Had it on the Amiga and then the PC.

    My solution to the game involved building the biggest damned army I could, charging Mordor, and sacrificing units in a delaying action while the rest continued on.

    I think most of the Fellowship made it to Mount Doom.

  6. The LOTR books get much, much better once they meet up with Aragorn IMO. I read the whole series after seeing the movies and it took me half the entire time of reading all 4 books to just get through the damn Shire-Sidequest chapters in Fellowship.

    It's funny once you go back and see the first movie afterward, because that single scene transition between the Hobbits leaving the Shire and arriving at the first town represents around 50% of Book 1 :p.

  7. Ha... I've read the books 12 or 13 times, so I'm disqualified for this discussion. It's true they have boring parts, though - escaping the Shire is actually a piece of cake. Top 3 neverending passages : 3) Aragorn & cie chasing orcs in Rohan, 2) Frodo&Sam crawling in Mordor for a few chapters 1) F&?#%!$@ Frodo Sam & Gollum in the hills round Mordor.

    Anyway... On topic, I remember actually trying to play this back on Atari ST and remember it being horrible. I don't think I ever even made it even to Rivendell.

  8. Apparently an easy way to win this one is to keep the ringbearer running away from Mordor until you can mass a bunch of armies in Barad-Dur and Mt. Doom, defeating the orc garrison. Then let a Nazgul kill Frodo, gank it with some thousand soldiers when it arrives at Mt. Doom and toss the ring.

  9. I remember playing this game on the Amiga back when i was 7 or 8 years old. I didn't know what the hell was going on and had no idea what was LoTR, but i liked it only because it was gorgeous (on the amiga that is, the pc version looks quite garish). I used the upclose camera and just watch the characters walk through the multiple screens and enjoy the scenery.

    I also tried the game on the Spectrum but it was quite different. I remember it being much more wargamish

  10. Anonymous: egad, I think I read that in a gaming magazine in 1992. It's so incongruous that it's stuck in my mind since.

    CRPG Addict: since you asked, I'll speculate. Rhûn is enemy territory. Dagorlad is a plain, and the enemy can fly. Food is also a concern since this isn't one of those fantasy worlds that spontaneously generate supplies. (See that lake in Mordor? Much of the area is grain fields, kept fertile with ash from the evil volcano.) The book does a much better job at depicting Sauron's long reach. (It bloody well should, for a villain who's never confronted!) It's believable when a character suggests returning to Rivendell instead of going to Moria, and Gandalf says that they would not be able to leave Rivendell again.


    War in Middle Earth has such a good concept that I have to plug War of the Ring, a board game that does the same thing properly. It starts as the Fellowship leaves Rivendell. One player is evil, and tries to conquer Middle-Earth or corrupt the Ringbearer. The other is good, and tries to hold back the first for long enough to destroy the Ring.

    It's possible to re-enact the books on the board, but the players have no obligation to do so. The good player can move the Fellowship as he wants, and the routes past the mountains go through Moria, past Orthanc, and way up north. I've seen the war start by having Saruman attack Rohan, Sauron's Mirkwood forces attack Lorien, and Angmar attack the northlands. Some of the all-important event cards are events from the books (Denethor's Folly, Palantir of Orthanc) while several are genericized (Devilry of Orthanc (the explosives) can be used on any siege where there are Uruk-Hai present) and some never happen in the books (sending a Hobbit back to alert the Shire, having Gimli leave the fellowship with the book from Moria to call the Dwarves to war.)

    Not only are the players unconstrained, but watching Middle-Earth go off the rails adds to the game's charm. After action reports are common.

  11. OMG Might and Magic II. The promised land is nigh!

  12. Also, among the reasons you listed to identify a RPG, i'd add

    * Ability for the character to make meaningful choices that impact both himself, the world/NPCs and/or the development of the quests he undertakes (multiple resolutions, consequences on following quests etc.) either through dialogue or other form of interactions.

    So that, for instance, Ultima VII (which is arguably one of the best games ever made in any genre and the very definitive proof that games CAN be art) keeps the label as a RPG even if combat sucks and character development in a strict sense is minimal (few abilites, no experience, no classes).

  13. Also, Journey, though an excellent adventure game, is not an CRPG. I will not dissuade you from playing it though because it's worth a look.

    I haven't played MAGS.

  14. Actually, you should absolutely give Journey a thorough look since you just played War in Middle Earth. The two games have more in common in motive than might initially be apparent. And it shows exactly how much more advanced interactive fiction was in 1988 to full graphical games attempting similar things.

  15. Hmmm, by your requirements X-COM is now eligible for you to play. I don't suppose it is on your lists though, even though it has inventories, XP and attribute based combat.

    ...If you play it when it comes out in 1994 though I will dance, even if I am old and arthritic by then.

  16. I think your analysis here is pretty on-target. I spent a lot of time playing this game on my Amiga when I was younger, but it never seemed to cohere into a very interesting game. It didn't really work as an RPG or adventure game; and despite the promising-looking strategic map and armies, it didn't really work as a wargame either.

    Two quick notes, however:

    * The graphics of the Amiga version really were quite spectacular for its day. I honestly think the graphics alone kept me playing much longer than I ordinarily would have.

    * The Amiga version--or at least my copy of it--was incredibly buggy, particularly on the strategic map. Graphic glitches cropped up all the time for me, often badly enough to make the game unplayable until I quit and restarted.

    Too bad this game wasn't better than it was, because behind the poor execution, there are definitely some cool ideas trying to get out.

  17. Wow. Lots of comments. Seems like there's some love for this game--almost EVERY game has someone who loves it--but it wasn't really a CRPG and I didn't mind moving on without winning. That bit about killing Frodo being the best way to win is hilarious. I wish they'd incorporated this into the film. Not having read the books, there was a delightful moment when I first saw "The Return of the King" when I was sure that Sam was going to run up and push both Frodo and Gollum into the lava while they were struggling for the ring.

    Kizor, thanks for the explanation; it's reasonably persuasive. I suppose a lot of the other plot holes in the films are filled if you know the books.

    Samtam, I agree with your addition, but we've already had a posting in which I tried to identify ALL the characteristics of CRPGs. The three "core" characteristics I listed in this posting were just to help weed out the games that couldn't be classified as CRPGs under any system. Your definition, while describing a good CRPG, would weed out a lot of the games I've already played. (Ultima VII, incidentally, does have experience.)

    Helm, I just posted my first "Journey" entry. There definitely are a lot of parallels with LOTR.

    Canageek, the three elements I listed here are my means to evaluate games on the list--games that SOMEONE has decided, through whatever means (wrong or right) are CRPGs. To my knowledge, no one has identified X-COM as a CRPG, so it isn't on any list. But I have added games before based on fan enthusiasm, so I've stuck it in the 1994 list with a note to evaluate it when I get there.

    Andy, good summary. Another reason I should have probably just gotten an Amiga emulator over a year ago.

  18. Georges: I've read The Hobbit a couple times, but I've only tried reading the LotR trilogy once - in high school / college around 15 years ago. I made it all the way to the last book of the trilogy, then had to put it down because slogging through Mordor with Sam & Frodo was just too depressing and boring. I've always regretted not finishing, but now it's been so long that I'd feel the need to start over from the beginning (sans The Hobbit).

    CRPG Addict: Calling X-COM an RPG is stretching it quite a bit, but it is inherently a genre-bending sim. You might enjoy it due to the tactical turn-based combat, but I don't think there's much story. It'll be a good test of your rules!

    Also, I noticed all 3 of your rules apply to the Quest for Glory (aka Hero's Quest) series which is coming up in 1989. It's really a graphical Sierra adventure game with your rules hacked in to make it an adventure-RPG hybrid. I'm looking forward to seeing your reaction to it; I think you won't like the action combat if nothing else.

  19. The storey is paced by your research. I have not gotten too far as I have been focusing on tech. My score may suck at the end but I will not die at least.

    I do find that the UFO:AI remake has a better storey, but that is wayyy down the list, if it is even on it. On the plus side it might be done by the time you reach it...

    Actually I was thinking it was the disposable units the prevented it from being a CRPG, but I guess any game wheere you recruite party members at a guild and replace them as they die would fall into the same class... Intresting.

    This raises the question as to if Ogre Battle 64 is a CRPG, but it isn't an issue as it is N64 only and used custom ships that make emulators cry, so I can't even whine and beg, short of mailing you an N64 and the rather hard to find game...

    I do look forward to reviews of some tactical RPGs though, as they are uncommon and very wildly in quality so I hace a hard time justifying money on then. I think they were big in the early-mid 90s, so I might see them within a year or two assuming you keep this up.

  20. I'll sign up for enthusiasm for X-COM. (Also, I hope you've made a similar note for 1992's Star Control 2. These two games are easily in my top 3 games ever list. I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy each.)

    Looking at this three-part definition, X-COM definitely satisfies each, even though it's certainly not an RPG. What it does lack is any character-based story, or NPC interactions. But Canageek's point about the story unfolding with research is a good one. It's a pretty cliché plot, but it is well written and seamlessly integrated to the game.

    There's no "you" in the game. You don't create any characters, you just recruit soldiers. They have varying and developing stats. There are memorable moments, heroic deeds and terrible mess-ups involving them, but any "character" that they develop happens between your ears. And that does happen, and you get attached to them, and then they die horribly.

    There's also no NPCs in the game, but the alien adversaries are memorable and distinct. And the battle system alone is excellent. The way it is combined with the strategic side makes it an absolutely amazing game. I don't think it's been bested yet - I haven't played most the sequels, remakes or games where it's the main influence, but all the reviews seem to mention that they don't quite capture the magic of the original. Every gamer should play X-COM.


  21. Canageek, Ogre Battle 64 is also on the Wii Virtual Console. Tactical RPGs are an interesting edge case for the definition of CRPGs in general.

  22. I had a hard time getting through The Lord of the Rings, too - until halfway through the first book. After that, I couldn't put it down.

    I do recommend that you make the effort, since it's worth it. Then again, with all these games you play, I can't imagine where you'd find the time.

    And yes, I was thinking of X-Com, too, when I read your three rules. They all fit. I'll also point out that you can name your soldiers. And as they become more skilled, and you give the best equipment to your favorites, they become real characters - or they did for me, anyway.

    It's not an RPG, but it has a lot of RPG elements that helped make it one of the very best games ever. If it's not my favorite game of all-time, it's probably in the top two.

    Re. the sequels, Terror from the Deep could have been great, but they just phoned it in. They just put the original game underwater (complete with throwing grenades, if you can imagine that). Honestly, if they'd just given this game any thought at all... I hadn't been so disappointed since Fountain of Dreams.

  23. "The way it is combined with the strategic side makes it an absolutely amazing game. I don't think it's been bested yet"

    Probably true. The Editors at PC Gamer magazine constantly lament that no major publisher has tried to create a tactical x-com game for modern day computers. The people who did decide to remake x-com turned it into a FPS with hybrid elements.

  24. Really? I've heard very good things about Jagged Alliance and have been thinking of buying it.

  25. Cant believe someone could play this game so badly when its just a matter of making quick decisions!
    A legendary classic for all Lord of the Rings fans. Amiga version only worth playing with lots of different strategies to try. Did anyone ever find a way of getting the Ents/Huorns to mobilize??

    1. A year later and the answer is revealed!

      To mobolize the ents, just east of buckland and west of Tom Bombadil's house is a wood staff. Take it to the ents and use it. They activate and wipe out Sauroman. ents are totally the elite unit of the game.

      How to mobilize other armies - the "side quests" that were referred to in this article often point to items. Some are more usefull than others. The Red Arrow will mobilize the horsemen, and the scepter of gondor mobilizes Minits Tirith and the surrounding area. North of Dol Guldor (? orc place east of Lorein) is a dwarf ring that mobilizes the dwarves, and West of Thranduil
      s palace is a ruin near another orc camp. There is a silver orb that can be used to moiblize the northern elves.

      mobilizing your armies is *supposed* to be the key to making it through the game. You can force mobilize almost all of these armies by using the force neutral forces to move tactic, and move some infantry just south of Minis Morgul. That somehow causes Sauron's armies to start to move, which in turn activates a bunch of different people to become suddenly friendly.

      However, I have played this out countless times and gathering up all of your forces with a lot of luck MIGHT get you through defending Minis Tirith but honestly you will have next to nothing left. There is something like 50,000 orcs and thousands of trolls and etc that attack. There has only been two ways in which I cleared Minis Tirith and still had a chance of winning, once the game glitched and all of the enemy forces that were mobile moved off the map. The 2nd method is to activate the ents and then force them to sit in front of and inside of Minis Tirith. They wont really take any casualties.

      Incidently, they are also the only force I have ever used to kill Sauron, and that legit ends the game as a win without taking the ring to Mount Doom.

  26. You are not alone.

    I found Tolkien to be very creative and imaginative with his stories, unfortunately his story telling just plain sucks. His style is very dry and full of to long descriptions of things that do not move the story along. He also did not have a good grasp on how to pace a story.

    I know that opinion is sacrilegious to half the internet, and I can upset the other half by saying that Frank Herbert suffers from the same problem. I think it has something to do with the kind of mind that can create a very detailed world, that makes it hard to have any good style in their writing.

  27. Yes, there's something wrong when you find the Wikipedia entry as entertaining as the text of the novel.

  28. I played the MS-DOS version of this game (with a green phosphor monochrome monitor - your pics look better) when I was about 9 or 10. I found it a little boring and frustrating even then, but it got better if you could get to the point where you start amassing large armies, and I didn't have many other games at the time. Your party will often get killed by a Nazgul or pack of wolves pretty early on. I was never able to beat the game by following the path of the books strictly, but I did figure out how to beat the game and I even did so once without actually destroying the Ring. I just assembled a very large army (10,000 or so troops, if I recall, including ents and huorns- but, sorry, I don't remember what I did to mobilize them), sending that army _around_ the northern mountains of Mordor, and simply engaging and killing Sauron (who looks pretty similar to the Nazgul - I think with "reversed" colors - again this was a monochrome monitor). I suppose (according to the books), someone else would have then become the new Dark Lord, but I don't remember the ending of the game being any different. I do remember that I was surprised that this strategy actually worked.

  29. In a later walkthrough, I found that the best way to win the game is to have Frodo dither around in the west somewhere while you amass armies around Mordor. Then, you deliberately have Frodo die. A Nazghul takes the ring and books it for Mordor. You intercept him before he gets to Sauron, kill him, take the ring, and travel about 50 feet to Mount Doom.

    I could have given the game more of a chance, but it was demonstrably not a CRPG after a few hours of playing.

  30. I don't think that method of beating the game would have occurred to me, but it makes sense.

    After I wrote my post, I found a fan site dedicated to this game where somebody else mentions killing Sauron to beat the game. Apparently you have to have ents in the army for this to work.

    And you're right; it's clearly not a CRPG. More like a war game with a few RPG elements.

  31. Having read this post, it occurred to me that Langrisser 1 for the PC qualifies for this list. Although it's a strategy game, it has statistics based combat, both level and class progression, inventory management, found items, reward items, and shops.
    Although it wasn't officially released in English, you can get an english copy over at ( without issue. It's not easy to get working on modern PC's, but it's super easy to get it working on a XP VirtualBox. The original release (on the Genesis) was in 1991, but the PC remake is significantly updated. It's based more on the engine of Langrisser II, but, in general, the PC version is the best version of the game. As a sidenote, you have Langrisser II on your list already, but for 2002 (??). From what I can gather, Langrisser II was released on PC in 1998, and it's never come out in English. The only way to play Langrisser II in English is to use the unofficial English translation for the Genesis release. Alternatively, you can play the (far easier but largely superior) SNES remake (just to be clear - this is a remake of LII not the original) Der Langrisser, which also has a (gigantic) unofficial English translation.

    Short version:
    You should add Langrisser PC. It's either 1991 or 1998 depending on your judgment. You'll need an XP VirtualBox to get it working well.
    You should take Langrisser II for the PC off the list. If you want to play it, you'll really need to get a Genesis or SNES emulator.

  32. I spent way too much time playing this game when I was younger so I can fill in some of the missing details. Ents and Hurons are are some of the neutral armies that will fight on your side but you can't control them. However I did find a bug in the game that gives you some control of their movements which I'll get to. I don't know if there is another more legitimate way but this one works well enough.

    I always played it as more of a war game then an RPG. The manual describes it like a game of (american) football. You have large team on your side that works on behalf of the person carrying the ball (ring) to take it across the goal line. Whether the armies win or loose doesn't matter as long as the ring makes it to Mt Doom.

    The best strategy I found was to assemble the fellowship at Rivendell. Before Sauron's armies march there are only two small friendly armies that you can control. Eomer has 120 cavalry in Rohan and Faramir's rangers in Cair Andros. If you guide Eomer to Rivendell, he can arrive there while the Fellowship is assembling and be there to escort it when they set out. That will make the trip to Rohan safer. That's one way. Otherwise, Gandalf is able to move across mountains slowly so it's just a matter picking the shortest path across the mountains then down to Rohan.

    Rohan's armies will mobilize first when Saruman starts marching. I don't remember but I believe the best strategy was to gather Rohan's armies at one of the fortresses and wait it out until the Ents and Hurons march. They will finish off Saruman's forces. And here is where the trick comes in. This works for any neutral force. Not just Ents and Hurons. If you position one of your friendly groups over the neutral group, then click on it, a roster will show all of the units underneath. At this point you can click on individual units, including neutrals, in the roster and move them. You have to be quick though.

    Once Saruman's armies are finished, all of the armies should be gathered at Minas Tirith. Sauron's forces will start marching which will mobilize Gondor. If you collect all of Gondors armies and Rohan's cavalry there, then there should be no problem handling Sauron's armies which will be sent in waves against Minas Tirith. After that you can send in your armies directly to Mordor and destroy anything along the way. Or you can slip Gandalf and the ringbearer across the Mountains into Mordor when the way is clear.

    I found the game to be lots of fun and with plenty of replayability. Of course it's not really an RPG but a kind of hybrid game. I think I may to go track it down now...

  33. Sometimes I get the longest comments on games I gave the shortest attention to. It makes me feel bad for not playing more. But at least you agree it's not really an RPG.

  34. Don't worry about it. Any time you spend on this game is time you aren't spending on Ultima V. Keep up the great work!

  35. The Dread Pirate RodgersDecember 2, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    Yeah, the lord of the rings books were boring. I made it through the first one, then the elves started talking in the second book (again) and kept talking, and kept talking, and KEPT talking, and KEPT TALKING, and KEPT %@$* TALKING, and I put the books down. Now the hobbit, on the other hand was a great read.

  36. Hopefully, Riders of Rohan is not in your list, then. It's a lot more fun that this but a lot less like an RPG (if this one was considered as one in the 1st place).

  37. Your rules for distinguishing other games from crpg's are pretty much allright for me, too, of course people will always argue about what makes a real crpg.

    They way I would apply them they would even include Zelda which I always thought had a very rpg'ish feeling to it despite what many others said and wrote about it: You have items like swords or potions, you kind of level up by gaining more hearts when defeating bosses or finding certain chests, a very simplistic but still valid representation of HP. Even combat damage inflicted and taken is based on which kind of sword and shield you have equipped. Whatever, I feel less guilty of adding it to my personal list of computer&console rpg. ;-)

    This of course would also mean to include Heroes of the Lance. Ugh. Well be glad you didn't get that to work, be VERY glad. It was my first experience with crpg and I almost thought all the SSI rpg were like this, until I realized my error much later.

    1. I sometimes enjoy spectacularly bad games just so I can get an entertaining blog post about them. I need to add Heroes of the Lance and Dragons of Flame to my alternate list on another platform.

      "RPG" is a fluid conception, and it doesn't bother me if someone else's definitions are more liberal or conservative than mine. And there's no reason that every game you like has to be gathered under one category. I stretched the definition to include Pirates! just because I wanted to play it.

    2. In this spirit I think both have much entertainment value. Looking forward to that. :-)

    3. Heroes of the Lance is a very short game. I finished in a couple of hours when I bought it.

  38. I know this is an old post, but I can't believe that nobody mentioned that, in the books, Merry *doesn't* accompany Frodo, Sam and Pippin on their initial journey from Bag End; he's waiting for them on the road, between Farmer Maggot's farm and the ferry. This game gets that right; it's Jackson that changed it for the movies. :)

    1. I appreciate the clarification. I owe the developers an apology.

  39. This comment has been removed by the author.

  40. A shame that for all intents and purposes, the author is baffled why the game didn't follow the movie. Yet, the movie itself muddles many aspects of the books. Particularly Merry's introduction into the story. The game is correct, the movie is not

    1. I love it when people come on my blog and call me "the author." It sends me.

  41. I loved this game growing up. Was a truly epic strategy game for its time, I thought. A shame it wasn't enjoyed, but it is dated. Definitely a formula I'd like to see re-explored in modern games.

    Then again, I read the books a half dozen times or more, always appreciated Tolkien's writing style, and found the movies to be spectacularly 'meh'. No detail, no history; the world felt claustrophobic with Jackson's narrow focus. Not really a world or series that can be properly adapted to the movie medium in my eyes. Maybe that ties back into your problem with the game. You didn't understand the world, and didn't mobilize the Free People to your cause, which is something Jackson glossed over mostly as well.

    1. If I played it now, I'd try harder. During my first 18 months of blogging, I was a bit too ready to dismiss games and abandon them after one posting. In this case, I mostly just decided it wasn't an RPG, which should have led me not to play it at all, not offer a half-assed posting.

  42. I wrote a HUGE response that was just lost; not going to re-write it. this is a war game based upon an old Hex game, War of the Ring.

    Shame this lost my entire post, i had a lot to say.

    1. Sorry about that, Will. Blogger does that occasionally. That's why I recommend copying the text to the clipboard before submitting. I've lost a lot of posts that way.

      Thanks for the intel, anyway. I didn't realize that the game had a source.

  43. I love fantasy novels, but LoTR bores me to tears. It was the basis for many fantasy novels, but like old silent films, the formula has been improved upon.

    1. That's basically how I feel, but I realize how frustrating that can be to those who love the novel.

    2. It is indeed frustrating to hear things about Tolkien being a "terrible" writer. To me that is paramount to calling Joyce a hack, it's just going too far.
      The problem is that we're conditioned to look at the work from the standpoint of modern fantasy, assuming that the derivative development of the genre essentially follows Tolkien and expands upon him. In truth the goals of JRR compared to just about every work of fantasy out there could not be more different. His worldbuilding depends on his conception of "true myth" and is deeply infused with his Catholicism, in addition to classic literature and mythology. What we today view as "naive" and black-and-white was unapologetically delivered seriously by Tolkien, a portrayal of a fallen world and its temptations where nevertheless grace and humility overcome in the end. Its themes are obviously biblical and aspire to portray greater truths through the medium of myth, in contrast to mere "immersion" as the goal of the modern genre. I'd say Tolkien should be approached more like Arthurian legend than pulp fiction. There is very good reason he is still of such great interest for academics, he doubtlessly belongs to the canon of western literature.

      Here is the best essay I've seen that portrays this often overlooked element:

    3. I attribute it to the disparity between eras. What was fresh and new back then is trite and tired now.

      In the 1930s,
      Orcs - You probably can't find a single book that featured them, let alone as a throng of foot-soldiers.
      Elves - Freaking creatures are portrayed as pint-sized hoodlums afraid of cold iron but loves milk.
      Halflings - They are first created here.
      Runic Languages - Yeah, you won't find them anywhere else during this era as well.
      Map of Fantasy World on 1st page - Same as above.
      This is very much different from what was offered back then.

      Also, with the slow speed of publishing and lack of entertainment during the World War eras, this is probably something that will take your mind off to a faraway and fantastic world. Luggin it around to read is like having your 3DS, PS Vita, Candy Crush (or whatever is 'hot' now) and whatever mobile entertainment you enjoy now.

  44. Here is my take on this - you need to give it another shot with some more knowledge about how this played out in the books.

    Compared to the film this really misses a lot because of the changes. if you initially follow the books instead, you will find Merry just west of Tom Bombadill's house.

    An important part of the game is finding the initial items (mostly elven blades) to keep the hobbit's alive. A cheater's way to do this is to move Eomer to Theoden and force move the neutral force north and around the Isengard area. Eomer can meet up with the hobbits and Aragorn, ending the threat of death accidentally happening to the hobbits as they have 120 cavalry to back them up. Farimir can force move Denthor north as well so that he is closer to Gandalf when the time is right.

    They can then turn things around by grabbing the sceptre and heading down to Gandalf. When you fight the nazgul, retreat everyone other than Elrond as he will win the fight by himself. Aaragorn can present the sceptre to Denthor prior to this to activate denthor's forces. Gandalf meeting Theoden is enough to mobilize his armies, and that opens up the map to move the pieces around. Send Farimir to grab the dwarf ring and elf palantir and he can use those to activate those forces.

    Gandalf can march down to meet the Ents and they can eliminate Isengard and Sauroman, then be force marched to Minis Tirith to defend it. All other forces should be force moved (if available) to have them in position for the final battle.

    Once Sauran's forces are on the move Isengard will start sending out troops (even though it is cleared) and they'll have to be mopped up by whatever armies you have in the area. The Siege of Minis Tirith will go relatively well with the Ents destroying everything that comes their way. After all of those forces are taken out and the board is reset to the point that there are no moving enemy forces, you can take an essentially untouched army to annihilate the remaining forces of Mordor and then push on to Mount Doom or force march the Ents to Sauron and eliminate him.

    It's a great game. give it a chance and don't think about the movies while playing.

    1. I just finished Vengeance of Excalibur by Synergistic, which uses the same engine initially developed for War in Middle Earth. It strikes me that the games face the same problem: they offer the illusion of an open world and a strategic approach to gameplay, but in reality you have to accomplish particular things in a linear order.

      I might look at it again when I swing through 1988, just so I improve my win/loss ratio, but I'm still not persuaded it's a "great game." It seems to suffer the same problem as the later Synergistic games, blending strategy, RPG, and adventure elements without excelling at any of them.

  45. When I was a teen I played this. I played it a lot. I'd come home and run to the den in order to play this again and again. I suppose I didn't have a lot to choose from, but still, I really and truly loved the game. My favorite thing to do was start from a post Rivendell save and focus on activated all the various forces and then winning the game through battle. For the most part, I just hid the hobbits somewhere and played this as a war-based strategy game.

  46. I would generally agree that the author was not really good, I actually by accident started reading him with the second book (and in a translation he disapproved of), it was more fast paced and to my mind more "epic". But still you have to credit him for single handedly creating a new genre, without him many games here might not exist. In this game you either have to be a fanatic or cheat to find all the necessary items with the looking glass to get the alliances, I admire Singleton but not for this. Still it was somewhat good looking on the Amiga at the time.


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