Free Range Game's hairy spelunking simulator comes hot on the heels of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, a low point of the year and a horrible adaptation of Tolkien's IP. While it isn't as abjectly awful as Daedalic's folly, The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is, sadly, also a disappointment.
This is a survival adventure that sees the dwarves of the Fourth Age gather to retake their subterranean metropolis under the Misty Mountains. Since dwarves are objectively the best race in Tolkien's universe, it makes perfect sense to build a game around their penchant for digging greedy and deep.
It succeeds in part; progressing through Moria and unlocking its mysteries is initially engaging. The warm presence of Jonathan Rhys Davies as Gimli gives the impression this will be a fine time for fans. There are pockets of rich atmosphere and a loving exploration of lore. Your dwarf can even sing while picking away at ore veins.
Alas, these scraps of quality are diluted by sluggish combat and a tedious crafting loop. An obtuse tutorial leaves your created dwarf cold and afraid in the ruined city. You're given vague goals and a general destination, with hints on what to do but rarely where to find materials or how to build important items. You hunker down in outposts and scrounge together food and materials, following a talking bird to your stout companions.
The menu system is clunky, requiring constant swapping of items on the hotbar. Enemy encounters are unexpected and partially random, so being able to intuitively equip a weapon is sorely needed. The survival genre has introduced many quality-of-life improvements over the years, like quick crafting and smooth inventory management — features this game seems to have overlooked. Combat is also consistently poor, lacking impact and ruining the potential of some epic enemies later in the story.
Things pick up with multiplayer. It's fun to plunder the depths alongside other dwarves. A shared experience also highlights the oppressive solitude of raiding Moria alone.
Another miss for the Rings franchise, then. There are bursts of quality here, and the potential for fun when playing with others. However, it ultimately fails as an adaptation and a survival game.