The Lord of the Rings collectible RPG mobile game is all about saving history

In The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth, out Wednesday for Android and iOS devices, players are tasked with preserving the timeline of JRR Tolkien’s most beloved works. That generally means major events are recreated in turn-based battles where the good guys prevail.

But not all the time.

“There’s actually a part in the tutorial where we actually unlock the ‘Shadow Side’ campaigns where our narrator, Earendil, actually talks about it,” Capital Games game director Nicolas Reinhart told Polygon. “But deep down he’s in pain – he doesn’t like that you have to go in there to make sure the bad guys win.”

“The bad has yet to happen,” added design director Jay Ambrosini.

But the bad will follow the rest of the good that Capital Games has dreamed up for The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth, a “collection RPG” in the style of Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, the hugely successful Android game iOS title launched by Capital Games in 2015 with Electronic Arts. Like Galaxy of Heroes, Heroes of Middle-earth is a free-to-play game about unlocking, collecting and deploying some of the most iconic characters from Tolkien’s canon. A group of champions have been sent back in time to set things right.

“A lot of what inspired us: being kids in the late ’70s and early ’80s, growing up with toys, and playing with action figures in the backyard—it’s pretty much the same thing,” Ambrosini said. “That’s what we want to replicate there. You have a lovingly crafted figurine that you truly believe is a representation of either Frodo or Strider. And then you’re with your friends and you’re like, “Yeah, what if Sauron was there?” A lot of that involves sitting and recreating the moments of play with your toys.”

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The trigger for this is narratively, with the player discovering “a ring like never before,” Reinhart said in a media presentation last week. “And with this ring, players can bridge time and space and bring characters of different ages together to form incredible what-if-style squads, mixing and matching characters that have never been together before.”

In addition to these what-if teams, The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth will explore alternate timelines and propose scenarios that fans have long pondered: what if Galadriel lost the One Ring, for example would have accepted? Frodo and the dark queen she feared? “We will examine these questions authentically with our players,” said Ambrosini. “We look forward to taking the literature and introducing it in new and exciting ways.”

Image: EA Capital Games/Electronic Arts

Image: EA Capital Games/Electronic Arts

Image: EA Capital Games/Electronic Arts

Image: EA Capital Games/Electronic Arts

Image: EA Capital Games/Electronic Arts

Image: EA Capital Games/Electronic Arts

Heroes of Middle-earth has been in development for more than two years. Reinhart admitted the game was born out of business decisions – when Capital Games was looking for its next project, Reinhart said, asked the studio what other fandoms might be served by something like Galaxy of Heroes. But instead of cloaking and shipping Galaxy of Heroes units in Lord of the Rings costumes, the designers at Capital Games knew they had to start with a narrative that justifies why an eclectic cast of characters could recreate ancient battles.

How to get the opening sequence: Strider (Aragorn) and Frodo arrive at Weathertop on their journey to Rivendell with the rest of the hobbits. They encounter Nazgûl in a combat tutorial sequence, the two characters are unlocked for the player and they make their way to Rivendell.

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But along the way, players should recognize themes from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Reinhart said. Aragorn is a tank-like entity that pulls the attack on itself and away from the hobbits. When he lands a critical hit, all hobbits with him enter a stealth mode, distracting and damaging the opponent while reducing his own exposure.

“One would never imagine Frodo standing front and center [and] Be like, “Hit me,” Ambrosini explained, “while you get Sam on the other side.”[wise Gamgee]who walks by and moments later throws an apple at someone’s head and says, “Hey! Over here, big guy!”

The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth challenges players to explore alternate timelines and restore the canon of the Tolkien novels.

Image: EA Capital Games/Electronic Arts

For example, the Horsemen of Rohan are another unit among the 46 characters unlockable on launch day. Obviously, Capital couldn’t mount a full cavalry charge against Heroes of Middle-earth, whose squads consist of four units. Instead, Rohan’s Knights feature in teamwork attacks; One of these, shown to the media, showed a rider throwing a sword to an attendant, who caught it mid-stride to deliver the blow.

When asked if the free-to-play game would follow a season or battle pass model with unlockable content, Ambrosini replied. “There will be multiple schedules; We work very closely with Middle-earth Enterprises [the licensing authority for the Lord of the Rings franchise] on it,” he said.

Still, Reinhart, Ambrosini and the rest of Capital Games are aware of the risk of a rapid extinction for mobile games, especially licensed games. That is, a free-to-play game appears on mobile platforms, attracts a great deal of interest and attention for the first few months, and then seems to fade from mainstream awareness once its initial content is exhausted.

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The creators of Heroes of Middle-Earth already have a full year of post-launch content in mind, Reinhart said. It includes missions and encounters in three campaigns: Light, Shadow, and Guild, with the latter starting with a raid mission in the Mines of Moria.

“Live [service] Games are a dance,” said Reinhart. “You have to plan this dance. We said in our presentation that we have a year of content on our roadmap that specifically addresses this issue. We control the timing and try to make sure the players are doing the right thing – are you giving them the right rhythm? – but we also make sure we take the appropriate amount of time to develop something that aligns with the way they want to play the game.”

Reinhart emphasized that this is all narratively cohesive into a single experience, as opposed to a series of isolated, unrelated missions. “Each of these is a different story that needs to be told within a single concept,” he said, “which basically means we have a shadowy character trying to disrupt those storylines, and then you come in with your heroes . They collected to right the wrongs so that the storylines finally fit together.”

Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth was released on Wednesday 10th May and is available for iOS and Android devices on the App Store and Google Play.

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