Amazon’s Cancelled The Lord Of The Rings MMO Is Such A Colossal Waste

The Lord of the Rings has a surprisingly rocky history with video games. Despite the contemporary gravitation towards massive, sprawling worlds teeming with all kinds of fantastical lore and intrigue, Tolkien’s behemoth legendarium has proven too tough to tame time and time again. Original efforts such as Shadow of Mordor were received relatively well – although its sequel fared far worse – and classic adaptations of Jackson’s iconic film trilogy like EA Redwood Shores’ The Return of the King are remembered fondly by anyone who played them, myself included.

Still, there’s always been something missing when it comes to transposing this literary world onto a more interactive medium. As producers from The White Council told me – which, like so many Tolkien games, was unceremoniously cancelled – there’s yet to be a truly great The Middle-earth MMO. The Lord of the Rings Online has a fairly healthy community and is perfectly fine, but it doesn’t quite capture the spirit of this illustrious world. And according to a recent report from Bloomberg, it looks like Amazon’s premise for what a good Tolkien MMO would constitute never will either.

Amazon Game Studios has been a nightmare from the start. Crucible flopped and whenever New World isn’t exhibiting weird colonialist sympathies it’s being delayed yet again. I honestly thought The Lord of the Rings was going to be its golden goose – after all, the company has spent over $400 million on its Lord of the Rings television series, with the New Zealand government investing a whopping $100 million into production. To hear it’s been cancelled two long years after its announcement seems like putting a tightly nailed coffin inside a second larger coffin and sealing it shut with some sort of ultra powerful space glue.

It seems so weird to me, a company with near infinite resources taking on probably the most well-established universe in fantasy history and saying, “Actually, nope.” People presumably put a huge amount of time and effort into this game, but, as is clearly the case with some of Sony’s studios and IP right now, it was obviously deemed more frugal to cut losses than press forward.

The thing is, I don’t see how an MMO of this scale could even look close to reasonable after just two years, especially given that this window likely includes a whole lot of concept and pre-production work. When we look at games like The Lord of the Rings: Gollum – which was delayed until next year – we’re viewing a whole different take on Middle-earth. Don’t get me wrong, I was extremely impressed with Gollum during my preview a few weeks ago, having been particularly fascinated by its depiction of Barad-dur and clever use of the Smeagol/Gollum dichotomy. But it’s a much smaller and more focused effort. An MMO – a good one, at least – is a huge, hulking challenge that would take years upon years to get right. I know that’s a lot to ask in terms of investment, but what else did anyone expect? A playable Gondor arc against the Corsairs of Umbar that covers everywhere from Pelennor Fields to Osgiliath in 18 months? Come on.

It’s frustrating for me, an enormous Tolkien fan with at least some semblance of an idea about how game dev works, to see so many Lord of the Rings games cease production before they’ve even had a chance to properly begin. Tolkien’s world has almost ten completely made up languages with their own cases, inflections, and slang. There are several ages, all of which have their own distinct histories that go into laborious detail about sinking islands, colossal dragons, and unassuming little hobbits who spend a year trekking across spiderwebs and spectral swamps to chuck some magic jewelry in a volcano hotter than a molten star. Every time this IP gets dropped for monetary reasons midway through development, I can’t help but think about how much of a waste of it is for everyone involved. The first studio to get this right will be the ones who realize how much work it will take, and gives its developers the resources required to make a project of this scale a reality.

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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.

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