The forthcoming video game LOTR Return to Moria, set to launch this October 2023, is currently in development by Free Range Games and will be published by North Beach Games. It takes place in the imaginative world of Middle-earth, initially crafted by J. R. R. Tolkien. In this gaming experience, players answer the call of Lord Gimli Lockbearer and step into the roles of a band of Dwarves entrusted with a significant mission: the retrieval of Moria’s long-lost wealth. Moria, also known as Khazad-dûm or Dwarrowdelf, is a Dwarven realm concealed deep within the earth. Achieving this objective demands unwavering endurance as players venture into the intricate Mines of Moria in search of hidden treasures.
Free Range Games team members shared their time and conducted a question-and-answer session, answering questions from their discord channel in this LOTR Return to Moria Q&A.
LOTR Return to Moria Q&A – Story
Q: How did you decide what lore to incorporate or invent for LOTR Return to Moria, particularly given the limited information about the Fourth Age?
A: John-Paul Dumont, the game director of LOTR Return to Moria, noted that J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings about dwarves are quite limited, with only a few lines dedicated to them. However, in the appendices, there’s more information about the fates of the Fellowship members. This information allows for extrapolation up to a certain point in the timeline, becoming more challenging as the narrative progresses beyond that point. Tolkien’s detailed writings extend up until Aragorn’s death, but there’s less information about the subsequent period. Dumont mentioned that Gimli’s actions, like founding the glittering caves near Helm’s Deep and participating in the rebuilding of parts of Minas Tirith, served as starting points for establishing the LOTR Return to Moria’s lore.
Farrha Khan, the narrative designer of LOTR Return to Moria, explained that they relied on the limited lines from Tolkien’s core books, such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, to understand dwarvish history, especially concerning Khazad-dûm. They examined anything mentioned about dwarves by various characters, both dwarves and others, to piece together the dwarvish perspective on their culture, history, and key characters like Balin and Durin. This process helped them fill gaps and create a more comprehensive story from a dwarvish point of view.
Q: Several community members asked about the endgame gameplay, and we understand the importance of avoiding spoilers. However, can you clarify if LOTR Return to Moria has a defined ending? And if so, what options are available to players after reaching that point? Are they free to revisit areas and continue their adventures?
A: Dumont explained that LOTR Return to Moria features a concluding story but continues in a sandbox mode after its conclusion. As players progress and explore, they unlock more of Moria, making LOTR Return to Moria increasingly sandbox-like. Even after finishing the main story, the game remains engaging, offering additional materials, tools, weapons, and armor that unlock post-story. This provides a strong incentive to continue playing despite solving the core mysteries. The development team has planned content for at least a year, if not multiple years, ahead. This content includes enhancements to the overall game, the realization of cool ideas initially on the back burner, and the expansion of sandbox gameplay after the main narrative’s conclusion.
Q: Can you elaborate on the sound and music choices within the game and the soundscape you’ve created for Moria?
A: Fulton explained that creating a sense of suspense was a priority in the LOTR Return to Moria. Moria is a place filled with preconceived notions from fans, and they want to stay faithful to that concept. They aimed for a feeling that danger could lurk around every corner, achieved through minimalist sound design, distant ominous sounds, and the subtle suggestion that something may be approaching or reacting to the player’s actions. Music and sound would punctuate these moments to emphasize high drama, such as the drums in the deep during a horde attack. While they plan to enhance and expand this aspect over time, the core direction is to maintain a minimalistic approach.
Q: What’s the estimated time it might take to complete the story in LOTR Return to Moria? Additionally, do you have any insights on the approximate size of the map?
A: LOTR Return to Moria estimated completion time varies significantly based on player choice and style. The main story content offers about six hours of gameplay, but players can spend up to 20-30 hours for a smaller test section. During the closed beta, which covered approximately one-third to half of the overall story and geographical area, some players completed it in as little as 24 hours, while others took over 100 hours.
In a focused playthrough dedicated to completing the main story (ignoring other activities), it’s estimated to take around 40 to 50 hours, with the possibility of some players completing it faster but most falling within the 60 to 80-hour range. This variation is due to the genre’s open-ended nature, offering a high degree of player agency, exploration, and base building, which can significantly extend the gameplay experience. Consequently, the typical median playtime is expected to fall around the 60-hour mark.
The game’s gameplay loop offers a harmonious combination of comfortable base management and thrilling exploration. While at your base, you’ll immerse yourself in activities such as decorating, cooking, and brewing, fostering a warm and welcoming atmosphere. During your adventures, time management, resource gathering, and overcoming diverse challenges become crucial. The level of personalization for your base, spanning aesthetics and functionality, is nearly limitless. If your goal is to revive even a small portion of Moria’s former splendor, the potential for imaginative and intricate base construction is extensive, especially given the vast exploration opportunities within the expansive environment.
LOTR Return to Moria Q&A – Gameplay
Q: In the development of the Dwarven language, which language or languages served as the basis for its creation?
A: Dumont explained that they collaborated with Professor David Sallow, known for his work on several Tolkien languages, especially for the movies. However, for the LOTR Return to Moria, they needed to craft something entirely original. It’s intriguing because Professor Tolkien’s writings on the Dwarven language, Kuzdal, are limited. They only had a few lines, like “Baruk Khazâd,” to work with. Sallow’s approach was rooted in what Tolkien had discussed regarding the language’s direction and its basis, particularly in Semitic languages. This Semitic influence continued to shape the development of the Dwarven language for the game.
Q: In November, the community was asked about their opinions regarding character information and item persistence across different save games. Will it be possible to bring your inventory into a friend’s game?
A: Michael Downing, the creative director of LOTR Return to Moria, emphasized that enabling players to take a character they’ve advanced through the game and seamlessly transfer them to a friend’s world, along with all their belongings, has been a significant priority for the team. This includes packing up your entire inventory, retaining unlocked recipes, and the capability to craft them. While certain aspects, like recipes, are specific to your world and server, you can readily assist a friend with your high-level gear if you choose to do so.
Q: What customization options will be available to players when they’re creating their characters for transfer to other saves or when starting a new game? Can players make further changes to their characters later on? What types of customization can they anticipate? And about being able to change things before going to other games, will that be possible?
A: Bradley Fulton, the art director of LOTR Return to Moria, explained that during the character creation process, they aimed to provide players with an extensive range of choices for their dwarves. They dedicated considerable effort to crafting diverse facial features that reflect various personalities and backgrounds from different regions of Middle-earth that dwarves might originate from. Additionally, they invested time in developing numerous beard styles, hairstyles, and adornments. The idea was that dwarves, known for their craftsmanship, would leave no detail untouched, incorporating jewelry, braids, and cultural elements to express the vast array of influences from across Middle-earth.
By combining all these elements, they achieved an impressive number of potential character combinations. Consequently, players should have no trouble creating a dwarf character that resonates with their personal preferences, right down to details like scars and tattoos. Dumont added that you can change things before going to other games, you’ll always be able to pull any dwarf you’ve got up, make any edits that you want, and then go in between.
Q: When players dive into LOTR Return to Moria, some community members have been wondering about the system for upgrading and progressing in terms of weapons, armor, character stats, and so on. Are there levels or tiers, and what can players expect regarding these aspects?
A: Downing explained that in terms of unlocking more potent equipment, John-Paul, Farah, and Bradley have done an exceptional job crafting a variety of armor and weapons representative of different cultural eras and regions within the dwarven realm. As players progress through the LOTR Return to Moria, they gradually unlock these diverse sets and continue to enhance them or access higher tiers of power. Regarding character stats, the intention for Moria has always been to have a system where players meticulously shape their power.
This allows for a dynamic where a friend who’s just starting can join your game, and you can equip them with the items you’ve crafted, enabling them to partake in your adventures. While stats are indeed present, they are entirely influenced by the armor worn and the weapons carried by the character. Dumont explained the challenge of creating an armor progression in the game, noting that the traditional material-based advancement common in survival games didn’t fit the dwarven context in the Fourth Age. Instead, they devised a unique progression system where dwarves start with Fourth Age equipment and craft Third Age items simultaneously.
Exploring Khazad-Dum provided the opportunity to discover ancient secrets, with Third Age gear being good, Second Age gear better, and First Age gear the best. This approach integrated lore discovery, environmental exploration, and item unlocking into a cohesive progression system. Farrha added that in one of the books, there’s a line where one of the dwarves, possibly Gloin, mentions that they had lost much of their knowledge when they departed Khazad-Dum. Therefore, the idea that dwarves in the game can rediscover this lost knowledge, uncovering ancient crafting secrets and redeveloping them, is quite fascinating. That’s certainly how they view it.
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Q: What does the combat system entail, and how does the difficulty level evolve as players progress through the game? Additionally, could you elaborate on the distinctions in difficulty that players might encounter between solo and multiplayer modes?
A: Jeanie Hyatt, the lead gameplay engineer of LOTR Return to Moria, emphasized that player progression in LOTR Return to Moria hinges on crafting and equipment. As players advance, they encounter more potent weapons and armor, alongside tougher and diverse enemy types. Initial encounters in new areas are notably challenging until players gather resources to craft specialized gear for these foes. Additionally, adversaries may possess unique abilities like poison, necessitating specific item crafting for defense. The combat system offers depth for players to skillfully engage but places great importance on crafted equipment. Equipping the right gear ultimately results in a substantial power increase.
Downing also mentioned that in multiplayer mode, LOTR Return to Moria becomes progressively more challenging as you introduce more players. However, having more people can make certain challenges easier to overcome. If you’re struggling with a particular area, bringing your friends along can provide valuable assistance. On the flip side, gathering the necessary resources for everyone’s equipment becomes more demanding. While obtaining the materials for a single set of armor might not have been too challenging, acquiring enough for eight sets becomes considerably more difficult.
Hyatt also highlighted that another advantage of playing with friends is the ability to specialize in roles based on their weapon choices. For example, someone might wield a powerful hammer while another focuses on a sturdy shield. This specialization can significantly impact how you approach and engage with enemies, as each weapon offers distinct differences in terms of damage per second (DPS), speed, and weight. Consequently, the composition of your group and their chosen equipment can dynamically alter the gameplay experience.
Q: Will there be mods available in the game?
A: We’re a relatively small team, so we weren’t able to provide extensive software support, but we’re also not implementing any measures to prevent it.
Q: When players use a seed to generate a map at the start of the game, can you explain how that seed influences the world map? Is it possible to alter the map’s size or specific areas using a particular seed or through in-game options that affect world generation?
A: Downing explained that the way seeds function in our Procedural Generation system is designed to create a consistent world with fixed locations that are identical across all players’ games. However, how these locations are interconnected can vary significantly. The seeds primarily influence the pathways between these spaces, the contents of those paths, resource distribution, and resource accessibility.
Regarding fine-tuning options like making the game easier or more challenging, adjusting resource availability, and other factors, the development team is enthusiastic about exploring these possibilities. However, due to being a smaller team, these features won’t be extensively supported at launch. Nonetheless, it’s an area they are keen to delve into in the future. Dumont added that introducing New Game Plus options, which could include making the game easier or harder, is on the roadmap for the next year.
Q: Is something like a photo mode planned?
A: Hyatt acknowledged that it’s a feature they’ve contemplated and have on the roadmap of LOTR Return to Moria. They recognize that it has been suggested by the community, and it’s something they, as well as the players, desire. Specifically, they aim to implement a photo mode and the ability to toggle off or scale the user interface (UI), considering these as quality-of-life improvements they intend to prioritize.
Q: Will there be an option in the future to name the weapons or armor we make or custom change its attributes to make it fit more to their play style?
A: Unfortunately, at launch, there won’t be a feature for naming weapons and armor. However, you can customize your weapons by finding rare gems during your adventure in LOTR Return to Moria. Each gem corresponds to a rune that you can inscribe on your weapon, granting it special stat bonuses and powers. For example, you could take a Halberd with a 360-degree attack and add a Frost Rune to slow down enemies in the midst of battle. There are many combinations like this, and we plan to introduce more runes and effects in future development to expand these options.
Downing and Dumont also mentioned that you’ll have some cosmetic options for your armor, such as changing its color and style to personalize your character. In the future, we plan to expand these customization options. Currently, runes are only applicable to weapons, but we intend to introduce ways to tweak your armor to match your playstyle.
LOTR Return to Moria Q&A – Developing the Game
Q: What were your sources of inspiration and references for designing Moria and portraying the Dwarves within the game? Were there any surprising references that, although not traditionally Dwarven, integrated well with the game’s style and could be surprising for community members to learn about?
A: Early in the game, players will encounter the Elven Quarter, which may be surprising given the history of Khazad-Dum. However, this inclusion is based on the historical alliance between Elves and Dwarves during that era. It sets the stage for further exploration of undiscovered locations within the game. The Elven Quarter provides an opportunity to explore the visual aesthetics of Elves in this version of Middle-Earth, showcasing a unique group of Elves. The cohabitation of Dwarves and Elves in this space also led to a blending of their styles, evident in the objects and furniture found in the ruins of Khazad-Dum.
Q: Given Middle-earth’s extensive lore and world-building, when commencing the development of LOTR Return to Moria, did you each have a particular facet of dwarven lore, history, or design that served as a foundational inspiration for your roles in shaping the game?
A: The development team of LOTR Return to Moria started by envisioning the look of the dwarves in Khazad-Dum, seeking to create a style that felt ancient yet served as the foundation for future dwarven styles. They drew inspiration from ancient human cultures, blending elements from Celtic and Norse influences to craft a unique aesthetic. Regarding narrative and lore, the team aimed to stay true to Professor Tolkien’s writings, continually referring to the core books and exploring the rich history surrounding Middle-earth. The book club sessions hosted during production consistently yielded new ideas and insights.
Music composition also drew inspiration from these sessions. While considering Dwarven lore, the focus was on goblins and orcs as primary antagonists, aiming to make them formidable foes. The team aimed to balance the game by promoting social and cozy elements, such as sharing meals, drinks, and singing songs, inspired by “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings.” The team’s commitment to being “lore forward” led to the decision not to include a Balrog in the LOTR Return to Moria, as it felt like Gandalf’s story, and introducing another would diminish the original’s impact. Instead, they wanted to tell a new story about dwarves reclaiming their home in Moria, leaving a sense of the Balrog’s presence throughout the game.
Q: What was the team’s experience like working on LOTR Return to Moria?
A: The development team shared their enthusiasm for working on LOTR Return to Moria and their deep appreciation for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. They found the experience to be a dream come true, as they were all Tolkien fans. Collaborating on the project was enjoyable, and they frequently indulged in geeking out over various aspects of the game, such as discussing orcs for hours.
The team recognized the responsibility of staying true to Tolkien’s material, given its beloved status. However, they embraced the fun and colorful nature of dwarves as main characters, using it as an opportunity to create diverse designs and styles. The team’s collaborative and values-driven approach allowed for creative contributions from various members, resulting in numerous unique features and ideas incorporated into LOTR Return to Moria, making the development process enjoyable and fulfilling.
Q: What was your biggest challenge during the development process?
A: Designing LOTR Return to Moria involved various challenges, including interactivity and creating detailed damage states for objects like buildings. The team had to ensure these aspects fit within memory and aligned with the overall design, which was an ongoing challenge. However, they are proud of the solutions they developed to address these issues.
In this Q&A session with the talented developers behind LOTR Return to Moria, we’ve gained a deeper understanding of the creative process, the challenges, and the passion that have gone into crafting this exciting Middle-earth experience. From the meticulous attention to dwarven lore to the joy of bringing Tolkien’s world to life, the team’s dedication shines through.
As we eagerly await the release of LOTR Return to Moria, we can appreciate the care and craftsmanship that will make it a unique journey for fans and adventurers alike. The promise of an evolving, sandbox-style experience post-story only adds to the excitement. So, fellow travelers, prepare to delve into the depths of Khazad-Dum, uncover its secrets, and immerse yourselves in a world where dwarven history and Middle-earth lore await your exploration.
We hope you enjoyed our Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria Q&A session with the game developers. There is plenty of information still left untouched, but we do hope as time passes by, it’ll be disclosed by the devs. If you wish to see the full thoughts on LOTR Return to Moria Q&A, Click Here! If you found this article helpful, let us know in our community’s discord. Check out more guides for LOTR Return To Moria on our homepage!