Any well-read fan of The Lord of the Rings will know that the main action in JRR Tolkien's book series took place in the Third Age of Middle-earth, with most of the major adaptations over the years (including the Peter Jackson films) sticking to that time period.
Recently, fans got a glimpse at an earlier era, with the Rings of Power TV show exploring the Second Age.
But haven't you ever wondered what happened after Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf and the Fellowship wrapped up their adventures in Return of the King?
That's exactly what fans are now starting to learn, thanks to a new video game called The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria, the first ever official LotR story to be set entirely in the Fourth Age of Middle-earth.
Back in August, at the Gamescom conference, we had the chance to see the game in action, as several of its key developers described its inception.
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It's a survival and crafting game that focuses on the dwarves of Middle-earth as they return to Moria after Sauron's downfall and attempt to reclaim their home of Khazad-dûm.
After seeing the demo, we were able to ask a few questions to Jon-Paul Dumont, the game director on Return to Moria.
And if you're wondering how a small video game company came to be making an unlikely sequel to The Lord of the Rings, you can see him explain all in the video below:
As part of an effort from Middle-earth Entertainment to get independent games companies exploring corners of the Tolkien lore that have never been touched by AAA titles, Free Range Games developed an idea for a survival/crafting game that would hinge on a promise that Gimli made in the appendices.
As Dumont recalls it, "Gimli promised Aragorn that he would rebuild the gates of Minas Tirith with Mithril. Mithril's only in Moria. So that gives us a really good time period of, okay, Gimli made a promise. Gimli is only around for so long. And that helped us sort of figure it out. And then, from there, the rest started to flow."
The idea developed into a whole story that would see Gimli and the dwarves reclaiming Moria, fighting off orcs and other foes as they retake their homes, giving the player ample combat challenges and the opportunity to craft and build their own epic homes. You'll be living your best dwarf life, basically!
In terms of getting permission to play in this era, Dumont says: "We went to Middle-earth Entertainment, our licensors. And it was like, 'Hey, you know, no one's really gone into the Fourth Age before. Could we do this?' And they were super excited.
"They felt like this was such an interesting way to give a familiar environment and world building, but a story with stakes that no one's really played or seen before."
There were challenges along the way, of course, with the developers aiming to create a procedurally-generated world that would keep throwing new obstacles at the player without messing around with the established geography of Middle-earth.
But for every challenge, it sounds like there was an equal or greater number of fan-pleasing moments that brought the LotR-loving developers joy along the way. They've produced a whole album of songs, for example, for the dwarves to sing as they work away in the mines.
Dumont enthused: "When we think about Lord of the Rings, it's so much about the world building and the storytelling that Professor Tolkien did. But there's also the songs and the poems that he wrote. So, at multiple times throughout the game, you can sing.
"When you're mining, inspiration will strike, and you can begin singing a mining song. When you're drinking, you can sing. And at certain sort of reverent times, you can sing in the Dwarven language, which we reconstructed completely for the game."
Of all the geeky elements that have made into this release, though, there's one particular element that Dumont seems to be particularly thrilled about.
As he puts it, "We're really excited because John Rhys-Davies is actually back as Gimli in the game, because you just can't listen to Gimli and not... it has to be John Rhys-Davies.
"And when we got him into the booth and started to talk to him and do the voice recording session, just immediately it was like, 'Oh, this is it's Gimli. It's like we're here.'"
But what about the other fan favourite characters that should still be alive and kicking in this age?
Dumont doesn't promise anything specific on that front, but he does tell us, "The rest of the characters, we know where they are in the Fourth Age. And part of our plan is to continue to build out the game after launch and keep making it better and adding, and that's one area we have thought about."
And what do we say to that, folks? Let them come!
The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is out now on PC, with launches planned in future for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. You can learn more on its official website.
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