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Tales of the Shire Opinions

Opinions 20 June 2024, 02:44

author: Mike Manka

Tales of the Shire Hands-On: The Coziest Stardew Valley in Middle-Earth

I played Tales of the Shire and I can't shake the impression that recently this is the best game in the Lord of the Rings universe that we will get. However, not everyone will like it.

The Lord of the Rings is a very extensive universe. It consists of Tolkien's books, movies by Peter Jackson, a number of games released by Electronic Arts in the past, and more recently by Warner (The Return of the King and The Battle for Middle-earth are definitely part of my gaming top). I recently had the opportunity to play Tales of the Shire, announced last year, and it made me sit back in my chair with joy. Maybe it's old news, but a cozy game in a hobbit world is something I didn't know I needed.

Here "nothing" happens

Tales of the Shire takes us to... well, you'll never guess where. By embodying a self-created character, we are tasked with restoring the burrow and its associated territories that have come into our possession. No rush, because what's the point of hurrying, anyway? Life in the Shire flows very peacefully and idyllically. Mister Bilbo came back from his journey to the Lonely Mountain some time ago and has clearly become peculiar - he can't stop talking about some ADVENTURES. Fortunately, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is still around, the only wise one among those respectable Bagginses. However, let's not digress from the subject - we are still a long way from the dark period of the War of the Ring and the infamous Battle of Bywater in the year 3019 of the Third Age; we won't be fighting orcs here, we won't be commanding an army, our main concern will likely be a splinter in our finger while gardening. And Gandalf, that damned troublemaker.

Tales of the Shire, Private Division, 2024


Who might be interested in a Middle-earth game where there's no combat? Probably those 30 million players who bought Stardew Valley. Tales of the Shire is a cozy game that's a perfect fit for Hobbiton. The story goes more or less the same way as in every title derived from Harvest Moon: we get our own piece of floor, we get to know the inhabitants and establish relationships with them, while participating in the life of the community. We pick flowers and herbs, catch fish, trade with other hobbits, but most importantly, we do the two most important things in the life of all hobbits - we cook and eat.

What about second breakfast?

In contrast to a game such as Stardew Valley, where we formed relationships with other residents by giving them gifts, here the crucial aspect of improving our relationships is having meals together. We cook very often, sometimes as part of quests, and sometimes just to take our relationship with other hobbits to a higher level.

The cooking itself is more complex than in similar games of this type, but I wouldn't consider it complicated. During several minutes of gameplay, I had the opportunity to prepare a few meals. It began with very basic tasks - just mixing the ingredients together, occasionally chopping something. However, when I loaded a save from a later stage of the game, the method of preparing the ingredients became crucial. The vegetables could be cut into larger or smaller pieces, the meat could be fried more or less, and to achieve a specific taste of the dish, it was necessary to use additional herbs during cooking, which can make it more salty or sweet. All of this was presented in a fairly accessible form, so that anyone could become Gordon Ramsey, if he was 3’6”.

Tales of the Shire, Private Division, 2024


I was charmed by the fact that when I invited another hobbit to share a snack, I was the one arranging the dishes on the table. Seriously: removing the dish from the equipment made me move the object around the table to place it in the right spot. I'm curious if it's only for our satisfaction, or if showing our dishes to other hobbits will also impact the bonuses from a communal meal. Unfortunately, I was unable to verify this, although from the gameplay fragment provided, I deduce that it may also involve assigning specific dishes to hobbits.

We gather, buy, or grow ingredients for cooking. Daytimes or seasons are present in this game. However, the game doesn't force us at all costs; the fear of a ticking clock won't be as intense as in Stardew Valley. When we were running back from the mine, at 2:00 in the morning just before reaching home, we would collapse, and upon waking up in the morning, we would find items missing from our pockets, strangely enough.

Tales of the Shire, Private Division, 2024


Part of the living world

Bywater is a village that is still growing, but where we can find places known from Tolkien's books. The Green Dragon Inn and The Great East Road are names that every fan of books and movies should be familiar with. Weta Workshop, a team of people with delightful New Zealand accents, is responsible for the project and has been involved in the world of the Lord of the Rings since its beggining. They were responsible for creating set designs, costumes, armor, weapons, monsters, and miniatures for Peter Jackson's movies over 20 years ago. This team has extensive experience in Tolkien's world and ensures that everything follows J.R.R.'s original vision. For instance, the customization of our character is extremely extensive. The variety of outfits available should satisfy everyone. However, while changing the hairstyle isn't a problem, our hobbits cannot have beards or mustaches. And why is that? - you may ask. Have you ever seen hobbits with a beard?

Tales of the Shire, Private Division, 2024


The devs focus on a very high level of immersion. They desire for everything at Bywater to align with the books, for the familiar characters we meet to correspond with Tolkien's vision, and for the game to provide gameplay solutions that don't disrupt the rhythm of this world. My favorite example is navigating a map. After placing a point in the village or on the given hobbit, usually some arrows or other magical solutions would appear. This time, however, we are led to our destination by blue birds that perch on fences or poles. There aren't an infinite number of them - instead, when we pass by one of them, it will fly ahead from behind us to take its place in that navigational lineup. Hobbits also don't sprint in an unnaturally dynamic way - instead, they joyfully bounce, waving their hands. I ran around during most of my gaming session because it looked so cute.

There is something to complain about

However, it's not a flawless game for one obvious reason - the graphic style. The developers went in a direction reminiscent of illustrations from children's books. The characters themselves occasionally look bad, despite the fact that the backgrounds and environmental elements look very good. I'm sure that with the camera and lighting set up correctly, they could turn into the demons from my nightmares. I don't fully comprehend the significant visual dissonance, as it truly seems like entirely different people worked on each. I hope the characters will get a little touch-up. Although there isn't much time left, because the game is supposed to be released later this year.

One of my concerns is also the issue of gameplay objectives. While restoring our den sounds like a cool task in itself, in Stardew Valley we also had to renovate our community center, as well as mines into which we could go down, fight monsters, collect resources, and feel a slight thrill. Tales of the Shire doesn't appear to be interested in offering something similar, especially in such a picturesque world, but I acknowledge that I haven't seen the entire game yet, so these are just my speculations and uncertainties based on interacting with only a fragment of the gameplay.

Tales of the Shire, Private Division, 2024


As an absolute triviality, I will add that I asked the devs if they plan to introduce the ability to sit on chairs and armchairs. It was one of the first things I wanted to do after putting a chair in front of my burrow - and I couldn't! I heard that they will reconsider it. I accept payment in pipe-weed if sitting down hits the game.

Perhaps it's really a question of age, but Tales of the Shire impressed me more than I expected before the presentation. The entire experience is incredibly calming, the world of Lord of the Rings is depicted in a period that perfectly suits the idea of a cozy game. The developers clearly pay attention to details. Besides, I've always wanted to set up my own hobbit burrow. It's good that the doors are round.

Mike Manka

Mike Manka

He started his adventure with GRYOnline.pl in April 2015 by responding to emails and preparing reports in Excel. Later, he worked on the Gameplay.pl service, the Editorials at Gamepressure.com and its YouTube channel, in the meantime developing his skills at tvgry.pl. Since 2019, he has been responsible for creating and developing the tvfilmy channel, and since 2022 he has been the editor in charge of the video department, which currently includes tvgry, tvgry+, tvfilmy and tvtech. He owes his employment at GRYOnline.pl partially thanks to English philology. Even though he is currently working on many things, gaming still remains closest to his heart. In his free time, he reads books, watches series, and plays several instruments. He has been dreaming of owning a Mustang for years.


Tales of the Shire

Tales of the Shire

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