I remember when my brother and I first found this game, way back in the late '80s. We were big fans of The Lord of the Rings and I was really excited to be able to play a game that let me explore Middle Earth. Of course, since it came out back in 1988, the level of detail of the world was minimal. Not to mention our computers weren't state-of-the-art, even for the time. Still, I had always wondered about distant places on the map--Arnor, Angmar, Rhűn, Harad, and so on--and now you could select an area to zoom in on. That was very cool, even if the result wasn't spectacular since these places all looked about the same: rocks, trees, maybe a city or fortress in the background, or what have you. Even the deepest depths of Mirkwood looked like open fields with a few trees. Still, it wasn't too bad for the time. It's not like today where you can play Lord of the Rings Online and explore Middle Earth in detail from a first-person perspective.
Ah, notalgia. Anyhow, I came back to this game years later and explored it more carefully, with a (much) more capable computer. Aaron Willis had a fan site which showed most of the items you can find, what they do, and where to find them. That site's gone now, so I've written this one to pick up where it left off, and help others who might discover this game and be puzzled about what to do with it. I've created a table of the findable items similar to that old fan site, and I've also modified an image of the game map to show where all the findable items are.
Rather than tell you everything about how to play the game, I'll offer my pointers about what the manual doesn't tell you. First off, what's with these findable items I mentioned? Some are weapons or healing potions. Others activate units. You start the game with only two units you can order around besides the proto-Fellowship (Frodo, Sam, and Pippin--yes, Merry's not there yet; in the book, he met them in Buckland). But if you can collect the Red Arrow and bring it to Edoras, you'll activate Rohan. That sort of thing.
War in Middle Earth was released on a number of different platforms: the ZX Spectrum, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, MS-DOS, Commodore Amiga, Apple IIGS, and Atari ST. Some of the particulars of the game, especially its graphics, differed a bit between platforms, but everything I mention here will pertain to the DOS version: it's the one I know, and the only one I've played.
If you're new to this game, it's been desribed as a mix of strategic and RPG (Role-Playing Game). However, to my mind there's very little RPG to this game; it's mostly strategic. It does have the added dynamic that your strategic actions are mostly a means to an end: getting the Ring to Mount Doom. One of the few RPG-like elements is that you can see and (very crudely) direct individual characters at the animation level. The game is played at three levels:
Also I should mention that the graphics of individual characters are somewhat disappointing. The Hobbits all look alike; the Men are all smiling all the time. Trolls actually look friendly, and Balrogs look like anthropomorphic hedgehogs. Dunlendings, Easterlings, and Southrons all look identical (and lame), and the nazgűl are on foot, even though it shows a black rider right on the box cover. Also the nazgűl, barrow wights, Dead Men of Dunharrow, and even Sauron all look alike, just in different colors. This is probably to be expected of a game from this time period (remember it had to ship on floppy disk, so space was at a premium), but still I should warn you not to get your hopes up about the graphics.
There are two ways to win or lose the game.
You win if:
- You get the Ring to Mount Doom
- You kill Sauron
You lose if:
- The computer takes the Ring to Barad Dűr
- The computer takes at least 3 of your 5 main cities: Minas Tirith, Edoras, Hornburg, Lórien, Thranduil's Palace
You might recognize killing Sauron as the more difficult victory condition; in fact, it's pretty much just plain impossible without using an exploit. However, it is a valid victory condition. Now if the ringbearer's party is killed off, a nazgűl will come immeditately to the site, grab the ring, and make a beeline for Barad Dűr. However if the ringbearer is killed and other party members remain, one of them will pick it up and continue on, so it's to your advantage to never leave the ringbearer unaccompanied.
Combat shows in two ways. Fights between armies happen in a boring screen where you see the numbers of the units on either side, but don't get to actually watch the fighting. Fights between just a few people (mainly, the Fellowship vs. nazgűl or other monsters) take place at the animation level where you can see them "drunkenly waving swords at each other" as Michal hilariously put it (so that's what was in the Black Flasks!). In either case you can give your individual units or party members orders to: Charge, Engage, Withdraw, or Retreat. Not too exciting, but these options can keep you alive. You can avoid the ringbearer putting on the Ring by having him withdraw or retreat, but I think that with the ring on he's a stronger fighter (except against nazgűl and maybe wights). More importantly, if you're up against something serious like nazgűl, a balrog, or trolls, you can save most of the party by having them all retreat except one. Once you've told the other party members to retreat, the last one is stuck in combat, fighting to the death (generally, his death). This means you want to keep multiple individuals in the Fellowship, and as you go along, take note of the most expendable member of the group so you know who to abandon when the need arises.
There's a very big exploit in the game. I'm not a big fan of game cheats, but this one can be a lot of fun. If you really want a challenge or just prefer to play the game as it was intended, you'll want to avoid this, but if you'd like to use it, you can give send orders to units you don't control; players online have called this "force-marching". To do it, move a unit you control onto one you don't. Press G, then click on the group, and it will display the units in the group. Now click on the unit you don't control; the cursor will change (see pic at right), and you can give it a destination. This works on units you don't control yet, so you can move a lot of Gondor's troops up to Minas Tirith where they'll be needed, without having to bring the Scepter to Denethor or at least getting them there sooner.
Much more spectacularly, it also lets you move units you're never supposed to control, mainly the Ents and Huorns, which makes this a very powerful exploit indeed. Harlequin says he likes to have the Ents attack Minas Morgul, something he describes as "the front door approach", but personally I've found better uses for them. Like anyone else they're not too good at assaulting fortresses held by overwhelming numbers, but they're well-nigh invincible behind fortifications. Send the huorns to Minas Tirith and they'll hold off wave after wave of enemy attacks, though they will succumb eventually. Ents and huorns together at Minas Tirith might just defeat everything Sauron sends against it. Using the treefolk this way should buy you plenty of time to get the Fellowship to Mount Doom.
A unit can't have more than one of any type of item in the game. So, for instance, Aragorn is carrying an Ancient Sword, so if the Fellowship goes to Ost-in-Edhil and he picks up the Ancient Sword, it'll simply disappear. Instead, have another party member (maybe Boromir) pick up the sword. Likewise if you have, say, Éomer gathering useful items for you, if he picks up a Black Flask and then another one, the second will be lost forever.
People have also reported buggy behavior with military units; I haven't verified these myself, but I should mention them. When you have an army composed of multiple types/groups (like if you've gathered whatever troops you can at Minas Tirith), supposedly your units will take more casualties per number of opponents. Also, when you see that two military units have met up and one asks the other to join, supposedly if you say yes, you lose men when the forces combine. (Yet you'll lose more in combat by having separate units! So what're you supposed to do anyway? I haven't puzzled this one out yet. I generally let them join so I'll have fewer but larger units.)
My biggest frustration with the game is that units don't always go the direction you tell them to. Tell the party to go east, it goes southwest. Tell it to go west, it goes south! Tell it to go south to get off the road, it goes east along the road, following the nazgűl you were trying to get away from until you catch up with it and have a fight you specifically told it to avoid. Argh! (I think sometimes there's simply a several-second delay between when you give the order and when the unit changes direction, but that doesn't seem to be all there is to it.) Sometimes you have to tell a unit several times before it goes where you want it to. It seems to do better with directions to places farther away, but when you're trying to evade the nazgűl early in the game, you want to avoid giving the party a distant destination, because it will automatically seek the fastest way there: i.e., along the roads.
So yes, you can find yourself in a spot where you don't want to give directions somewhere close by lest the unit go the wrong way, yet you don't dare give it directions far away for the same reason. It's just something you have to deal with from time to time.
When the game begins, your first order of business is to get off the road, just like in the book and the movie. Fortunately the game opens on the proto-Fellowship at Hobbiton, so you don't have to go searching for it. Send it somewhere offroad, which can be tricky because the UI is very clunky and doesn't always work right, as mentioned above. So keep close tabs on the party early on until you've gotten it moving cross-country.
Once you have the party offroad, consider where you want it to go. Buckland is a good choice, because there are lots of goodies in that area and it's on your way toward Rivendell. There are other possibilities though. You might consider sending the party to Annúminas to get the Scepter, or places west to pick up potions or mithril (though that's a long way off your beaten path), or up to Mount Gram to get the Red Arrow, a mithril shirt, and a flask. I generally avoid all that for now and try to make my way to Buckland, avoiding the Black, uh, Walkers as best I can.
If you do pick up healing potions, try not to use them before you reach Rivendell, since everyone will be healed there for free anyway.
Get off the road!
Now that the party has a destination to keep it occupied, you can look to strategic concerns. You have a number of friendly units, but only two that you can control at the start of the game: Faramir in northeast Gondor, and Éomer in northern Rohan. Éomer moves much faster than Faramir, as you'd expect. There are several possibilities for them, but of course you face an opportunity cost: once they're doing one thing, they won't have time to do another. You have to decide what's most important and then send them off.
If you want to use the exploit, you'll probably want to send Faramir down to the area around Osgiliath and have him force-march the assorted troops there to Minas Tirith, then head south and force-march all the available troops in southern Gondor--Pelargir, Linhir, and Dol Amroth--to the capital as well. That way they'll be there in time to defend the city. Meanwhile there are a couple things you can do with Éomer. He can force-march Denethor and/or Théoden to Lórien so Gondor and/or Rohan will mobilize when the party reaches there. You may not want to move Denethor though; you run the risk of having him (and his 1500 infantry) still on the way home while Minas Tirith is under attack. You can also have Éomer ride for Dale, Erebor, and Thranduil's Palace and force-march some of them south. Don't send them all though; Thranduil's Palace is one of the cities that can lose you the game, and once Sauron activates he will have some Easterlings on the way there.
Faramir and (especially) Éomer are handy for rounding up and delivering items, whether you're using the exploit or not. If you're not using the exploit, one of them (ideally Éomer) can get the Dwarven Ring or Silver Orb and take it to Erebor or Thranduil so you can send reinforcements to Minas Tirith. Remember that it takes them (especially the Dwarves) a long time to reach Gondor, so don't delay if you want them to come to the White City. Éomer could swing around and pick up the Ancient Sword for someone (other than Aragorn) to use. Alternatively you can send one of the two groups to Rivendell; they'll be there by the time the Fellowship is ready to set out after its two-month rest, and will provide the party extra protection. You could have them stop in Lórien and pick up the items there along the way.
Only once you get Éomer and Faramir started on their first errand should you first start adjusting the game speed (T command). It has three settings: Normal, Hasty, and Very Hasty. I find I spend most of my time at Hasty (the in-between setting) over the course of a game. Normal is ideal when you want to make sure you give an order before anything else happens, but otherwise is just too slow. Very Hasty is very fast indeed: I use it when there will be a significant lag before I'm ready to give anyone any further orders, mainly when I have everyone on their way somewhere but it will be several days' journey before the first arrives.
Next up, check in on the proto-Fellowship. Eventually you'll want to make your way to Buckland, where you'll pick up Merry (expendable party members FTW!). Then head a bit east into the Old Forest and pick up the Gnarled Staff. Next, head for Tom Bombadil's House and have one of the hobbits (but not Frodo) pick up the Elven Blade. You may want to head north a little into the Barrow Downs and pick up an Elven Blade for another member of the party, though that increases the risk of being attacked by a barrow wight, and seeing something like the illustration here. Either way, next make your way to Bree, where you'll meet Aragorn.
At some point, the nazgűl will stop prowling the Shire area and Weathertop, and head for the Ford of Bruinen to lay a trap for you. Until that time, keep to the west. Either before or after Buckland you may want to pick up the Black Flask in Tuckborough, the Blue Potion at Michel Delving, and/or the Scepter of Annúminas. If you're feeling extra ambitious, maybe run up to Mount Gram to grab the goodies there. You can take a gamble and send an expendable party member (say, Merry) up to Mt. Gram in the hopes he can bring the items to Rivendell, but there's a good chance he'll be attacked along the way. It'll help if he's armed, of course, but that does mean diverting a valuable weapon and an expendable party member away from the main mission.
Don't forget to keep checking in with Faramir and Éomer; you want them running errands for you in the time you have available. If you want them to be somewhere far away, give them the destination before you reach Rivendell. You'll be resting there for two months and can't give orders during that time, so if you tell them to head for Rivendell they'll be there when you're ready to set out. They can bring you items they've picked up (such as the Dwarven Hammer) and can even escort the Fellowship.
Once the nazgűl have left the area (or at least once they're not close to Bree), head there, where you'll meet with Aragorn. If you don't have the Scepter you may want to go northwest to pick it up, especially if the nazgűl haven't gone east yet. It's very helpful to use it to mobilize Gondor early. Once you have the Scepter or are just ready to move on, your next destination is Rivendell, as in the book and movie. How you get there will depend on the current location of the nazgűl and on what your strategy is. You could send the party up to Mount Gundabad to collect the items there, but I generally don't. The Red Arrow is much less important than the Scepter, since Rohan will mobilize once Gandalf meets Théoden, whether he has the Arrow or not (having the Arrow will let you mobilize Rohan if Gandalf is killed or separated from the party), and a black flask and suit of mithril aren't really worth the detour. I've also tried taking the party around the forest, to come down to Rivendell from the north so as to avoid the ambush at Bruinen, but you're often attacked in the Trollshaws by, you guessed it, trolls.
Another option, if the nazgűl are still around, is to simply head north or south and parallel the Great East Road. This is a fast way of getting there, but it can be hazardous for the reason mentioned above, that you're trying to stay off the road and the computer will sometimes send the party the wrong direction, and possibly try to put you on the road to travel faster. If the nazgűl have all left, of course, you can simply take the road. Either way, make for the Last Bridge. From there, head for the Ford of Buinen, where the nazgűl are lying in wait.
Just inside the forest, you'll meet Glorfindel; agree to follow him. When you reach the Ford, the nazgűl will ambush you, which would totally end the game, except...Elrond appears out of nowhere and messes them up. He's basically invincible, so have all your party members withdraw from combat and watch as he takes out the nazgűl one by one. (Note: if for some reason you're headed for the Ford of Bruinen from the north or south, be sure to go first to the Last Bridge and follow the road east so as to pick up Glorfindel--otherwise Elrond may not make it to the Ford in time, which would put you on the wrong end of a rather uneven fight, as shown at right. If you meet Glorfindel and say not to follow him, he'll travel ahead of you and be attacked by a pair of trolls at the Ford. He'll win, but still, for some reason Elrond doesn't know you're coming until a bit too late, and he probably won't arrive in time to help you.)
First thing to do is stop the Fellowship leaving Rivendell immediately, or send it back, and have someone pick up the suit of mithril. If you had Éomer or Faramir bring items to Rivendell, have them drop the items and have Fellowship members pick them up (maybe give Frodo the glowing vial and Sam the coil of rope, for instance). Also give Gandalf the staff, if you grabbed it back in the Old Forest, to make him stronger in combat. Next, you must decide how to cross the Misty Mountains. You have four basic options.
Now send Gandalf to Edoras; when he meets Théoden that will wake him up, and Rohan will mobilize shortly. You don't need the Red Arrow for this so long as you have Gandalf. If you won't be moving the Huorns via the exploit, move all the Rohirrim out of Hornburg, since the Huorns will defend the place just fine; send those troops to Edoras or maybe Minas Tirith, or use them however you see fit. If you have the Scepter of Annúminas, take it to Denethor at Minas Tirith (or wherever you may have sent him using the exploit), and bring up troops toward the capital as fast as you can. The more distant units probably won't make it in time--you could gather them in Pelargir instead, which might help by waylaying Corsairs and Southrons.
Meanwhile, the Fellowship has to make its way into Mordor somehow. Knocking on the door at Minas Morgul or the Morannon is obviously out. The other two options I know of are to cross the mountains or go around them; I don't think you can effectively take the pass at Cirith Ungol in the game. Going around the mountains can work, but it's perilous: you run a not insignificant risk of encountering deadly opponents in Mordor such as balrogs. As Kizor put it on CPRG Addict's review below, "Rhűn is enemy territory. Dagorlad is a plain, and the enemy can fly." The first time I won the game I did it that way, but next game I was killed by a balrog somewhat shy of Mount Doom. Going over the mountains is probably your best bet, though it's difficult and tedious as I've mentioned above; the Fellowship usually takes quite a bit of prodding to enter the mountains, then a bit more to keep going (though I can't say I blame them!).
Once you're in Mordor you still have the problem that Mount Doom is guarded by 5000 orcs. For this you have two options. You can gather a big force, send it across the mountains and launch a big frontal assault on Mt. Doom, or you can sit on the edge of the mountains and wait. That force will eventually set off to attack the Free Peoples. The problem with the first option is pretty obvious; the trouble with the second is that by the time the army leaves Mt. Doom, you may have already lost Minas Tirith and Edoras and be about to lose a third city, thereby losing the game. But once the place is unguarded you can stroll right up and toss the Ring into the Fire.
You can save or restore the game by going up to the map level and clicking on the scroll icon (or pressing A). You can only have one saved game at a time.
If you travel to Hollin Gate, you'll activate Gollum, who might come in handy later. It seems that sometimes you can give him orders, while other times you can't; this might be done to reflect his untrustworthiness. Once activated he will trail the party; you might be able to use him to get through Morîa if you're feeling like living dangerously, or he'll follow you over the Redhorn. If you go south toward the Gap of Rohan, he'll wander off and cross through Morîa. You can have him meet up with the party later if you want. It seems that he won't join the Fellowship as long as Gandalf is with it, but he can lead the others (presumably as a guide) if Gandalf is gone. The party will then be very good at evading encounters.
One day I noticed that Dunharrow was included in the map (it's identified if you click there), so I got the bright idea of using Aragorn to mobilize the Army of the Dead, just as Gandalf mobilizes the Ents and Huorns. Unfortunately the game doesn't do that; the dead men are treated as wandering monsters found in that region. I sent Aragorn through there and he was attacked by dead men. I even had Aragorn get the Ancient Sword from Ost-in-Edhil and then go down there, but he evaded or was attacked by various groups of the dead. So don't bother with this one.
If Gandalf is killed, he will revive some time later in Lórien as Gandalf' (the apostrophe is presumably to show that he's now Gandalf the White). I don't know if Gandalf' (the White) is more powerful than Gandalf (the Grey), but I would assume so since that's what happened in the story.
If you lose three of your five main cities, you lose the game. Here's a quick rundown of what you're looking at.
You can control the game almost entirely with the mouse, but it's a lot easier if you use the keyboard as well.
|A||Archive (save/restore game)|
|G||Go (send a unit somewhere)|
|M||Magnify (zoom in)|
|O||Take / Put down / Use Object|
|P||Pause the game|
|Q||Quiet (sound) on/off|
|S||Status of active unit(s)|
|T||Time (game speed)|
|U||Up a level (zoom out)|
Years ago (at least through mid-2013), Aaron Willis hosted a War in Middle Earth fan site decorated with lots of graphics from the game, and featuring an inspiring (to me, anyway) table of the items you can pick up and where to find them. His site seems to be gone now, but I've created a table based on his, including the same information and more. "Usable" here refers to whether the item is something you can Take, Put Down, or Use at the animation level. Items that aren't "Usable" are things like weapons and armor that are used automatically as needed. Note that I'm not 100% certain of everything here, especially what's in the Purpose/Notes column, plus there may be a few items out there I haven't managed to discover. If you find any corrections to this table, please let me know.
|Item||What it Is||Where to Find It||Usable||Purpose / Notes|
|Elven Blade||C4: Tom Bombadil's House|
C4: Barrow Downs
|No||Weapon (good for Hobbits).|
Seems to be a stand-in for both Sting and the Daggers of Westernesse from the Barrow Downs.
|Scepter of Annúminas||B3: West of Annúminas||Yes||Give to Denethor to mobilize Gondor.|
The "Sceptre" was kept at Rivendell in the books, but in the game it's out in the open near Annúminas.
|Red Arrow||B5: South of Mount Gram||Yes||Give to Théoden to mobilize Rohan.|
The Red Arrow was used by Gondor to summon aid from its ally Rohan. In the books, it was sent from Gondor to Rohan, but in the game it's found abandoned near Mt. Gram.
|Silver Orb||A5: Ruin east of Mount Gundabad||Yes||Give to Thranduil to mobilize the Elves.|
As far as I know, it's an artifact or jewel made up for the game, with no specific reference from the books.
|Dwarven Hammer||B7: North of Erebor||No||Weapon (best for Gimli).|
Oddly enough, there isn't a bow or something available for Legolas, maybe because the game doesn't show ranged weapons being used.
|Dwarven Ring||D6: North of Dol Guldur||Yes||Give to Dáin to mobilize the Dwarves. (Note: Dáin should be pronounced "day-in" or "dine", not "dane" as in the Hobbit movies.)|
This was the last of the Dwarven Rings to be reclaimed by Sauron. In the game, Thráin hid it in the woods before his capture. You can't wield it as a Ring of Power . . . which is probably just as well.
|Ancient Sword||D4: South of Ost-in-Edhil||No||Weapon.|
Seems to be patterned on Narsil (which Aragorn carries in the game), and/or Glamdring and Orcrist. Like in the books, the Sword that was Broken was a much more functional weapon than it was made to look in the movies; presumably it was broken much closer to the tip. Maybe it was reduced from a bastard sword to (effectively) a broadsword.
|Blue Potion||C3: North of White Towers|
C3: Grey Mountains
C3: Michel Delving
E3: Small town southwest of Tharbad
|Black Flask||B5: South of Mt. Gram|
|Mithril Mail||B2: Belegost|
B5: South of Mt. Gram
Mithril is very strong yet light, and makes excellent mail that can be worn under ordinary clothing.
|Palantír||C2: South of Forlond||Yes||Tells you the rumors you hear from NPCs in the game. Each use seems to have a slight chance of activating Saruman (and therefore also Rohan). You don't really want this to happen because it's better to get the Ents and Huorns to fight Saruman so the Rohirrim will be free to fight Sauron.|
Pretty much worthless since you have to go far out of your way to get the palantír and you get rumors for free randomly anyway (and the rumors are mostly about where to find items).
|Gnarled Staff||C4: East of Buckland||No||Weapon (best for Gandalf).|
|Glowing Vial||D5: Lórien |
E3: Small town southwest of Tharbad
|Yes||Healing (of some kind)?|
At first I assumed this was the "Phial" of Galadriel given to Frodo, but there's another Glowing Vial out in the southwest and this seems to give some kind of healing instead of driving off evil. Maybe it functions as both a blue potion and a black flask (i.e., it heals and gives strength simultaneously)?
|Coil of Rope||D5: Lórien |
|Yes||I don't know what it does; it doesn't seem to help you cross mountains like I would have expected. Even though it's available when you tell a character to use an object, you can't actually use this anywhere, as far as I can tell, including in and on approach to mountains; it just tells you there's no need to use it there. It also can't be used on (or by) Gollum, so I don't know what it's for. This is, of course, a copy of the elven rope given to Samwise by Galadriel, so why it doesn't help travel in rough country confuses me.|
|Elven Cloak||D5: Lórien |
|No||Makes it easier to evade enemies and monsters.|