Tales of the Shire Is the Cozy Lord of the Rings Game of Your Dreams

What about Second Breakfast?

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Tales of the Shire
Private Division

Lord of the Rings is the most prolific fantasy series of all time, and it’s had a pretty successful run in the realm of video games, including the critically acclaimed Shadow of Mordor games. There’s been dozens of Lord of the Rings games, but each and every one has focused on battles and bloodshed, and not on Hobbits’ happier day-to-day life. Tales of the Shire finally changes that, giving us a laidback Shire-loving experience, one that feels like it should have existed long before now. After going hands-on with Tales of the Shire at Summer Game Fest, it’s clear the title has everything you’d expect from a cozy game, but the Lord of the Rings flavor is what could truly make it something special.

If you think for just a few seconds about the best settings for cozy exploration or farming games, the Shire is likely one place that comes up near the absolute top of the list. The idyllic rolling green hills and happy hairy-footed people feel like a match made in heaven with the cozy game, and I’m pleased to report Tales of the Shire already feels like it's nailing it.

The Shire is bustling with activity each day.

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In a short 30-minute demo, I got a chance to go through some tutorials, customize my character (you can even change your feet hair), and explore a bit of the Shire and its activities. It’s a world that I could have easily spent more hours immersed in, even if Tales of the Shire isn’t exactly breaking the cozy gaming mold.

The first thing that immediately struck me was how stunning this rendition of the Shire looks. Trailers absolutely don’t do it justice the same way as seeing it in motion. The whole game is given a stylized, kind of painterly aesthetic, with dappled sunlight shining through trees, smoke lazily wafting its way up from chimneys, and wildlife darting through rows of crops. A Private Division representative said the art style was designed to evoke “nostalgia” in players, even though it doesn’t exactly match anything we’ve seen in games or movies.

Much of the Shire and surrounding area of Bywater was designed by looking at old maps that J.R.R. Tolkien had drawn and piecing them together. Even in my short time I did get the feeling that the Shire was somewhere I knew, instantly becoming familiar with the bustling market in the middle, the lovely Green Dragon Inn up on the hill, and of course, my own cozy Hobbit Hole that I returned to at night.

Hobbits go about their daily tasks during the day, but at night might gather for a drink at the Green Dragon Inn.

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If you’ve played anything like Animal Crossing or Disney Dreamlight Valley, you’ll know what to expect here. You can wander around the Shire engaging in a variety of activities, like cooking, fishing, gardening, designing your house, and more. While I was playing through my demo, a representative from Private Division noted that the development team wanted Tales of the Shire to be as “stress free” as possible, meaning everything you do is at your own pace. Even the cooking minigame has no fail option, meaning you can’t fail to cook something, but can only cook it better.

What’s interesting here, though, is how Tales of the Shire seems like it might have a bit more of a story focus than other cozy games. At your house, you can check your mailbox, which will give you a variety of letters from the other inhabitants of the Shire, granting you quests. It seems like there’s a dedicated number of fleshed-out NPCs who each get their own “Tale” to play through. I don’t have a sense of exactly how long these storylines will be, but they are dedicated friendships that you build. However, there won’t be any romance in Tales of the Shire, as the development team felt it wouldn’t fit with the tone of the game, and wanted to focus on the friendly sense of companionship that Hobbits are known for instead.

Dishes you cook can be put in your inventory and given to friends, or stashed in your stores at home.

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Each day you’re free to pursue whatever activities you want, but can also undertake the quests other Hobbits give you, which leads to one of my favorite little details in Tales of the Shire. When you track a quest, you get an in-game visual cue to guide you to the next location, which takes the form of a series of cute little orange birds that point your way. It’s Ghost of Tsushima-esque in how the waymarker is integrated into the world, and such a smart little trick.

My Summer Game Fest was filled with back-to-back appointments where I played a lot of games with a heavy focus on action, survival elements, or fighting mechanics. I was going nonstop, and my Tales of the Shire demo was such a fantastic change of pace that let me relax and center myself for a bit. To me, that’s a sign that a cozy game is doing something right. I didn’t feel stressed to try and do everything for impressions, I just vibed and took in the world of the Shire, and the bounty it had to offer.

I may have some doubts about Tales of the Shire keeping me invested for dozens of hours, but for now I’m just excited to finally get a relaxing combat-free game set in Tolkien’s beloved world.

Tales of the Shire releases in 2024 on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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