This Lord of the Rings game with no combat is the cozy experience I didn't know I needed

Tales of the Shire hobbit hole
(Image credit: Private Division)

A pinch of salt. Some careful chopping to leave everything chunky. A pinch of salt. Some simmering to make sure the fish is cooked well. Yet another pinch of salt. My neighbor in Hobbiton asked for a salty dish, and I'm not about to have them be disappointed. 

So it goes in Tales of the Shire: A The Lord of the Rings Game from Wētā Workshop and Private Division, a decidedly different title compared to many of the prior video game adventures set in the world of Middle-earth. During Summer Game Fest 2024, I got to play Tales of the Shire for about 25 minutes, cooking meals, going fishing, and merrily bounding through the safe locality of the Shire. 

Overall, I had a lot of fun, as there's some surprising depth to getting the recipes right, but it always remains low-stakes, with whimsy and a lack of stress that befits the relaxed inhabitants of Hobbiton. Still, there are a couple of technical issues that need to be seen to before launch. Here's my thoughts.

Tales of the Shire: A Lord of the Rings Game preview

Tales of the Shire - Official Announcement Trailer - PEGI - YouTube Tales of the Shire - Official Announcement Trailer - PEGI - YouTube
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My time playing Tales of the Shire: A The Lord of the Rings Game opened with me completing a tutorial, then selecting a save set a couple of hours further into the game. While it didn't fit within the scope of this preview, Private Division tells me that you'll be able to make your own Hobbit in the full game. 

The story setup here is extremely simple. Having recently inherited a new Hobbit Hole, you endeavor to fix it up, which will require a hefty amount of work that can't all be done at once, not with Second Breakfast, Elevenses, and Afternoon Tea waiting. Along the way, you'll need to get to know your neighbors and fit it with the community, and the way to a Hobbit's heart is through their stomach, so that means cooking. Lots and lots of cooking.

In order to cook, you'll need ingredients. Some recipes are simple, calling for merely a couple of things, but as you progress, the instructions get more and more complex, calling for more frequent use of rarer meats and vegetables, with less margin for error in exactly how it's all prepared. Each dish might have a set direction (if you're making spicy food with a lot of heat, it won't be easy to change that) but some allow for more creativity, with the overall qualities being determined by what you're throwing in. 

Do your cooking by the book. (Image credit: Private Division)

For every food item you prepare, you'll have to carefully chop it, making it smoother or chunkier, while also monitoring the cooking to balance how crisp or tender it is. Despite the simplicity of this gameplay mechanic, it's deceptively engaging, and I was surprised how invested I became at carefully monitoring my chops or simmers to ensure the food turned out correctly. You get bonuses for being dead-on with accuracy, something that I'm told can actually get quite difficult as you unlock more specialized foods.

Despite the centrality of cooking, you will be spending a fair bit of time outside of your fixer-upper. Exploring Hobbiton provides opportunities for buying and selling things at market, growing fruit and vegetables in your garden, and chasing down butterflies, the latter of which will guide you toward ingredients growing in the wild. You can also check up on your neighbors, be it for delivering food, helping with problems or simply chatting. 

Every Hobbit has their own schedule, and they'll be found in different places at different times of day and night. Fortunately, you can track them in your map, at which point birds will land on signs nearby in order to guide you to your target. It's befitting the lackadaisical tone of the game, but it's also accurate, and provides a great way of keeping up with everyone considering they don't stay still throughout the day.

A still pond, perfect for fishing. (Image credit: Private Division)

The art style for the game is undoubtedly overly simple, especially in regard to to the quality of character models, but I found it grew on me over time, and there's a simple storybook quality to the way it all looks. Looking out across Hobbiton as the sun is setting, the art direction is definitely cohesive, and even if it can feel plain in a couple of places, I felt it nailed the relaxed, whimsical tone that's clearly held across the rest of the game.

I did encounter a couple of bugs during my hands-on time, such as opening my mailbox to discover dozens of letters from a neighbor complaining about the exact same problem. Despite the accuracy of the experience for anyone living with an HOA, Private Division tells me the team is already working to fix this and a handful of other issues. 

I also noticed some framerate stuttering from time to time, which was surprising to see. It only happened in a few places, but it happened reliably and was easily repeatable, so I'm also hoping to see that improved before the game's launch, as it was extremely distracting each time it happened. 

Headed into the holidays

Right now, Tales of the Shire: A The Lord of the Rings Game is scheduled to arrive later in Holiday 2024. I didn't really know what to expect when I took the appointment to play it, but I am surprisingly invested in the experience and want to go back to it again for more charming cooking.

With that said, I would certainly not be upset if the development team wanted to take more time to polish things up (even into 2025 if need be) because the core experience here really is fun, and I'd hate to see it brought down by any bugs or framerate issues at launch.

Tales of the Shire: A The Lord of the Rings Game is in development for Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC (via Steam), PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and mobile devices via Netflix Games.

Samuel Tolbert
Freelance Writer

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.

  • bazanime
    As long as I'm able to cook up a nice brace of connies with PO-TAY-TOES, I'll be happy. Smegol might not be so pleased though.