Tales Of The Shire Hands-On Preview – A Meal Plan For Middle-earth

Can you take me shire?

I’m not even a fan of The Lord of the Rings. Just like another mega-franchise in Harry Potter, it’s a bit of a blind spot for me despite growing up seeing it everywhere. I did go ahead and treat myself to The Hobbit films, but to say it compelled me to return to Middle-earth would be a bald-faced lie. Leave it to a cosy life sim to make preciouses palatable for me, as Tales of the Shire surprised the heck out of me during Play Days. 

The game takes place in the village of Bywater, and is set between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, meaning we’re in a post-Bilbo, pre-Frodo era of the Shire. Although moments from the films would make for better touchstones to a casual like me, the game specifically does pull from the novels. The game’s lead writer is something of a Tolkien scholar and would cross-reference any line referenced from the films to ensure it appeared in the novel first and foremost. Not unlike the many LEGO adaptations, Tales of the Shire puts a funny spin on the source material and kept me grinning from ear to ear throughout my thirty minute demo.

Not only is cooking a core pillar for the game’s loop, it’s far more involved and realised than I ever expected it might be. I expected something tailored towards kids, with the meat and veggies being a simple game of assembly like Overcooked. To discover it’s an involved exercise of chopping, satuéing, and balancing flavour profiles came as such a pleasant surprise. In fact, the mechanics run deeper than a hobbit’s belly. Further to that, sharing your mealtime with friends can help nurture those relationships, which is a wholesome concept, indeed. 

Whether you’re cooking for a friend or to help the local innkeeper, Marigold Potts, build out a new menu in fitting with the tale of Bilbo’s conquest over Smaug. Of course, this means using a bit of spice. Each ingredient is colour-graded to indicate whether it’s sour, sweet, spicy, among other things. Similarly, recipes themselves are by default balanced for one profile but if you’re needing to deliver something on the sweeter side, adding sugar to a rhubarb pie can tip the scales. 

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There are other activities to engage in that ultimately feed into cooking for others. Fishing and farming are the big ones, and although I didn’t get to throw a line in, I got a small glimpse at how farming might work. I was particularly taken aback by how much freedom the home deco portion of the game provides. As I went to shift a garden bed full of potatoes to tidy up the yard, I noticed that, unlike other games, there was no grid at all. I was able to place it anywhere, and this freedom extended to each and every cobblestone on the path bordering the house. 

The game is so cute and adorable, and it feels like a welcome take on The Lord of the Rings after a couple of undesirable releases of late. It’s rich in colour and paints Bywater as a scenic, picturesque village of hobbits doing what they do: eating. It’s incredible how a few small animations can elevate an experience because of the unwavering care their simple presence shows. While playing, the demoist gleefully suggested I hold down the right-hand trigger to sprint and it was with quivering anime-like eyes that I watched my hobbit begin to frolic with swinging arms. I don’t believe it was any faster than walking, but it became a non-negotiable for my remaining playtime. 

Similarly, where other games might guide the player using big gaudy arrows or glowing guidelines across the ground, Tales of the Shire has a beautiful alternative where songbirds will land atop signposts in the world and point toward whichever waypoint you have toggled. Once again, it’s a small thing but it’s proof that the developer cares for nothing more than keeping you here, without compromise, in this place. 

Tales of the Shire is an unexpected joy for me. As someone who has never put any time into The Lord of the Rings, I never imagined that a cosy game about communal living and sharing, like only unadventurous hobbits can, would be one to get its hooks into me. I concede it might not be “elevenses” out of ten, but it’s very much Dreamlight Valley for those who covet the One Ring, and that’s a wonderful thing.