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Tales of the Shire is a cozy village sim where you can’t run, but you can skip

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The march of big-budget Tolkien fantasy has hit gaming yet again. While ignoring Gollum’s misadventures, another game, Tales of the Shire, offers a gentler, low-stakes way to play in the universe of Bagginses, lembas bread, and Gandalf.

Set somewhere between the end of The Hobbit, but before it all kicked off in Lord of the Rings, Tales of the Shire sees you settling into Bywater, helping fellow villagers achieve their tasks and dreams. That involves fishing, farming vegetables and cooking up a storm to improve your relationships and unlock new recipes and possibly other activities.

The game’s simple but effective home decoration system allows you to move a single book or an entire table (and everything on it). In fact, the whole of Tales of the Shire seems designed as a gentle introduction to cozy gardening game mechanics, with its cooking and general good-neighborly activities. A cute system of bluebirds helps you navigate the snug but packed hamlet. (If it’s not a village, it’s a hamlet, right?). And when you run – you don’t run, you skip.

If anything, it’s a bit too familiar. You can fish, farm and cook some dishes, and these activities offer rewards that can all be tracked elsewhere in the village, just like countless other farming and village life sims. The overarching aim is to help turn Bywater into a bonafide village by helping your neighbors with their various projects and challenges. During a brief demo, I was tasked with developing a new menu for the local inn. I had to pick my ingredients and seasonings carefully to hit the right flavor profile of dishes representing the story of Bilbo Baggins’ adventures to steal treasure from a dragon. But Tales of the Shire isn’t reinventing the genre.

The Tolkien references are present but not overwhelming — this is another cute countryside village that needs a bit of help — just that everyone has hairy big feet. The development team told me their writing team included a “Tolkien expert” to make sure that sidequests, stories and characters still fit cohesively into the author’s vision. I think that generally means maximum whimsy. Expect lots of food-based chilling by the riverbanks and cozy errands.

Tales of the ShireTales of the Shire

Weta

Even the relationship mechanism between your customizable character and the rest of the village is based on making dinner to forge bonds and deepen connections. Hosting a mean dinner party opens up more quests, and – just as crucial – more potent recipes for schmoozing and feeding other villagers. Meal crafting itself is a relatively short minigame in which you can riff off base ingredients to incorporate your guests’ favorite flavors. Some fish, for example, may have a salty or hot flavor profile, improving your odds of making a new friend. A little graph guides your cooking prep as you aim for the best consistency and texture for your culinary creations.

According to the team behind it, Tales of the Shire is intentionally slow-paced. It aims to be forgiving and doesn’t punish the player if they mess up a task or fail to complete it. Time passes slowly, giving the player enough time to walk (or skip) to other parts of the village. My demo was a relaxing, if predictable, jaunt around the Shire, but could be a tempting new game for Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley fans, all with the cultural pull of Tolkien.

Tales of the Shire will be released later this year for PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S.


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