When Google announced that they were creating a Middle-Earth map, I was frankly very excited. The best map that I have of Middle-Earth currently resides within the Lord of the Rings Online video game, and even then, it’s a game map, which means that it’s embellished by game features. It’s a very detailed map, and we can hope that it is accurate to the books, but I’m not about to put in the research to find out what is and what isn’t. It’s too daunting a task for just me.
Furthermore, I have to start up the game to open the map. An online map would be much more convenient. When Google announced its forthcoming map of Middle-Earth during the I/O conference in May, I guess I wasn’t paying close attention to what this map would really entail. I thought, especially since Google was in the process of revamping Google Maps at the time, that it would be an extension of Google Maps—a fully explorable, zoom-in-able, navigable map of Middle-Earth.
Now that this Middle-Earth map has finally come to fruition, I realize that I was wrong. As a Google Chrome experiment, it’s not something that is viewable through Google Maps. Instead, it is merely a souped-up map-like experience that is only viewable through the Google Chrome browser. Allow me to express my disappointment in bullet points:
- There are only two levels of zoom. In. And back out again. (There and back again?)
- The detail in this map, compared with LOTRO’s in-game map, is totally laughable. Regions are labeled, but very few villages or towns—Hobbiton, Bywater, and Bree are all there, as well as Lake-Town. Keep in mind, this map was made to help publicize the upcoming second Hobbit movie—the Desolation of Smaug—not the Lord of the Rings. Because of this, the map doesn’t go any farther south than Helm’s Deep. No Edoras. No Minas Tirith. Actually, no Gondor or Mordor whatsoever. So, really, this map only shows half of Middle-Earth.
However, I should give the map some credit. I really like the design. There are six locations that you can zoom in on for further exploration (though only five are open right now—the sixth, the Lonely Mountain, is locked). Each location is comes with pictures from the movie, short video clips, information about the location and characters that can be found there, narration, and lastly an interactive game or story. Some of these interactive features are better than others:
- The Trollshaws: by pressing arrow keys, you evade capture by the trolls. Simple. Easy. Boring.
- Rivendell: by moving your mouse, you make plants turn green and grow. And the point is?
- Dol Guldur: by pressing arrow keys, you move around until a flash appears. That’s it.
- Thranduil’s Hall: by clicking and dragging, you view a rather cool interactive epic story.
- Lake-Town: by clicking, holding, and releasing, you do some bow-and-arrow target practice.
When I first heard that this “map” had finally been released, only the first three locations were unlocked, so having only viewed those first three, I was prepared to write an even more scathing article about it (which would have been possible), because I particularly thought that the first three interactive features were very lame. However, this Chrome Experiment has since redeemed itself a little by releasing those last two. I especially liked the target practice.
I can give this Chrome Experiment some allowances, because I didn’t fully understand what it was supposed to be, so I can’t rightly compare it to something that it’s not. It’s not a true map—at least not an extension of Google Maps—so I can’t compare it to that, though I would have much rather seen that instead! It’s also not a true video game, so I can’t compare it to Lord of the Rings Online, even though the game-like features do pale in comparison.
Go check it out for yourself. What do you think of it? Cool? Lame? Share your own thoughts in the comments!