There have been a few Lord of the rings games, from the disastrous Super Nintendo title –which should have been called Hobbits in Caves: The Game– to the Playstation 2 series of hack and slash games. It was time for The Lord of the Rings to be more than a game where you kill orcs one after another in real time. It was time for The Lord of the Rings to be a game where you killed orcs one after another with TURN BASED COMBAT. You play as a group of adventurers who totally aren’t the fellowship of the Ring — I mean, you don’t have a hobbit character so it’s totally not the same– and you must go… find Boromir for some reason. And then go do other things too… it’s… weird.
This game was made by Electronic Arts — put the torches and pitch forks down, you can go commit mob violence after this is done. They got Steve Gray on board, this guy worked on Final Fantasy VII and Parasite Eve, and he had wanted to make a Lord of the Rings RPG since the 90s so there was legitimate passion in this project.
EA owned the license to make games based on the movies and this created some weird snags in what they could depict. This meant that they could only use things that had been in the movies or WERE NOT in the books — this will important later.
Lord of the Rings: The Third Age was released on November 2nd 2004. It’s competition was Half-Life 2 (PC), Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines (PC), and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2).
Gray said that he wanted this game to sort of dance around important events in the series, “You travel on a sort of “S” curve that weaves in and out of the path of the Fellowship through the story of the trilogy.” This meant that in moments that you’re closest to them you’d want to be doing the coolest things, right? That’s what I thought when I was 17. I wanted to fight the Balrog with Gandalf, defend Helm’s Deep, fight the Witch King of Angmar — which are all things you get to do in the game. But looking back on it, it seems so silly and so dumb.
It might be awesome to fight the Balrog but it’s established that Gandalf was the only one who held a candle to the being of fire and shadow– he’s really the only one in the in-game fight who can do any damage anyway. The Witch King was totally Eowyn’s fight, she had that guy’s number, and for some auburn haired dude with a sword and a shield to finish The Witch King off is just sort of insulting. I don’t know how it could have been done any other way but I think it might have been best not done at all.
The game is an RPG with turn based combat so there’s not much to talk about when it comes to the gameplay department. Each character has hit points and Action Points –mana points, basically– which they expend to use special abilities. Each of the characters follows Final Fantasy class design pretty closely. We got a warrior, red mage, blue mage, knight, thief, and… whatever Eaoden is — seriously he’s hard to encapsulate, it’s like the designers just gave him all the leftover abilities and called it good. You can have four party members out at any given time and can even switch them out in the middle of battles too.
Items are extremely valuable in this game. Although some are dropped by enemies you’ll mostly be relying on what you find in chests throughout the game. This game might not have given me potion paralysis — the reluctance to use items unless they’re truly needed– but it certainly didn’t help it either. Each character has unique equipment that actually alters their appearance.
What makes an RPG really shine is the story and the characters, in this department The Third Age is lacking hard. I struggle to remember any distinct traits about any of the characters and have a hard time remembering why their adventure was important for any reason other than that Fellowship thing being mighty important.
Evil mode is the most original and incredible idea this game introduces. After you beat a chapter you can play through that chapter again in Evil Mode. Evil Mode is a series of fights where you play as the monsters fighting the heroes. Beating the good guys unlocks new equipment that just sort of teleports into your character’s inventory but the only thing that’s more awesome — even if it is dumb — than fighting the Balrog is being the Balrog.
Each character plays really differently, especially Eaoden — I mean, he’s got attacks that raise your opponents stats but do more damage. It’s really easy to make a team that matches your playstyle from the given characters.
The divergences between this game and the established series are actually pretty good. Helping the elves kill some orcs while they leave their homes is pretty cool. Killing Grima Wormtongue at a random Rohan town was sort of weird but not totally bad. You also take alternate routes through places Moria and other locations.
Any dialogue voiced by a member of the Fellowship is either reused clips from the movie or was impersonated poorly. They got them into sound booths for the other games, I don’t know why they couldn’t do it for this one.
Attack animations are fluid and quick but spell animations take forever. I think an hour of gameplay was just waiting for Idrial or orcs to throw spells around. I would eventually stop using her spells just because their animations just took so damn long.
When a character isn’t in combat they don’t get experience points. If you pick a team you’d best be ready to commit because those other shmucks are gonna get left in the experience point related dust. Character’s join at roughly the same level so they all get a fair shot but if you didn’t keep Elegost around then you can be sure that when you need his bow to fight someone then you won’t be having it.
I don’t know if it’s explained in the game, I didn’t catch it when I played through, but I had no idea what any of the stats did. Strength, Spirit, Constitution, Speed, and Dexterity aren’t exactly a good representation of what they do. I understand what Constitution and Strength do but what’s the difference between Speed and Dexterity and what does Spirit do at all?
The final boss is the fucking Eye of Sauron. There’s no real build up. You fight the Witch King and after he dies it’s just *bloop* fight this asshole. He’s big, got a lot of health, and is a total pushover. When he’s dead, cut to credits. It’s the dumbest thing in any Lord of the Rings game ever.
What it comes down to is that if fighting the Balrog alongside Gandalf doesn’t sound like the stupidest, canon breakingest, over the top thing that you’ve ever considered doing in a game then you’ll find this game palatable. Or at the very least, if you can look past doing stuff like that then there’s a solid RPG underneath.
Next Week: Killer 7