Lord of the Rings: The Third Age

January 20, 2005

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/lotrthethirdage/cover.jpg[/floatleft]Let me start by saying that I am an avid fan of the [i]Lord of the Rings[/i] trilogy. Until The Fellowship of the Ring movie came out, I had not read the books and knew nothing about the story. I had only read a few chapters of The Hobbit when I was young. So needless to say, after I viewed the first movie, I read the trilogy twice, watched every movie as it came out multiple times, and viewed the extended sets. I own everything that I mentioned above. Sadly, [i]Lord of the Rings[/i] video gaming, before the movies, had not even been an afterthought. Once the movies were released, the onslaught of games poured into stores and homes nationwide, and of course, I own every single one of them. The latest (and far from the greatest) is [i]Lord of the Rings: The Third Age[/i].

First of all, I didn’t utterly despise this game. I honestly didn’t. I might even say that I liked it. However, there is so much that is wrong with it that I can’t help but cringe and ask myself what EA Games was thinking. Riding on the wake of two very successful games ([i]The Two Towers[/i] and [i]The Return of the King[/i]), they thought they would cash in on that success to make a game based on the entire trilogy. Again I say, although I enjoyed the game for what it was, it fell very short.

[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/lotrthethirdage/ss14_thumb.jpg[/floatright]For starters, the story is very cheap, and I stopped caring about it after ten minutes into it. EA thought they would introduce some new characters that were completely made up (and not by anyone bearing the name Tolkien). I was excited, thinking I would be getting an RPG set in Middle Earth that was a story in its own. Wow, was I wrong. Basically, you’re creating a second-string Fellowship, complete with a bickering Dwarf and Elf, a Gondorian warrior, a healing Ranger, a Rohirrim guard, and a shieldmaiden of Rohan (all that is missing is hobbits). Your mission objectives are, to my chagrin, to follow the Fellowship around and clean up the garbage they left behind. There is very little character interaction, and there is NO explanation to why the characters are doing anything among themselves. Just why didn’t Idrial accept Berethor’s love? What exactly was the main reason why these people were even traveling together? No one will ever know.

The only thing that progresses the game’s story are narrations by Ian McKellan. I was really annoyed by this because any good RPG has the characters interact and decide what to do for themselves. EA got horribly lazy here. The pace of the game slowed down tremendously when you had to stop whatever you were doing to view an “Epic scene” so that Gandalf could tell you where to go next and what you must do. After about the tenth scene (there are 109 of these terrible things), my patience dwindled to an all-time low. And placing this ragtag group in the heat of battles such as the Balrog, Helm’s Deep, and Sauron was more laughable than the fact that this game is even called [i]Lord of the Rings[/i]. When you beat the game, you are awarded with…another Ian McKellan narration! That was the final straw for me.

The graphics are very pixilated. I didn’t notice it after a while, but maybe that is because I got so accustomed to it that I stopped caring. Graphics aren’t usually a big part of why I play games, but…let’s face it, a game should be made using current technology. Something else that irked me was the lack of secrets and side quests. From start to finish, this is the most linear game I have ever played. The option to travel back to other lands is given to you, and I still don’t understand why in the world they thought that would be cool. Unless there are items waiting for you (which, when I experimented, I found nothing), there is no point to traveling. There is no secret equipment that takes something challenging to acquire. You simply pluck your things from chests, battle spoils, and maybe a steal from an enemy. I feel like EA just got lazy about midway through writing the game’s outline and just started making what they had, filling in gaps with useless garbage.

Is there anything salvageable in this utter mess of an RPG? Of course there is, or else I wouldn’t have played it for 45 hours. The main thing that drew me was the return of the turn-based battle system, as I admit I’m a sucker for [i]Final Fantasy[/i] games and anything that tries to be a spin-off. Without paying attention to the (horrible) story, I focused instead on building my characters, which was kind of fun.

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/lotrthethirdage/ss04_thumb.jpg[/floatleft]Each character has three skill trees that they can learn abilities from, and in addition, there are three pearls (called Elfstones) that each fighter can learn from. With a total of six skill trees, I had a lot of work ahead of me in learning everything for every fighter (that Item Craft Elfstone took ages to master). Eventually I did, and by that time everyone was level 99. The game was a no-contest from there (I always seem to play my games this way).

The magic spells aren’t very impressive, and I knew-oh, I just KNEW-that one of the Elven girl’s spells would be the water stallions. The Dwarf’s magic was better, calling on erupting volcanoes and fire dragons to inflict massive damage. The melee abilities were cool too, especially when I could perform five- and six-hit strikes. The Rohirrim spearman was boring. The addition of “real” Fellowship members as guests in your battles was cool, but most of the time my fighters were better than the guest. A