Lord of the Rings: The Third Age


Review by Tyler Willis



Graphics: 9.5

Sound: 10

Gameplay: 3

Overall: 3


Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is the story of Berethor, a Gondorian who helps Gandalf slay the Balrog, slaughters the Nazgul, and is (almost) single-handedly responsible for poking out the great eye of Sauron. Berethor? What, you've never heard of him? Well, that is not surprising, since EA Games contrived him and his merry band (Fellowship wannabees) without bothering to consult sources such as Tolkein's books… or the movies.

Setting such indignity aside, Berethor's story is an elaborate series of unfortunate incidents, coincidences, and violations of the space-time continuum designed for one purpose - to have Berethor et al travel along the exact same path as the Fellowship, witness the same events as the Fellowship, fight the same battles, etc. Why EA Games chucked the original Fellowship out the door is beyond all knowledge.

Berethor wakes up outside Rivendell to the company of a she-elf, Idrial, who immediately grants him the grace of her people - despite the fact that they apparently do not know each other. The story devolves from there, as Berethor picks up a dwarf (argues with the elf and wants to go to Moria), a ranger (mysterious figure who guides Berethor), a Shield Madien of Rohan (the love interest), and a rider of the Rohirrim (oddly without his horse for the entire game).

This band is then instrumental in the war against Sauron. How instrumental? Frodo probably could have sat at home amusing the neighbors with his magic ring for all the importance LOTR:TTA attributes to him. Despite its story shortcomings, it shows promise with the inclusion of Epic Scenes - scenes taken from the movie trilogy and given a new voiceover by Ian McKellen (Gandalf). However, it quickly becomes apparent that the player will not be seeing any new or unique footage, and the voiceover is often out-of-whack with Tolkein's (and Peter Jackonson's) portrayal.

LOTR:TTA lacks many of the elements that make up good RPGs - an in-game economy, places to explore, an overworld map, side-quests, people to talk to, etc. So, what's left? Short, linear dungeon areas. Leveling up. And battles. Lots and lots of battles. Enough battles to sicken even the Witch-King of Angmar.

The back insert proudly proclaims "all-new turn-based combat system…" Someone in marketing apparently either never played Final Fantasy X or didn't get the memo about the entire battle system being based off of FFX. Switching characters mid-battle and the active time battle system are both prominent and familiar features.

Characters level up in the traditional manner and gain skills in a skill-tree through the active usage of those skills in battle, ala Final Fantasy X-2. This does leave some room for customization, but it readily becomes apparent that certain skills are indispensable and most are useless. Tedious leveling is often needed to reach the more powerful skills.

The majority of time spent in the game will likely be involved in combat. In the first few sections of the game, this is not a bad thing as battles are quick and the non-skippable animations are still new and fresh. However, the difficulty is completely unbalanced. For most battles, either the heroes or the enemy completely overpowers their adversary.

During the latter third of the game, it is not uncommon for single battles to take thirty minutes or more. That's for basic enemies - not just the bosses. Watching your characters be wiped out in two blows (or watching the enemy attack ten times in a row) quickly becomes old.

LOTR:TTA does have its share of good features. After completing an area, the player can return and play through it in Evil Mode. Evil Mode pits Sauron's minions against the heroes - with the player fighting as the minions. If the Evil Mode battles are finished victoriously, unique items will be transferred onto the main save file.

Visually, the game is absolutely stunning. Characters are gorgeous, environments are detailed - pretty much everything expected from a big budget game based on big budget movies. Character costumes - taken directly from the movies - change with each new piece of equipment. Much of the audio is based off the movie soundtracks and provides the perfect atmosphere for fighting in Middle Earth. The only downside to the AV is that it is detailed enough to slow down an Xbox - making long battles even longer.

Tolkein purists, your bane has arrived and its name is LOTR: The Third Age. In terms of replayability, this title offers very little. Side-quests, story branches, mini-games are nonexistent. The characters can travel back to previous chapters to search for undone quest items, but it is likely that everything will be done the first time through. Overall, LOTR:TTA is a tough to recommend to anyone but masochistic battle lovers.


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Last updated: Thursday, July 07, 2005 11:40 AM