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Lord of the Rings: The Third Age - Review
Kristophe & Becky, 2005-03-29

I remember first becoming aware of the works of author, J. R. R. Tolkien, back when I was just entering High School. I should also like to take a moment away from this particular review to dispel (for once and for all) the rather rampant rumor that I was also a pupil to both Socrates, and then to Plato - regardless of what some may think to the contrary, I am simply NOT that old!

Becky says: More like Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.
Ahem! Anyway, the world of Middle Earth has certainly enjoyed a tremendous rebirth of late - spurred on by both the very recent and very phenomenal success of New Line Cinema's presentation of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy for the silver screen; and by the commercial successes of the various electronic games (i.e. Black Label Studio's LotR: The Fellowship of the Ring; or EA's LotR: The Two Towers, LotR: Return of the King, LotR: The Third Age, and LotR: The Battle For Middle Earth come to mind - with the EA games having the additional sanction of an "official LotR license", and thus featuring a lot of cinematic footage from the above mentioned movies)...success that, no doubt, would've still astonished the distinguished Professor J. R. R. Tolkien were he alive today.
Becky says: Finally! Technology has caught up with his genius.
Ahem... you may well wonder what I am doing in co-authoring this review with my "gaming spouse", Rebecca (aka "Becky" - infamous for her "flying pan" temperament). The answer is actually quite simple. While I read the entire LotR trilogy some little time back (and don't say a word, Becky), I am hardly any kind of real authority on either J. R. R. Tolkien, nor on his writings...whereas Becky is the greatest source of knowledge for anything Tolkien-related that I personally know of - and so I managed to convince her to add some of that wealth of knowledge to this review.
Becky says: In other words, I'm here to make sure Kristophe knows the difference between a Hobbit and an Elf :-)
Ahem! With that in mind, Becky, why don't you begin this Lord of The Rings: The Third Age (PS2) review by giving our readers some background information and an opening to the storyline behind the game?

The Epic Storyline...

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Becky says: Initially, I was worried the game would interfere with the original storyline. I was pleased to notice the game play storyline runs a parallel course with the original characters (i.e. Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas).

The game picks up when the Fellowship has left Rivendale on its quest. The main character of the game is a soldier of Gondor sent by the steward, Denethor, to find his son, Boromir. He encounters an elf who guides him on his quest and aids his efforts. In the course of his travels he developes his own fellowship with characters he meets, and engages, in various other "mini-quests".

With the help of his comrades, he helps Gandalf do battle with the Balrog; in addition to assisting Aragorn, Gimli, and Legalos at Helm's Deep; assist Faramir at Osgiliath (he finds out his own mysterious past here); Gandalf again in Minas Tirith; and Aragorn before the Black Gate.

There is a little romance that develops between the main character and two of his party. The Elf of Lothlorien (Idrial), and the Rohan warrior/maiden (Morwen) are (obviously) female. It does not overwhelm the story, but it does keep your interest on how things will turn out.

The weaponry found in this game also indicates someone has incorporated elements of the Simarillion (a nice touch). Weapons from the First and Second Age were not covered in the LotR trilogy. The power of those ages was a strong influence on the weaponry created then, even though not as "fancy" as the weapons created in the Third Age.

The Arcane Art of Game Play...

Display full imageMy largest complaint in playing the Lord of The Rings: The Third Age, was the fact that it could only be played actively by two players in "Cooperative Multiplayer" mode only. In the case of this particular game, this meant that the only time player two had any kind of game input whatsoever was whenever combat was initiated, and one or more of the characters player two controlled were actively involved in the combat lineup...other than that, it was player one who had total control throughout the game - even to the point of leveling up player two's characters upon advancement. All in all, this made the "Co-op" mode of game play very unappealing - especially to whoever attempted to adventure as player two in the game.

Becky says: I would have to agree. It is much more challenging to play with you in multiplayer mode in a game like Champions of Norrath or Champions: Return to Arms - even if you keep getting yourself into trouble, and even if I have to continually bail you out of that trouble.

Be that as it may. Combat in LotR: The Third Age is completely turn-based, and was actually very easy to control throughout the game, though it did take some "reloading" from time to time while you tried to figure out just what combination of physical and arcane attacks would best work against a particular adversary or a group of foes. The in game controls were all there, and also very easy to use as well - though Becky kept having problems with the in game mapping system (most especially in both the Eastern and Western Moria areas, the Plains of Rohan, Osgiliath, and in Minas Tirith - come to think of it, that's well over 75% of the in game areas :-)

Becky says: Hmmm. I'm glad to see you're finally going to check out how comfortably our new sleeper sofa in the family room sleeps tonight.

Character development for the game was fairly linear, though you did have the choice in which of the three "skill trees" (i.e. Weapon Skills, Spirit Skills, and Passive Skills) in which to concentrate your experience points gained upon each level up for your characters, thus allowing for some individuality in character progression; additionally, upon acquiring certain "Elfstones" in game, you could give your characters up to three additional "skill trees" (i.e. the Craft Item Skills, the Shadowcraft Skills, and the Lightcraft Skills) for even more, personalized characters. And just for the record, the main characters that eventually formed your adenturing party were: Berethor (the Citadel Guard of Gondor), Idrial (the Elf of Lothlorien), Elegost (the Dunedain Ranger of Arnor), the dwarf Hadhod (Clan of Fundin), Morwen (the Maid of Rohan), and Eaoden (a Rohan Outrider)...these in addition to the various "Guests" you meet throughout the Third Age adventure who would, for a brief time, join your party as well.

Becky says: I'll have to admit the male "guests" in this game were quite a few steps up from Carth Onassi of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, or even worse - Anomen of Baldur's Gate II.

If any one word could be descriptive of the overall LotR: The Third Age game play - that word would most certainly be "Combat" which, as you might expect, was the major aspect throughout our sojourn into the game play areas of Middle Earth - whether you were adventuring as a "Good" or as an "Evil" party. Throughout the game you would encounter enemies in various ways, i.e. you had a 50-50 chance of encountering enemies each time you attempted to open up one of the many, in game treasure chests; additionally, there were both "fixed" and random encounters throughout the game - though generally you received enough of a warning about either to at least "heal up" and "beef up" your party for the onslaught. And even with turn-based combat, the various enemies you encountered throughout the game were not especially easy to overcome - making the old RPG-adage of "save your game, and save often" a very sound piece of advice (most especially if you want to cut down on some of the in game combat frustration of dying).

Becky says: It seems to me that we did a whole lot less dying when I was controlling the party compared to when you would control the party.

The Epic Adventure is Completed...

Display full imageOverall, we both highly enjoyed playing LotR: The Third Age. It was a good, fun game. It had an engaging storyline, and a more than adequate graphics and soundtrack element throughout the game...ambient sounds were crisp and appropriate, and the voice acting was top notch (which, when you consider that the "voice acting" was done from the voices of the actual actors and actresses in the movie trilogy, is not surprising). And though I, at least, am not necessarily appreciative of "turn-based" combat in an RPG - the concept worked out well enough in this particular game. The in game controls were thorough, very easy to understand, and even easier to use (though, as noted, Becky did seem to have a lot of difficulty in successfully utilizing the in game mapping system to track her movements, and her in game whereabouts, at any given time and point). Character development was fairly good, although it was also fairly linear, and thus limited just how much you could really "personalize" your adventuring party. The in game quests were somewhat straightforward, and thus not overly difficult. Our biggest complaint was in the game's "two player" mode (as previously mentioned). This is NOT necessarily the console game of choice for those times when you want to "snuggle up" to your significant other, your mistress, your friend, your best friend's girlfriend, your lover; or anyone with whom you may feel inclined to share a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, a console game, and thou.

Becky says: No kidding? It seems like it took forever to finish playing this game, especially seeing as how you seemed to always have romantic intentions on your mind whenever I was controlling the party as player one, and you got bored with nothing to really do as player two except to drink the wine - actually, it was beer for you, as I recall.

I stand corrected. Maybe this is just the console game of choice for a "snuggle up" for that reason, although be forewarned, you may never actually finish this game *eg*. Be that as it may, another complaint I had was with the preponderance of movie footage throughout the game - though I have to admit that at least the game developer was kind enough to give the player the choice (most of the time) as to whether or not they really wanted to watch each and every movie cutscene. Still - it did seem to make game play drag on, and (in my personal opinion) was more than a bit overdone.

Becky says: I enjoyed the cutscenes , myself. Count your blessings with that - seeing as how playing this game was the most you ever watched of any of the three Lord of the Rings' movies.

The Verdict
Graphics (15%) 85%
Sound (15%) 85%
Control (25%) 90%
Fun (45%) 86%
Overall 87%

The ups and downs:
Good Game StorylineCoop Multiplayer Mode Stinks
Very Easy to Use Game ControlsOverabundance of Cutscenes
Lots of Combat ActionLinear Character Development
Interesting Party/Guest MakeupTurn-Based Combat System

Reviewer's System
Version: PS2
RAM: 64MB MemoryMax MMC
OS: Unmodded PS2 Slimline

Average Reader Ratings: 7 (1 votes)
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