Electronic Arts has proven it's the leader in Lord of the Rings videogames. Even though the movie mania has pasted we are still treated some great Tolkien action in this retelling of the classic story.
The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) Third Age follows along the same plot line as the recent Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films telling the story from a slightly different perspective. In the early moments of LOTR: Third Age you will take charge of a Gondorian Fighter and a Elven Spell-Caster roughly the same time-line as the first movie. As your journey progresses in the land of Middle Earth you will create your own sort of fellowship with the aid of some other adventures, dwarf included. The adventure often crisscrosses your story with the major spots from the movie with your characters put into the mix helping out main characters like Gandolf, Legolas and Aragorn. The story is told using movie clips from the LOTR trilogy with boasting over a hundred sections. It's a huge spoiler if you haven't seen the movies, so I would watch them first. The half-fresh story is pretty good although even with the original parts in a story you most likely know the conclusion.
LOTR: Third Age's gameplay is very similar to the linear style of the Final Fantasy series. I'm not a huge fan of having a great premise like a Lord of Rings Role-Playing game and that having it restricted to a single path. Although there are a few twists and turns, the majority of the game is set so you can't vier from a specific direction. Depending on your personal preference you might like this style more then the open-ended style. Do you like being led through a story? Or do you want to take all actions and decision upon yourself? Also, if you can't stand invisible walls you'll need some patience with Third Age because they are everywhere.
The combat in LOTR: Third Age is turn based, which I love. The combat could also be described as similar to the standard 'Final Fantasy' formula which isn't a bad. In combat if you use the approach of taking one opponent down at a time will you should succeed with little or no problems. I did encounter a few areas which gave me a bit of a challenge, but nothing a few attempts didn't solve. Even though the battles are easy they are fun to partake in and nothing beats defending Helms Deep in one the biggest battles of Middle Earth. During the combat situations you will be able to call in and out extra party members which adds some strategy. The more you play the game you will figure out little cheat strategies with the characters combinations. The combat is pretty straight forward and you should have no problems with the majority of the battles.
The RPG element basically comes from being able to delegate your experience points to each characters attributes and skills they learn. The system is not overly deep but it does perks some interest in the characters. You can also outfit the players with different armor and weapons. You have an unlimited inventory with no chance of buying new equipment so it becomes a ho-hum experience when you find new stuff in the convently placed chests throughout the world. Each character will collect so many slightly different weapons where it becomes it bit ridiculous, who needs ten swords on them at once? I would have enjoyed a merchant or two along the way and so real management of the characters, it might be more appropriate to class LOTR: Third Age as an RPG Light.
If you are a LOTR purest you might not like what they have done with the classic story everyone has come to love. The storyline they created for the game is decent but if you can't overcome that fact forget it! Overall, Third Age is a mixed bag of Orc teeth. The combat is good in old school fashion, but the character management is a little weak. I would have liked a more open ended game. Third Age is traditionally good, but it could have been more deep and improved.
Graphics & Sound
The graphics of Third Age are a little bit grainy with some good and bad spots. The characters have fairly good detail work and an exceptional scale ratio, but it's the textures that pull the quality down. Most of the villains in the game look authentic and really stand out, but they become dulled out because of their limited animation sets. The grain I spoke about also trickles over to the movie clips which are also a little blurry. I didn't expect super great quality, but when you're a fan of HDTV you'll just have to hit the skip button. The special effects are where the graphics really work in Third Age, and most of them are pretty cool. They did a excellent job with the Fire effects and you'll love using your special abilities. The recreation from the films design has been captured well from the imposing bosses, to the environments. Third Age doesn't burn out your eyes, it's not horrible to look at but I know wizards over at EA can do better.
The sound is dynamite! The grand musical score, voice over work, and special effects are excellent. The game really fits in alongside of the movies musically; you will feel like you're roaming through Peter Jackson's Middle Earth. They only managed to grab Ian McKellan (Gandalf) for the voice overs, but the rest pass adequately. There isn't much dialog, but more time spend slicing up Orc bodies. Great job overall and thanks is given to THX. Surround Sound heaven.
Third Age isn't really an overly innovative title especially with a grand stage as the Lord of the Rings. I believe there was much more you could do in this deep universe. For innovation you could consider the fact that they melded the games story right into the classic JRR Tolkien tale a reinventing of the books in a way. It's an innovate approach even if it might make some fans weary. The combat/magic system is pretty good in LOTR although and the balance of sword, magic and class skills are great. Each character has a role to play and you'll need to bounce off each to conquer the big bad guys.
The big innovation of Third Age is the cool little Evil Mode that the developers snuck in there. Evil Mode is a mini-game you launch from the main menu where you play though the main battles of the levels as the bad guys. Flipping the coin is pretty cool and you'll get to learn more about the enemy and their abilities. It's pretty easy to slaughter the good guys when you're the on the other side of the spectrum and if you're like me you'll wonder how it was so easy in the first place. Evil Mode does allow you to unlock new items which get loaded onto your game save, it's a great way to gather more resources and its gives you a little edge in the normal story mode.
LOTR: Third Age is made for fans, if you're not a fan of the movies or books this game might be a little dull. For fans its great being able to be in this universe and traverse with the popular characters involved in the worlds. The coolest part of Third Age has to be the big battles where you barley survive! Evil mode is great and you can't beat smashing up the heroes hopes with a huge blunt attack from an Cave Troll. Not to spoil the plot or anything but I have one word with gives this game its mojo... Balrog. Lots of mojo, lots of Lord of the Rings action.
If you enjoy the more traditional style RPG games you will probably love The Lord of the Rings: Third Age. That is, if you're not a die-hard fan of the series. The overlapping storyline, basic role-playing elements and dulled out graphics are crippling downfalls, but even so the game is entertaining. Overall, Lord of the Rings: Third Age is an average attempt with a timeless license. Next time let's have a new adventure.
Gameplay: 7, Graphics/Sound: 7, Innovation: 6, Mojo: 7. Final: 7
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | Nov 23rd 2004
Play on the side of light or shadow. In an adventure that intersects the main plot points of the film trilogy, battle on the side of the Fellowship in their quest to save Middle-earth or unlock the evil missions where you fight on the side of Sauron.
Deep gameplay that expands all three films. Travel to familiar and unfamiliar places such as the Mines of Moria, Helm's Deep, Pelennor Fields, Minas Tirith, and a host of unexpected locations like the White Mountains Plains.
Customize your hero or villain: Upgrade your character with an in-depth skill tree system where you can acquire unique skills in melee combat, ranged weaponry, defense, and magic.
Discover a vast array of weapons, armor and clothing, and other Middle-earth items.
Free-roaming gameplay. Explore, take on side quests, and uncover secret characters to join your party, or special weapons and items to boost your existing characters.
Fight alongside or against key characters from The Lord of the Rings such as Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Eowyn, and the Balrog.
New user-controlled cameras keep players aware of everything around them.
Innovative turn-based battle system allows you to fight on horseback or Warg and define the rules of engagement.
Voiceover from the original actors and assets from all three The Lord of the Rings films.