The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Cover
Platforms GameCube, Xbox, PlayStation 2, GBA, Mac, Windows
Genre Clipshow hack-and-slash
MtAMinutes to Action 0
Keep Playing? No
Buy from Amazon

The second game in my marathon is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. To simplify, I will assume you have already read my Two Towers review, so if you haven't you may want to do that first.

Return of the King (RotK) is the follow-up to The Two Towers. This game was released in conjunction with the movie, so it follows it much more closely. The levels are taken only from the final movie (which doesn't always correspond to the final book).

In order to one-up the previous game, RotK raises the number of playable characters from three to five right off the bat, with several unlockable characters as well. It also adds interaction within the environment, two-player co-op, and a bunch of tweaks such as graphical enhancements.

Will these changes be enough to help Return of the King surpass The Two Towers? Will its First Hour be as well paced as its predecessor? Or will neither of these things happen?

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - After a brief introductory cutscene consisting mostly of movie clips, I'm dropped into combat as Gandalf. I'm surrounded by orcs, and I'm getting hit a lot. I leveled up! That was really fast. There's some tutorial text about which buttons to push, but there's so much going on I can barely tell what I'm doing.

01 - The control scheme is basically the same as the Two Towers games, and since I just reviewed that one I won't bother detailing the controls. Of note, Gandalf's ranged attack is magic missiles.

02 - I'm close to death; I guess someone didn't like the invincible tutorial from the previous game. I climb to the top of the wall and fight my way across it to kill certain orcs who are bringing bombs to breach the wall. That's when I discover one of the new features of this game: Z is now an Action button. There is a rack of spears that can be thrown with Z (he automatically targets enemies) and seem to be one-hit-kills. At the base of the bridge I find some ballistas that I can fire with Z, and after missing with the first one I fire the second one and hit the cart of bombs.

Lord Of The Rings Return Of The King Gandalf

03 - That wraps up this mission. More clips from the movie, then a mission wrap-up screen akin to the previous game, rating my kills as Fair, Good, Excellent, and Perfect. I get mostly Goods.

04 - Now that I'm at level 2 (after the tutorial?!) I can buy some special moves.

05 - I have enough points for any one move on the list. I decide to buy the Orc Bane. This move starts with a block, and if executed correctly will kill an orc, no questions asked.

06 - I now have to create a save file. Even though I just finished the tutorial, I didn't learn much from it; it was way too hectic. Now that I think back on it, I think I still couldn't die because I got really low on health and kept getting hit but never died.

07 - A cutscene made of movie clips tries to give a plot synopsis.

08 - If you don't already know what's going on, this would not help.

Lord Of The Rings Return Of The King Army

09 - Too long, did not listen. Now I'm on a level select screen, and there are three paths to progress: the Path of the King, the Path of the Wizard, or the Path of the Hobbits. I choose the Path of the King, as it promises more action and has the most levels.

10 - The first level is the Paths of the Dead. I can choose Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli; I choose Aragorn.

11 - More movie scenes.

12 - The level starts, there are no enemies right at first so I test out a few of my moves. As I mentioned before, they are the same as the Two Towers game: speed attack, fierce attack, physical attack, killing move, and parry.

13 - We're in a cave; the floor is covered in mist which makes me walk slowly. The cinematic camera is already giving me issues.

14 - I'm fighting ghosts with Legolas and Gimli. I come across some spears, which have a glowing ring around them because they are actionable. Love the subtlety.

Lord Of The Rings Return Of The King Legolas

15 - I pick up a spear but get hit by an enemy while holding it and I lose it. I proceed to do the same with every spear and therefore I don't get to actually use any of them.

16 - This mist is making it annoyingly hard to move. It's not everywhere, but a lot of the fighting takes place within it.

17 - So far I've been unable to make parrying work. The attacks are coming too quickly, from too many enemies for it to work. I finally do parry one attack, and my rating meter shoots up.

18 - I leveled up! I try to parry but get hit instead; the "cinematic" camera is making it impossible for me to tell what's going on. I never did like that effect.

19 - This level basically consists of repeatedly pressing A or Y depending on whether the given enemy has a shield or not. I'm low on health.

20 - I get a checkpoint, which is nice. I lowered a bridge by pressing the action button near a crank but after we crossed, it collapsed. There are so many enemies attacking me at once I'm not sure how I'm supposed to be parrying.

Lord Of The Rings Return Of The King Gimli

21 - Suddenly my health just went up; I must have stepped on a vial without noticing. Then I find another vial.

22 - Whenever I get hit I reel back, but my hits don't seem to phase these ghosties until they go down. I find that there's some leeway in the finishing move, which leads to me stabbing the ground in front of an enemy who has just stood up, and killing it instantly.

23 - I climb a ladder to a higher area and fight several tough ghosts. Now I'm dying, but my peeps didn't come with. Finally they climb they ladder too, only to obscure my view because of the camera angle.

24 - The guy I'm fighting has a health bar over his head, must be a mini-boss. He's only attacking me, and I die. Fortunately I did get a checkpoint, so I continue from there.

25 - The speed attack is a horizontal slash, which has a wide range and tends to hit several baddies at once. This just in: you don't always have to kill all the enemies before moving on!

26 - My friendlies aren't too smart; for example, when they knock a bad guy down they don't finish him off.

Lord Of The Rings Return Of The King Nazgul

27 - I don't really know what's going on at any given time, I'm just running around pressing attack buttons.

29 - I'm back to the point where I died, this time I hang back and kill the mini-boss with three charged arrow shots.

30 - There's the cinematic camera angle, driving me insane.

32 - I just came to "a place of evil where the dead gather." That is not reassuring, given all that we've come through. I'm trapped on a narrow bridge and enemies are issuing forth from large boulders. I have to kill 35 before I can continue. I know this because there's a handy counter in the corner.

33 - I level up again. Bigger enemies are coming out now; they're hitting me and there's nothing I can do about it.

34 - Because of the camera angle I cannot tell what's going on. I'm just running around pressing attack buttons. I guess if I were good this would be a great place to get a lot of experience with combos, but all I'm getting are Fair and Good ratings. Hey, I got one Excellent!

Lord Of The Rings Return Of The King Aragorn

35 - Ok, I killed 35, now I can go past. Fortunately they were dropping a lot of health so I'm still in good condition.

36 - I beat the level and get mostly Fairs. Aragorn got to Level 3 so it's time to go shopping.

37 - I bought the Orc Hewer which is a "Speed Speed Fierce" combo. One of the new features of this game is the ability to buy a move for everybody for a slightly higher price. This is handy, so you're not having to buy the same move over and over, especially since there are more characters on the this game.

38 - I buy the Orc Bane for everyone (yes that means I wasted the points I spent on buying Gandalf that move) and then I get the Ranger's Fury (a charge attack) for Aragorn, who is the only one who can use it.

39 - I save and am back to the level select screen. The next level is the King of the Dead, but I decide to give the Hobbits a try instead. The only character I can play as on this mission is Sam.

40 - More movie footage.

Lord Of The Rings Return Of The King Path Dead

42 - I'm supposed to be escorting Frodo through Osgiliath. Hopefully this isn't too annoying.

43 - Sam can kill orcs and Uruk-hai about the same as Aragorn and Gandalf. He does seem to take more damage though, and his sword is short, which makes it a little harder. Therefore I die.

44 - Because Sam hasn't leveled up yet, he can't use the moves I bought for everyone. Sam can throw rocks at enemies, but they dodge them, which makes me stick to my sword.

45 - Ooh, I got an Excellent rating. I don't know where Frodo is, but I don't seem to be too responsible for him.

46 - Frodo's back. The dumb cinematic camera was hiding where I need to go.

47 - I leveled up, so now I can use my new moves.

Lord Of The Rings Return Of The King Samwise

48 - Frodo is in my way. Then I perform an Orc Bane, which is an instant kill and automatic Perfect rating, and I kill another orc right after with an Orc Hewer and get another Perfect.

49 - It's really hard to do the Orc Bane. You have to parry an attack, then press the killing move button and he'll pull it off. The trick is parrying an attack on purpose.

51 - It's really hard to parry moves when being hit by three orcs at a time. I get killed and restart at a checkpoint, which wasn't too long ago.

52 - A A A Y Y A A A A A A Y Y. A A Y.

53 - A A A, Y Y. Y Y Y Y Y Y.

54 - I just rolled a giant bell down the stairs, killing several orcs. The orcs were obviously scripted to run up the stairs at that time, but it looked cool and I did get experience for them, so I'm not complaining.

Lord Of The Rings Return Of The King Frodo

55 - The Orc Hewer move is really handy. Plus I finally got to see the Orc Bane move up close. Sam rolls over the orc's back, shanks him in the back of the knee, and when the orc drops down, Sam slits his throat from behind. Pretty brutal for a hobbit.

56 - I'm having to hide under things to keep from being seen by the flying Nazgul. Sometimes I'm inside and it doesn't matter, but when I'm outside I have a meter that tells me how long till Frodo is spotted and I have to get under something before then. Fortunately only I have to get under things, I don't have to make sure Frodo does too. Doesn't make much sense, but keeps this escort mission from being too annoying.

57 - Things are blowing up everywhere.

58 - I always did think that the films had an awful lot of explosions for a world in which gunpowder was considered black magic. Where are all the explosions coming from then?

59 - Landing a combo move raises your meter faster so you don't have to get in as many consecutive hits to achieve better scores.

60 - The hour ends with me pressing A A Y A A A Y Y. . . you get the idea.

Lord Of The Rings Return Of The King Multiplayer

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 0

Favorite Thing: Fellowship upgrades were a much-needed feature.

Least Favorite Thing: So many movie clips....

Design: The graphics were better than the Two Towers game, and the sound design was about the same. Unfortunately they decided to rely a lot more on clips from the movies, which I did not appreciate. And then we get to the camera.... It failed. The camera in The Two Towers wasn't bad. This one was. Several times I couldn't tell what I was doing, and in one area the camera was positioned such that Legolas and Gimli (who follow you everywhere) completely blocked my view of the enemies up ahead. Other times the camera was so zoomed out I couldn't tell what I was hitting.

Story: Relying on the movie clips is not the way to go. If I wanted to watch the movie, I would have. And if I wanted to enjoy the story, I would have read the books.

Fun: I enjoyed it less than the Two Towers games, which seems like a failure.

Keep Playing: No, I'll play Two Towers instead.

You will like this game if: You already beat the Two Towers game and just can't get enough.

Other Thoughts: This game seemed to come to the party assuming you had beaten Two Towers. Although there was a tutorial, there was so much going on it was not very helpful, and it was much more difficult to achieve the satisfying Excellent and Perfect kill ratings.

Strangely, at the same time the game provides waaaay too much exposition in the form of movie clips, as if players had no clue what was going on. I think EA should have just assumed that anyone playing the game had already seen the movie, and they could have put just one short clip before each level to remind you what part of the movie you were about to play.

As far as game type, the hack'n'slash format of these two games fits well with the movies, although the books might have been better suited by a point and click adventure. Actually scratch that; the books would have been better suited as books.

A perfect example is here of book-to-movie-to-game adaptation: The Paths of the Dead. In the book Aragorn and company (which consisted of several more comrades than just Legolas and Gimli) went through the Paths with little more than a sense of dread; Aragorn summoned the Dead with a shout, and the Dead followed him to the stone of Erech which was outside the caves. Then he encouraged the Dead to follow him, which they did.

In the movie Aragorn has an argument and a little bit of swordplay with The King of the Dead. In the game, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli fight their way through an army of Dead before coming to the King of the Dead. Yes, indeed.

In any case, a sequel that I enjoy less than the original is, to me, a failure. Play The Two Towers instead.

Lord Of The Rings Return Of The King Gollum