|The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age|
|Platforms||GameCube, Xbox, PlayStation 2|
|MtAMinutes to Action||5|
|Buy from Amazon|
And so we've come the the last game in the Lord of the Rings marathon. The good thing about this marathon is that it was much shorter than a Lord of the Rings movie marathon. Actually, beating all three games would probably take less time than watching the extended versions of the movies. Snarkiness aside, it would be a good idea to read the first two before venturing into this one.
After Return of the King was released, there was still enough hype about the Lord of the Rings movies to warrant releasing another game. Since the two previous games had already covered all the battles from the movies (and then some), EA decided to tap into a previously neglected genre: they released an RPG.
The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is almost a JRPG, except it wasn't developed in Japan. Because of this, it has a little more Western influence on the storytelling and some of the gameplay.
The story was created just for the game and has you controlling new characters, mainly Berethor, a man of Gondor, who is searching for Boromir.
Will Lord of the Rings make a good RPG? Perhaps the bigger question is, will EA make a good RPG? Hmmm....
(minutes are in bold)
00 - I select New Game and the first hour of The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age begins. Ian McKellan narrates a video composed of clips from the movies.
01 - It gives me a little bit of background about what's going on, the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.
02 - Isildur cuts the ring from Sauron's hand.
04 - The Fellowship of the Ring forming and on their way to destroy the ring.
05 - Now we're to an in-engine cutscene of Berethor facing off against several Ringwraiths. I now get control in a turn-based battle. The control pad highlights options, A selects. As in most turn-based RPGs, that's about all there is to it. I have three options: Attack, Taunt, or Skip. Attack is self-explanatory, Taunt says it draws an enemy into exclusive combat, and Skip skips my turn, which I don't want to do.
06 - Choosing Attack, I target one of the Ringwraiths. Berethor attacks with all his Gondorian might, but the Ringwraith is immune to it. My foe returns the attack, achieving a critical hit for 177 HP. The assault knocks Berethor down and his sword goes flying. Suddenly an Elven woman appears and catches the sword before it hits the ground. Light starts to emanate from her and a torrent of water and really wet horses flows down the path and washes the Ringwraiths away.
07 - The beautiful Elven woman kneels over the fallen Berethor and, speaking some words in her native tongue, grants him the strength to stand again after the brutal attack from the servants of the Dark Lord.
08 - Now I'm in Adventure Mode, which involves running around in real time. A subtitle tells me I can view Epic Scenes in the pause menu. These scenes give me background on what's going on, and seem to be made up of generic landscape shots from the movies narrated by Ian McKellen.
09 - The Epic Scenes basically tell the story that'd you get in a normal RPG, but it's optional. You view it at your leisure by selecting it from a menu.
10 - Fiddling around with the menus some more, I find the Stats, Equipment, and Skills screens. I peruse through the Skill trees, although I'm probably getting ahead of the game here, as it will likely introduce me to this as I play.
11 - I find a chest and press A to open it. The tutorial text warns me that enemies often lurk near chests, but apparently not this one. The chest held a shield, so I open the equipment menu and equip my shield. Sweet, you can actually see him carrying the shield! I always like that in an RPG. There's a bunch of different armor slots: Helm, cloak, pauldrons, bracers, chestplate, fauld, grieves, sword, shield, ring and slots for four Elfstones.
12 - The Elven woman doesn't have much armor, most of her slots are empty. Instead of a ring she can wear a choker. Back outside the menu, a blue glowing orb appears in the corner of my screen. Its glow increases, and suddenly I'm in battle. Seems that the orb was warning me about the battle.
13 - Idrial attacks first because, c'mon, she's an elf. She can attack or use Swordcraft or Spirit Powers, both of which cost Action Points (AP), with 74 being Idrial's total amount. She only has one Swordcraft move, a Fluid Strike costing 20 AP. As far as Spirit Powers go she has the Loudwater fury (that's what she used on the Ringwraiths, I believe) and the Gift of Elrond, a healing move. These cost 50 AP. On the right-hand side of the screen there's a list detailing the order in which all the participants of the battle will move. Choices I make can affect the order, for example, if Idrial uses a Spirit Power, she won't attack until the end of next turn, instead of the beginning. Some interesting strategy could arise there.
14 - I order Idrial to use her Fluid Strike against the orc, and she does a really shiny sword swipe. Berethor has the ability to Taunt his foe, as I mentioned before, which also causes him to move up on the movement list from then on. His Swordcraft is the Gaurdian Strike, and he has Leadership skills, namely the Company Might which causes the whole party's attack rating to increase. I choose Attack, and Berethor lunges at his for 55 damage.
15 - The orc takes his turn, hurting me 34. The animations are nice, and the orc is appropriately ugly; at least, he is before Idrial slays him with her next move. The battle results screen distributes experience points (a different number for each character, interesting) and some lembas, which as we all know is elvish waybread, similar in usage to cram, but much better tasting and more fulfilling. Oh, the purpose of lembas is to restore AP.
16 - In another chest I find a choker for Idrial and some kingsfoil (also known as athelas). After putting the new necklace on her I get in a random battle, not heralded by a blue palantir.
17 - It's two orcs, one with a bow and one with a sword. Idrial rushes the orc on the left and lands a Triple Critical, bringing her foe down in one swift move. Berethor follows up with his Gaurdian Strike, a flashy attack that does considerable damage to the second orc. The orc responds by shooting Berethor with an arrow, and although the arrow remains stuck in his abdomen, the hearty warrior only takes 17 damage. The nimble Idrial finishes the battle with a basic attack.
18 - They both leveled up! They seem to earn experience points directly related to how much damage they do in battle. I got some more lembas, and I find a chest right away that contains more lembas. I go into the menu and find that due to my characters' new levels, I can add two points to each of their stats, which consist of Strength (damage dealt), Spirit (AP), Constitution (HP and special defense), Speed (turn order), and Dexterity (basic defense). I add one to each of Berethor's Strength and Constitution.
19 - After much deliberation, I give both of Idrial's points to Spirit.
20 - Eating some lembas refills Idrial's AP. Next I find some Longbottom Leaf, which strangely restores more AP than Lembas. Kingsfoil, by the way, restores health. I also happen across a giant stone troll, supposedly one of the ones from which Bilbo escaped in The Hobbit.
21 - A cutscene introduces another battle, this time against three orcs. Two carry bows and one, a sword. I have Berethor Taunt just to see what it does, but the effect is apparently subtle, because I can't tell what it is. Idrial kills an orc with a single Critical strike.
22 - I win the battle.
23 - They both leveled up again! That's fast. Leveling refills all your HP and AP, thankfully. I got an ent-draught from this battle, which restores more health than kingsfoil.
24 - Swordcraft works like this: you get to choose which move they are learning next, and it has a point value. Each time you use a Swordcraft skill it adds one point. When you get enough point, you learn the next move. For example, Idrial is learning the Weakening Slash, and I have three points toward the fifteen required because that's how many times I've used her Swordcraft. I could also choose the Wounding Strike instead, but it doesn't have any points toward it.
25 - For her Spirit Powers, I can't choose which to learn next, but after the next one it branches of into a lot of different powers. It doesn't look like she's intended to learn them all in one playthrough.
26 - There's also something called Perfect mode which triggers when your team has fulfilled certain conditions, like having taken a certain amount of damage or something, and there are special powers for each person that can be learned as well.
27 - The path is very limiting, in fact the map shows exactly where you can and can't go, and let me tell you there's more "can't" than "can." There are some branches that you can explore, but the map leaves little doubt as to where you're going and how to get there. As such, I come across a save point. I also find some Ash which I can throw on enemies to lower their attack.
28 - I get to an Elvish waystation, and Idrial uses some of the supplies to "heal my wounds." Strange, since my HP is already full. Supposedly I was injured by the Ringwraiths, maybe it's some kind of emotional scar? Yeah, that's probably it. I gain experience points for getting to the waystation, not to mention several chests which I feel free to plunder, gaining no small amount of lembas, plus some new pauldrons.
29 - This makes no sense: I acquire the item "Leaves of Lembas" which restores more AP than Lembas. But lembas is bread! What are Leaves of Lembas?
30 - I gain another Epic Scene, this time about the betrayal of Saruman.
32 - I find a tiara for Idrial, then run across a band of elves being attacked by orcs. What can we do but rescue them?
33 - Berethor strikes at the orc captain, who withstands the blow and retaliates with the Rage of Saruman, strengthening the resolve of his forces. Idrial attacks the captain as well, but he's a tough ugly thing. One of the orcs shield-punches Berethor, and their captain calls in a murder of crows to peck at the heroes.
34 - Through practicing his Swordcraft, Berethor learns the Orc Bane, a perfect move for this battle. Idrial lands a critical hit on the orcish captain and slays him. Berethor follows with an Orc Bane against one of the remaining brutes, doing massive damage.
35 - Our heroes finish off their foes, but not without receiving wounds of their own. I get a gold-plated fauld for Idrial and a new steel longsword for Berethor, as well as some more healing items, of which I have used none so far.
36 - Even in the cutscene it shows the characters wearing their armor. I get bonus experience for saving the elves and level up, as well as a new epic scene.
37 - So far the story seems to be that Berethor is looking for Boromir, and he's following his trail as Boromir travels with the Fellowship. Idrial hails from Lothlorien and is out to help some elves make the trip to the Grey Havens safely. We have teamed up because, well, that's what good RPG characters do.
38 - I put the new fauld on Idrial (it's kind of like a metal skirt) and it increases her armor from 8 to 34, as well as surprisingly increasing her Dexterity as well. I use some Kingsfoil on her, but it doesn't raise her health much. I then apply an Ent Draught, but it still didn't raise it all the way. Maybe that's why they're giving me so much of the stuff.
39 - Berethor leveled up, so I apply his points.
40 - I open a chest and then get into a random battle. They don't look like orcs.... wait, they're not, they're "Wild Men."
41 - They must be really slow, they missed me every time and I got only Critical Hits.
42 - I get a message telling me I've defeated one of three War Bands. Also, Idrial leveled up. I give a point to Constitution because everybody needs HP.
43 - Idrial's armor rating is actually higher than Berethor's right now. How embarrassing for him.
44 - For some reason it shows a meter indicating an upcoming battle, but only sometimes. Also, sometimes the meter is an "Eye of Sauron" and sometimes it's a palantir. They seem to indicate different things, but what, and why?
45 - Berethor leveled up again. He's a leveling-up fool! This time he got three stat points!
46 - I just noticed the frame-rate is kind of low. There's no excuse for that, since there's next to nothing happening at any giving time.
47 - I win another battle and Idrial levels up.
48 - I decide to take this opportunity to level up, as I found an area where the orcs keep attacking me. I can kill an orc in one hit now, so I work on my Swordcraft and gather herbs for future battles as well as earning XP.
49 - Idrial learns her next Swordcraft move. Unfortunately the Swordcraft moves don't look very cool. There's some light effects and the attack looks a little more powerful, but I think we've all come to expect more from special moves in an RPG.
52 - I fight several more battles and level up.
53 - I move on and find some wargs. Hey, there a guy laying there! I rush into battle to save him, but he jumps up and tells me that he was hunting wargs and was playing dead to draw them close.
54 - The newcomer, Eldost, in a Dunedain and uses a bow. He has Bowcraft instead of Swordcraft, as well as Ranger skills.
55 - One of Eldost's Bowcraft moves is the Creature Bane, which does extra damage to animals, and I kill the warg with it (after Idrial attacks it first).
56 - We're heading up onto Caradhras. I check the stat menu and find that Eldost has 9 points which I can distribute among his skills.
57 - Ooh, Eldost can learn a Bowcraft by which he can attack two foes at once. That's always handy, so I select it for him to learn next.
58 - I find a somewhat hidden area with a chest, but I get attacked by a group of wargs before I can get to it.
59 - After I defeat them I get a notification telling me I've defeated one of three warg packs.
60 - I get in another battle with two wargs, and that's the end of the hour.
Minutes to Action: 5 (not bad for an RPG)
Favorite Thing: Stats and equipment.
Least Favorite Thing: The world seems so empty.
Design: Graphics were decent, the character models look better than the previous two games, and it was cool that all the equipment and weapons appeared on the character. The only problem is the low frame-rate, and since the game doesn't have a whole lot of action, this seems unforgivable. Then again, there's nothing that requires split-second timing, so it doesn't really affect gameplay. Sound design was forgettable, it used the score from the movie again, which is a great score, but I'm a little tired of it after playing three games in a row. The camera offered a large range of control, which is a huge improvement over the last two games.
Story: Well, being told through optional scenes from the movie is a little strange, it seems like "Yes this is an RPG so we have to have a lot of exposition, but this is also going to be played by people who don't care about all that, so let's make it optional." A compelling story is one of the main reasons to play an RPG like this, and it does not deliver.
Fun: I enjoyed the battles and fiddling with the equipment and stats. Running around in adventure mode was a little dull, and the story did nothing to draw me in.
Keep Playing: Maybe, but it's near the bottom of my list.
You will like this game if: The previous two games had too much action for you.
Other Thoughts: This is basically a standard RPG set within the story of Lord of the Rings. The only problem I see with that is this: If those people had existed, and all that stuff had been happening, Tolkien would have at least mentioned it. Therefore, the story loses all credibility to me. That and the Leaves of Lembas.
That said, it does work well if it's taken as just a movie game, and it's interesting to see an original take on a movie license, instead of just playing out the movie. It's also kind of fun if you're a stat-hound and like to see new equipment on your characters. The battle system didn't really offer anything new or innovative, but it was competent.
Of the three games, this is the most interesting simply because it introduces new characters and offers an alternative look at the story of the movies. However, The Two Towers game is more fun. Return of the King should be saved for play until after beating The Two Towers. Now that my marathon is over, I'm going to go read the books. I just started The Two Towers and am thoroughly enjoying it... again.