The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age review
Seems to me that EA doesn't know the first thing about RPGs...Aside from flashy turn-based combat.
At least the battle system isn't done wrongly; the way to gain new skills, while it feels ripped off from another game (can't recall the name), is at least different from leveling up to get new skills; visuals are bloody amazing and so detailed; soundtrack, while being recycled from the movies, is basically an eargasm.The bad:
Rips off Final Fantasy X's battle system; literally no character development; in fact, literally no story except "save such and such"; hardly any of the original Lord Of The Rings characters make a decent appearance (oh, just one or three fights? OH JOY!); doesn't even have the basic RPG elements (currecy, town) aside from battling; needs more hobbits; drab, monotomous voice acting; lacks FMVs; and let's be honest, this doesn't even feel like an RPG, so why EA marketed this as one is beyond me... Oh, and extras are pointless filler.Summary:
You know these sorts of games...where the developers focus only the graphics, soundtrack and hyping the crap out of it, only to get people suckered into playing a monotomous rip off with a terrible story (which is basically non-existant, unless you consider "kill this guy" "get this item" and "save some person" a story), literally no character development, flawed and mostly-plagurised gameplay and battle after battle after battle. Oh, forgot to mention something; it breaks LOADS of RPG traditions! Seriously, I didn't even think of this as an RPG until I read it up on the Internet. I thought it was a generic adventure game with a turn based battle system. Seriously. And it barely felt like Lord Of The Rings too. It had the damn logo and the major monsters (aka the bosses of the game) from the movies, plus brief character cameos, but aside from this, it felt like...well, a generic adventure game. How was this? Read on!
As far as me encountering this game goes, I just found it at Cash Converters and bought it. I liked Return Of The King for the PS2, and figuring that both are Lord Of The Rings games, I figured "y'know, some good hack and slash gameplay", but no. All I got was an adventure game with little to no plot and nothing but battling with a battle system all too familiar...like it was ripped off Final Fantasy X. I played it, finished it and never played it again...until a few days ago anyway. 'twas disgusted all over again, finished it and left me with a feeling of never wanting to play it again. Let's be honest, this is a slap in the face. As a Lord Of The Rings and an RPG fan, that was a complete travesty. Read on for more:
Story (or lack thereof): 3/10
Yeah...uh, what was the story? Was there any? Apparently, some citadel guard named Berethor had to find his brother named Boromir, but he gets attacked by Ringwraiths and dies. He gets revived by some elf named Idrial and they both go on their merry way. At some point, it's explained that Boromir is dead, but Berethor goes on with his party of Idrial, the dwarf Hadhod (sup Gimli), the...uh, yeah, I forgot the other characters names' and species' but put it this way; take out a few hobbits, change some names around, do some palette swapping here and there and it's basically the fellowship following the real fellowship. Anyway, there's some wars going on because of Sauron and it's up to Berethor and company to stop them from destroying Middle Earth. They also have to kill some Ringwraiths and Witch King, among other characters from the series. Yeah, basic stuff really.
Major problems; these guys, well the third rate knock-off the real fellowship, weren't even in the movie to begin with, and the way that they exist in the plot is laughable. Throughout the movie scenes, the narrator explains how these new guys fit into the plot, but it makes zero sense. They are "coincidently" following the real fellowship and are somehow slow at doing so. All I'm hearing from the narrator is "our heroes speed forward to destroy Sauron, while these new guys walk slowly like molasses while cutting through a whole crapload of orcs, goblins, uruk-hais and other monsters". That's all I'm seeing it as. The in-game cutscenes are no better in this department...because nothing happens. It's usually "blah blah blah save this guy blah blah blah kill that guy blah blah blah get that stone blah blah blah blah blah blah" and at the end of the day, does it really matter? No. Is there any point to them? No. Do the characters actually act like humans and develop? No.
So already, they've broken many traditions and we're still discussing the story! In a lot of RPGs, I've tolerated/forced myself to enjoy/enjoyed the stories being told and how the characters develop into true characters. Here, EA thought "you know, we don't know the first thing about RPGs so why don't we just have some battle system and pretty pictures and, oh the story, that's gotta go, nobody likes it" and while it's true that many EA fans are Sports fanatics and that many Lord Of The Rings fanatics should know the story by heart, it would've came as no surprise that the story wouldn't be told as well to a newcomer of the series. Here's a real huge problem - us fans can't receive the story all too well either, but for different reasons. A newcomer wouldn't get it as the "story" was made for people who are fans of the franchise, but us who know the movies and games prior to this "game" by heart wouldn't either because it makes zero sense and is told poorly. Who is this meant to appeal to? Wouldn't know, but I doubt it does appeal to anyone except those hardcore 'non-conformists' who generally like to have a different opinion to the general opinion. The story shouldn’t be much to complain about, but since this is an RPG, there is no excuse for little to no story development (or existence for that matter).
The only major storytelling comes from these spheres you collect throughout the game. These spheres contain movie scenes which have the dialogue edited with splices and different voice acting, which seems to piss the purists off for that reason only, and which seems to confuse newbies because... Oh, I dunno, PARTS ARE SPLICED WRONGLY MAYBE?! Long story short, watch the movies, because these splices aren’t helpful in the slightest, especially to a newbie to the Lord of the Rings series.
So that's a huge flop right there. Let's see if the rest of the game is.
Can anyone say boring? And terrible, can anyone say terrible? It's boring and terrible! Well, not necessarily terrible, but compared to Return of the King plus the game it rips off, this is a huge slap in the face!
For one, your party is basically the same person, just different in appearance and their battle animations. Basically, you got fighters. As flashy as the animations are...well, that's just it; it's flashy. The only substance is the amount of damage done to the enemy and the thwack of your sword/axe/spear. Your party fights exactly the same basically, just change the battle animations and attack names and there's a party. There are two exception; Idrial, the walking first-aid kit, and Hadhod, the only other party member with magic attacks. Idrial’s combat skills aren't as good as the others’, but her spellcasting is where it's at. Just cast Waterga or whatever EA wants to call it in this game and be done with some enemies. You can also cast Curaga...erm, "Gift of Galadriel" to heal your characters if they're low on HP, or Li--Power of the Valar to revive a dead character. So yeah, there's your spellcaster, but that's it. As for Hadhod, just use Spirit attacks on occasion. 5 fighters who could all be compressed to 2 characters and a spellcaster. Hmm...I WONDER WHAT YOU PARTY SHOULD CONSIST OF...
The battles are no better. They, themselves, consist of a copy and paste Final Fantasy X random battle; you take a turn, they take a turn, you get the drill. They even steal the ambushed and pre-emptive strike elements from FFX, where pre-emptive strike lets your three go first, and ambushed lets the enemies go first. Simple stuff copied and pasted from Final Fantasy X. They even go as far as copying the Overdrive feature, but renames it "Perfect Mode" and makes it even easier to get. Bosses are the same deal; simply replace the beasts or whatever with Lord Of The Rings monsters and call them bosses.
For those who haven't gotten around to playing Final Fantasy X - Get around to it! Anyway, if your Speed statistic is higher than the enemy's and it's not pre-emptive strike or ambush, you go first. Then whoever has the next highest goes next, and so on and so forth in that fashion. There are certain attacks which cause a slight delay for your next turn, while there are some which can delay their next turn further way, and some which don't need much turn delay which will let you finish off an enemy a turn or so quicker. A turn consists of you or an enemy performing an action, such as an attack, special attack, spell, defense or item usage, then you or the enemy do that action and then...well, that's the turn done. Attacking is simply hitting an enemy for damage, a special attack is a flashy sort of attack which does more damage or a combo attack which does significantly more damage or increase stats, a spell which can heal you or damage enemies like a special attack (the last two consume MP...no, I'm sorry, "AP", which is needed to perform more special attacks and spells), defense, well, that defends you or the enemy from the next hit, that's it. Item usage is self-explained; you're using an item to either heal HP, heal status problems or raise stats. And finally, there are the Overdrives....uhh, "Perfect Mode" attack, which are essentially the most powerful attacks. After filling your perfect gauge via dealing a lot of damage to enemies or taking a certain amount of damage without dying, you can execute a very powerful attack (specific names and effects escape me but these attacks are usually powerful nonetheless). It seems like a good system to use, which might be why EA decided to steal it off Final Fantasy X to use it in this game, but that's just...not cool. It was good for Final Fantasy X, but a) Perfect Mode is the same for all characters in this game while Overdrives in FFX had different sorts for different people, and b) NOT FOR RIPPING OFF...POORLY I MIGHT ADD!
So anyway, the style being stolen and butchered was bad, but you know what else was bad? Enemy selection, or lack thereof! We got Orcs, Uruk-hai, Goblins, Trolls, Wargs, and Easterlings, for a grand total of... 6 different sorts of enemies. It may seem like a lot, but when a game lasts about 35-40 hours, you will tire of the small selection, plus a few of these sorts are just palette-swapped, appearance-altered versions of one another, so it’s actually more like 4 sorts (the Uruk-hai and Goblins mostly fight like Orcs, go figure). Sure, there are different ranks for them, like Orc Archer, Orc Berserker and the like, but considering that all of the enemies (excluding Trolls and Wargs) have all these... You really have to wonder. It shouldn’t seem like much to complain about, but it is! The enemies fight mostly the same and do little to separate themselves (Trolls and Wargs seem to be the only ones who do). Even so, most of these enemies are taken down the same way; hit it hard! No elemental weaknesses or nothing, just hit it as hard as you can. The only major differences are how much damage they take and how much they deal. If that’s all EA has, then I’m bored and so is everyone else.
There are bosses in the game, and thankfully they fight differently...to a certain extent. Of course, most of these bosses are from the trilogy (I’m not sure where the hell that squid came from but alright), such as the Witch King Of Agmar and Grima Wormtongue. Most of these bosses may seem fearsome, but they’re taken down by the same sort of pattern most of the time; get Idrial to deal some magical damage, then get your other two party members to cripple the boss further. Of course, you could get the dwarf Hadhod to deal some magical damage of his own to some of these bosses, just to add to some variety in battle considering Hadhod can physically attack decently and magically attack pretty damn well. Better yet, just pummel the enemy to death, having Idrial heal herself or other party members every once in a while so you don’t lose the battle. As for how the bosses fight, this is finally where some variety comes into play. The bosses have a decent variety of attacks, like AP stealing, streams of fire or whatever. The damage dealt by these attacks varies obviously and... You know what, I really don’t care any more. tl;dr - bosses have way more variety than the enemies and can be somewhat fun to fight.
Just like every RPG in existence, you can level up your characters. There are two different ways to do this; the traditional way where you fight enough monotonous battles to gain experience points, and gaining enough will level you up, thus increasing your stats thus giving you a better chance of winning against the next boss; and then the, for lack of a better name, ‘use that sort of attack a number of times to get more of that sort of attack’ sort of leveling up, where, if you use enough of a Spirit attack for a character, the character will eventually learn a new Spirit attack (and this applies for other categories of attacks – just replace Spirit with Leadership, Sword/Bow/Ranger/Axe/Dual-Axe/Thief/Spear Craft and Passive Skills). The latter, I find, to be a decent way to learn new attacks, but that leads to a problem; you have to partake in even more monotonous battles, but this time, you have to drag them out. WTF!? You have to use attacks a decent amount of times, and just plain going through the main game isn’t going to be enough to learn all the attacks. Plus oftentimes while doing this, unless you’re near a save point, you’ll be running out of AP. Having to level up moves requires a LOT of AP, and if you don’t have enough certain AP restoring items, you won’t be able to easily level up this way, you’ll just have to fight the old fashioned way (or escape...actually, just escape, much easier this way) through random encounters and get to a save point which can save your game and restore HP and AP. As for the traditional way of leveling up, I have no comment, it’s normal for every RPG and it’s worked for over 20 years, so there are no complaints or nothing. It beats using the unnecessarily confusing and flawed Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X.
The real shocker is that there’s hardly any challenge to be had in the game. Constantly missing your target does not constitute a challenge, it’s just plain annoying and, in a way, the stupidest thing you could do. How did the goblins manage to get so fast? Or are our second-rate heroes that goddamn slow and inaccurate? Anyway, there’s little to no challenge in this game. Even on the hardest difficulty, not much really challenged me or gave me much grief or many game overs. Maybe the final Witch King battle gave me a challenge and many game over screens, but that’s it. That’s the only true challenge in the game. The final boss was a disappointment right down to the last detail. Not even a second phase? OH, FOR FU--
Oh, and what about the overworld, when you’re not fighting? That only serves as filler and an excuse to fight. There are no puzzles to do here... Actually, what is there to do while roaming the linear paths of Middle Earth? Nothing! Nothing but jog the linear path, maybe opening some chests and saving... YAWN! Other RPGs at least incorporate puzzles, inns, weapon shops and the like... What does this do? Linear pathways? If that’s the best they could do, then they shouldn’t have even bothered, or if they were going to bother, there should at least be something to bloody do! More effort is needed in this area.
There is an extra incentive to completing the game - Evil Mode! Alright! If you weren’t bored enough playing as the second-rate heroes, you get to play as the bad guys! Right down to the last detail! Hell yeah! I’d love to flatten that Aragorn rip-off with my troll hammer! I’d love to lay the smackdown on Gandalf as the big, bad Balrog! Hell yeah! ...and now I’m bored! See, at first, it seems like such an interesting concept and a fun idea, but when you get further into Evil Mode, it really starts to wear you down. The already monotonous battle system becomes more boring and nothing more than inputting the attack command over and over again, as most of the enemies’ special attacks are nothing worth using. Sure, you get to play as the bosses like the Balrog and the Witch King, but as long as you take down one member with ease, the others are easy pickings. The really bad thing here is that most of these guys can’t heal, so if you’re running out of health, you better luck out with a critical hit (which occurs every blue moon) or prey that your enemies’ attacks miss. But don’t worry, as long as you know who to hit and kill first (which should be obvious after a turn), you should easily win every battle in this mode. Your prize? A few powerful items per part that you win in? Alright!
To make a long story short, EA had a few parts right, but as a whole, the fun wore off about 5 hours through, and since this game lasts about 35 hours, the last 30 hours can really be a chore. Even the extras (like the spheres) didn’t add much to enjoyability!
The game looks good at least. Amazing in fact! This really boasted the Gamecube’s graphical engine, and it even looks good on the PS2 and Xbox, both of which have superior graphics engines. It almost looks lifelike!
Let’s start with the character models, which I thought were well designed. At first glance, they looked uninspired, but when you get a closer, more in-depth look at them, they really start to scream “good design”. The characters from the movies were what I thought was best - they looked the part, for the most part, and they... Well, come on, they look a lot like they did in the movies. Shouldn’t that be enough? The trolls, while they lack drool, look like trolls (and kind of fearsome, in a way). As for the second-rate heroes, they at least look good.
As for the environments, they’re equally as good. Even though in the game, you don’t explore much (or get a chance to, to be exact), you have to admit, what your character is jogging through often looks impressive. The amount of detail put into every tree of the forest, every brick of every building, the works! The amount of color put into every bit of the environment is just amazing too. Not too much color but there sure as hell isn’t too little either.
Looks like Mt Doom, but at least you’re not treading through hell.
So basically, EA gets an A for graphics. Whoop-de-doo! In today’s modern gaming society, graphics is actually quite easy to get right...well, with a decent amount of effort anyway. It’s not exactly much, but it at least feels like we’re jogging through a good looking game.
As far as the audio for this game goes... It’s more or less a mixed bag. You have an epic soundtrack which was ripped from the movies, yet you have some boring voice acting which makes you think “have these people been to voice acting 101?” since the voice acting doesn’t really sound all that believable or convincing or even good.
How so, you may be asking? Well, for one, there is little to no emotion behind the voice acting. There’s also no personality behind the voice acting, then again, these second-rate douchebags have no personality, so it fits I guess, but still, shouldn’t there at least be some personality behind it? Maybe it’ll give the characters some personality... It’s as if they’re just reading their scripts and sounding every word. YAWN! I’m willing to bet that EA hired 4Kids for the voice acting, and had Jason Griffith voice the main second-rate hero, because that’s what it feels like. The voice acting for the actual heroes (Aragorn and Gandalf for example) is a much needed improvement over the others, and the only voice acting which is actually decent...well, good, actually.
As for the soundtrack... What can I say? Eargasmic! Then again, the whole thing is ripped from the movies, and the movies had one hell of an epic soundtrack, so what do you expect? Not much to say here.
Press X over and over again. Move forward and back at times. Hooray! To be fair, the controls are at least responsive and simple to learn... almost too simple... There’s not really much you can say here, as all you’re really doing is inputting commands and walking around Middle-Earth.
Replay Value: 2/5
When you defeat the last boss, there is Evil Mode to do, plus you can backtrack through levels you previously visited and get all the items. You can also start some fights with enemies and try to get to the highest level as well as trying to learn every ability. Anything else you can do? Not really, there’s not even a New Game+, which seems disappointing until you realize that the game doesn’t need it. So basically, it’s a one-timer.
Lord Of The Rings: The Third Age is EA’s attempt at Final Fantasy X (minus the Sphere Grid and any reason to want to play beyond the main campaign and Evil Mode), and it’s better off in the dust. It may appeal to a fan who isn’t a complete purist and just wants to play a decent game, but...that’s the thing, it isn’t that great of a game. If you must try it, rent it before buying.
Jak’s rating system: 20/40
Neoseeker’s rating system: 2.5/5.0
About the author
- The combat system 6
- Stealing Weapons 26
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- New playthrough characters 2
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