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Developer:
EA Redwood Shores
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PS2, GameCube, Xbox
Release Date: November 2, 2004

by Josh Ferguson




The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is the first RPG to be released under the Lord of the Rings brand. While the game isn't directly based on the movies, it does take much from New Lineís films. However, does the game do justice to the movies?


The story behind The Third Age follows Berethor, a Gondorian soldier in search of the Gondorian Captain, Boromir. On his search, Berethor quickly meets up with many other individuals who decide to join him, several of whom also resemble characters from New Lineís films. Even better, at several key points throughout The Third Age, characters from the movies will fight alongside Berethor and his companions. Also, the movie characters for the most part are even voiced by the actors who portrayed them in the films . . . well . . . sort of. For many of the characters it seems that instead of recording anything new, the creators took bits and pieces of sound clips directly from the films and switched them around so that they would make sense.


As the game continues, your group follows suit with the filmís characters, though usually a step or so behind. In fact, as the filmís characters reach Moria, and Pippin accidentally knocks the skeleton down a long shaft, your party is located on the next level, witnessing its drop. Different scenes like this seem pretty interesting; however there are some that interfere with the actual Lord of the Rings storyline. For example, as the party travels through Moria they reach the bridge where Gandalf is fighting the Balrog. How is this possible? Did Gandalf forget to mention to the rest of the Fellowship, "Oh, I met up with all these guys and we kicked some Balrog butt, and, oh, one of them looked exactly like you, Aragorn and Gimli?Ē If Gandalf and Berethor fought alongside each other, doesn't it seem that the actual Fellowship would have noticed this?


The combat system in The Third Age is very similar to that of Final Fantasy X. This means that your characters take their turns and then the enemies take theirs. Pretty straight forward, really. Like Final Fantasy X, characters can also switch in and out of combat. Characters are also given "spirit powers" (magic) and combat skills. Both spirit powers and combat skills are acquired by using them a number of times, which unlocks the next level of skills. Although skills and spirit powers are helpful, there are times when it seems it isn't even worth using them. Certain skill animations seem like they take minutes to finish, especially some of the orcs.


When it comes to the combat system, its main downfall is that it becomes very repetitive and boring. There are times throughout the game when you will face strains and strains of orcs, goblins, uruk-hai and so forth. And since The Third Age holds the Lord of the Rings brand, the game only features enemies that were in the movies, meaning that you will be facing a whole lot of these enemies from time to time.


For anyone who hates playing games alone, The Third Age also has a co-op mode, allowing two players to work side by side. Player one takes control of certain characters and does the walking, while player two takes control of the others. The downfall of co-op is that if the occasion arises where one of the playerís characters is not in combat, then that player is unable to control any character, unless they are brought back into combat. For example, if Player One controls two of the three characters in combat and wants to bring in, say, the healer of the group, whom Player One also controls, then Player Two is done. Player Two can't do anything with the controller but sit and hope that one of their characters is brought back into combat.


Something else that is quite unique to The Third Age is the ability to go into Evil mode. Evil mode allows the player to play through some of the key battles of the storyline as the evil characters, rather than the good guys. While it is sometimes fun to play as a few of the evil characters, such as the Balrog, Evil mode really isn't anything spectacular.


As you progress through The Third Age, several different cinemas will be unlocked. These cinemas are narrated by Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and are taken from the films. While it is nice to see videos from the films, there are such an enormous number of them that it becomes a bit of a bore going through all of them, especially since many of them rarely have anything to do with you or your party.


Graphically the game looks nice, however, several of the movie characters look as if they were taken from The Return of the King and thrown into the game. As far as your party goes, the armor and other equipment look very convincing for a Lord of the Rings game. The scenery is very well done and makes players seem as if they are actually viewing Middle-Earth. Several of the enemies in The Third Age also look quite nice, especially the fire-breathing Balrog, who looks as splendid as the filmís version. From the smoke flowing around the Balrog to the flames, the creators did a great job of recreating the Balrog.


One of The Third Age's strong points is its sound. If youíre a fan of the Lord of the Rings score, then you will most likely approve of the music in The Third Age. For the most part, much of the music is taken from the films, and as we all know, the moviesí scores rock. The voice acting is done well, including the movie characters, but of course there are a few complaints here and there, which Iíve already discussed. The battle sounds are very realistic and would put a smile on any fanís face.


Although The Third Age is an interesting take on The Lord of the Rings, it doesn't seem to work as well as the The Two Towers or The Return of the King. While the game does a nice job of allowing the player to view Middle-Earth, it just doesn't seem to work well in other areas.


Final Grade: 72%




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