The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age

Even though the Lord of the Rings series has come and gone, that hasn’t stopped Electronic Arts from milking the cash cow until dry. Is that a bad thing? Of course not, especially when the books kick butt, the film adaptations rocked and the games were spectacular in their own way as well. Lord of the Rings tends to bring out the imagination in all of us, touching all sorts of hidden emotions and buried creativity. The wonderfully crafted storyline, the drama, the action and everything else that you will surly experience while engaging yourself in the Lord of the Rings universe – whether it be the books, games, or movies – makes the series one of the most memorable creations of our time.

The Lord of the Rings universe need not be explained any further. If you are not familiar with LoTR, then go watch the movies. But of course, the biggest question surrounding the game is how Electronic Arts plans to continue on with the series when there is no movie to base the game’s storyline off of? The answer is not so simple, but after our hands-on with the game at last years E3 and EA’s track record, we all have much to look forward to when the game releases on November 1.

KEY FEATURES

  • 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
  • Voiceover from the original actors and assets from all three The Lord of the Rings films

Lord of the Rings: The Third Age begins outside of Rivendell. You are guiding Berethor, a trooper from Mina Tirith sent to Rivendell by Denethor to find out what happened to his son, Boromir (what a mouth-full). You quickly team up with the elf maiden Idrial, and the two of you set out on your journey behind the Fellowship’s main characters, who are involved in their own doings. Shortly after, your party grows into the classic RPG team consisting of the warrior, the archer, and the wizard, when you gain accompany of the archer Elegost and the dwarf Hadhod.


Your team, which eventually reaches six party members, is engaged in their own journey along side, behind, and ahead of the main Fellowship characters. As explained by the game’s producer, Steve Gray, “Third Age is part of the fabric of the films. In the center of that fabric is what you actually saw in the movies, but what is lying all around it is this other stuff that’s going on, and these are the characters that participate in that world. There’s enormous backstory and structure around the movies that isn’t actually in them. Things that were cut from the first release or weren’t even in the extended versions, so there’s a treasure trove of ideas.”


As previously mentioned, your team doesn’t consist of the Fellowship. With that said, you will still cross paths with the Fellowship, and at one point in time or another, all of them (except Frodo and Sam) will have joined your party; whether it be for a single battle or for an extended period of time. Speaking of battles, EA has done an amazing job in taking an existing battle system that will feel familiar to gamers, but tweaking and customizing it so that it still feels like a fresh and rewarding experience. Much like the Final Fantasy series, The Third Age uses a turn based battle system but also offers two unique battle options – Tank and Protect. Just like the name of the move suggests, you have the ability to take any of your party members and “tank” over an enemy or “protect” or shield an ally. Of course, common sense pursues with this strategy, so use wisely. On top of these unique additions, expect the plethora of RPG moves and spells, from long and short range attacks, magic spells, and brute force hacking and slashing – all of which can be upgraded and improved upon as you gain experience and magic points.

EA doesn’t want The Third Age to appeal only to the hardcore RPG gamer, thus they have made very distinctive moves in backing up that determination. What can basically be described as easy mode and normal mode, they offer two different gameplay experiences. “Easy mode” will play much like the previous two LoTR titles (Twin Towers and Return of the King) in that the gamer simply needs to blast his way through the game and not worry about character strategy and development. The game will automatically equip your characters with the appropriate gear and suggest the most appropriate spell and attack upgrades, making your job easier and allowing you to focus more on the action rather than the side-quests and importance of experience and magic points. If you take on “normal mode,” expect the full-blown RPG experience, and 40 to 60 hours worth of gameplay. Another flip-side feature is the ability to play as “the bad guy.” Defeat an enemy, big or small, and that encounter will show up on a list of battles that can be replayed over with you as the bad guy fighting against the heroes. Yet another feature is the newly announced two player co-op mode. Simplicity is the key here, as player-one only needs to select “co-op” from the menu screen, and the 6 available characters are split 3 a piece between the two gamers. Barethor, Elegost, and Morwen go to player one, while the second player gets to control Idrial, Hadhod, and Ioden. Battles have each player taking a turn to make their desired moves, and they can even give up their turn so their buddy could make a critical move instead.

Above all else, EA has really taken a step towards graphical prowess and audio superiority in The Third Age. The textures are superb, facial and body animations are spot on, and the spells look absolutely gorgeous. It is very easy to find yourself comparing The Third Age’s in-game cinema sequences and summoning spells to the style of that used in Final Fantasy games. In fact, the game’s producer, Steve Gray, had the following to say: “Final Fantasy is obviously the model that you have to take into account when doing a monster RPG. But our goal is to raise the bar… hold our graphics engine up against Square’s and we certainly come out a little ahead and way ahead when you compare the audio.”

In summary, EA may very well have a triple-A title on their hands with The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. EA has worked very closely with New Line to include as much relation to the movie storyline as possible while still offering a new experience to the LoTR universe that was not shown in theaters. Come November 1, Middle-Earth will never be the same.

–Ken Cauley


Source Used

  • EGM – September 2004 (Issue 182)
    :: Quotes from Steve Gray