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November 26, 2004
Lord of the Rings: The Third Age - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
5/11/2004EA GamesEA Games1-2M15+Medium
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen

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Magic effects are wonderful.
When the Lord of the Rings movies became such monster hits there was little doubt that Electronic Arts' games based on the movies would also become massive sellers. Indeed their first two games, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, were massive hits both critically and commercially despite essentially only beat 'em ups. Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is so much more as Electronic Arts have developed a Role Playing Game to explore the world in more detail. This is a rather big step for a company who have typically stayed clear of the genre.

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Time to fight the Balrog.
As pretty much everyone with any interest in this game would have seen the movies I won't go over the plot here. Suffice to say this game covers all the major events of the books and movies. As with many other RPG's your on-screen representation when moving around the game world is that of a single character in your party, not the entire group. Combat in The Third Age is handled in a very similar manner to that in Square's Final Fantasy X, that is, a turn based affair. Characters have a basic attack as well as spiritual powers, weapon craft, change weapon and item. Anyone familiar with RPG's will be fairly familiar with these options, there isn't anything unusual here and their use is pretty much the same as most other RPG's on the market.

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The models are wonderful.
One of the main aspects to any RPG is the 'leveling up' whereby your character becomes more powerful as the game progresses. In many RPG's this will involve defeating many enemies, often many more then what you normally would on the main quest. In The Third Age, however, this takes place at a very rapid pace, perhaps too fast. This makes progress in the game pretty easy, and seasoned gamers will likely find progress a little too brisk. Having said that gamers not typically buying RPG's should enjoy this game - it's probably the best RPG for novices to the genre to tackle.

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Yet more lush visuals.
One of the main problems with this game is the limited number of enemies to battle, be they Wargs, Goblins or Uruk-hai. It seems like Electronic Arts either couldn't generate new enemies due to licensing restrictions, or see the need for it. Either way, battling the same enemy time after time can become tiresome pretty soon. Some people may also be put off a little bit by the linearity of the game, but given that the story has to follow J.R.R. Tolkien's books this comes as little surprise. The game could have been made a little more difficult. The game is quite simple during standard encounters, sometimes the damage you inflict upon enemies seems unrealistically massive compared to the damage they inflict upon your party. This continues until you reach the bosses. The first major boss, the Balrog, is scarily difficult to tackle inflicting some massive damage with his whip. Also disappointing is the lack of shops or inns to buy items. Surely this is becoming the norm in RPG's these days, and it seems strange without this in the game.

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Oliphants kick ass...
There are a couple of neat modes in this game which add a bit more value. The first is an evil mode where you take on the role of one of Saruman's soldiers to try and stop the fellowship in their travels. A 2-player co-op mode is also included. In this mode one player controls the movement around the map while the second player can join into the game during the battles. It's another nice inclusion to round out the package.

Graphics in The Third Age are one of the more disappointing aspects of this game. The animation could have been considerably smoother - it certainly isn't up to EA's best and can seem quite stiff in places. The frame rate also struggles, especially when there are many enemies on screen. It's a bit of a shame given EA's typically strong graphics engines.

Having said that, it's not all bad as The Third Age does have some impressive aspects to the graphics as well. The backgrounds and locations look wonderful as the game keeps the same artistic look as the movies which isn't surprising. The visual effects, such as magic spells, are simply stunning. Detail on the characters also impresses. This doesn't just mean the main characters look wonderful, but even the smallest goblin being wonderfully detailed with armour, weapons and even general look.

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Ring wraiths... duck!
Sound is certainly one of the highlights of The Third Age. With the ability to use assets from the Peter Jackson movies, including the superb music score from Howard Shore, there was little doubt that EA would be on a winner here. Indeed, the music is superbly integrated into the game. Much of the voice work is also excellent with all of the real actors voices being used in the game. Many of the lines have been lifted straight from the movie (no surprises there) and have been used to good effect, although there is a little too much Gandalf. Finally the effects are superb. Explosions, spells and general ambient effects are superb and polish off the atmosphere of the game perfectly.

Lord of the Rings fans will almost certainly love this title. It's not the deepest RPG by any stretch of the imagination however it is accessible to even non-RPG fans which is the main thing. If you like Lord of the Rings and/or Role Playing Games then this is the game for you. Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is, at the very least, worth strong consideration.

Review By: Dave Warner

GRAPHICSAnimation could be a little smoother however it's still very impressive.
SOUNDGreat voice acting and effects, music taken straight from the movies.
GAMEPLAYCertainly not Final Fantasy in depth, but still an enjoyable RPG.
VALUEThe addition of co-op adds value, but not much replay value.
OVERALLLord of the Rings: The Third Age is a very solid RPG from Electronic Arts - a company not know for Role Playing Games. The integration into the movies is, once again, superb. Certainly a game which LOTR fans should consider purchasing.

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