15 May 2005 | mentalcritic
Doesn't break the LOTR licence trend one bit
In other words, the game is based around unbalanced play, annoying repetition, an over-reliance on the power of recognition, and little else. This is especially sad, given that the game had so much potential to be more. Unfortunately, EA Games has long had the attitude of "who cares if it is good? It has Brand X on it, it will sell!". They killed the Command & Conquer franchise with this attitude, and it looks as if they intend to milk every last drop from The Lord Of The Rings without changing it one little bit. To its credit, the Final Fantasy-style combat structure does manage to engage the player for the first couple of realms, but it all goes downhill in a hurry after that. This is not surprising when one considers that the game was made by EA, who have long shown no interest in what happens to the player's sense of enjoyment once they have money. It is difficult to believe that this is the same company that produced such innovations as California Games.
The Third Age's plot, such as it is, revolves around a party of adventurers who follow something of a similar path to the Fellowship depicted in the film trilogy. Therein lies the first mistake of the game. By following the films too closely, it inherits all the mistakes. Gone are all the truly interesting aspects of Tolkien's universe, only to be replaced by long, tedious strolls through very linear mazes, or equally tedious battle events, which pop up so frequently during the aforementioned walks that it is a wonder epileptics haven't shown violent reactions. More interesting to note is the promise of authentic footage from the films to pick up as a bonus during the game. It would have been nice if this had meant footage that viewers of the films in any form have not seen at least three times already. Sadly, it does not. Not only is footage from the film all they show, so little is used that one can expect to see each segment, in different edits, at least a dozen times.
But the real evidence that EA Games did not do their homework lies in the battle sequences. The biggest problem with them, in a nutshell, is balance. Early on in the game, it is possible to win the most difficult combats if one keeps their head on right and focuses on strategy. It is not until we get to Rohan, however, that the balance problem really comes out to attack. I would be willing to bet generously that if one were to take a couple of hundred hours worth of footage of people playing this game, then edit everything out bar the missed strikes, missed strikes from the player characters would outnumber those of the CPU characters by a factor of at least ten to one. I realise it is hard to program a margin of human error into an artificial intelligence, but this goes way beyond unbalanced. This is what those of us who remember the good old days when games had only gameplay to rely upon call rigged. I am going to keep saying it until either I die or they listen, but between making a short game and making one that feels rigged after a mere few hours' play, making the short game is the smarter choice.
Unfortunately, this rigged feel just keeps building and building until it reaches truly ludicrous heights. It is possible to even reach situations where all of your characters are low enough on health that a singular blow may kill them, but the enemy has stolen enough health from your characters that it is as if they never received a scratch. Couple this with the aforementioned miss/dodge ratio, and you can see that this game has big problems. Indeed, it is only because I kept my temper and purchased an Action Replay program in order to swing the balance back to something that approximates fairness that I have not thrown this disc at a nearby road. During the Minas Tirith sequences, it is utterly impossible to win combats without doing this. The use of blows that take the balance of turn sequencing away doesn't help, either.
All of this would be forgivable if the characters were likable enough to make the player care about their personal quests. They accomplish this to some extent. While the lead hero gets boring, even childish after a while, the saving grace with the characters is Hadhod, the Dwarf. Perhaps EA were trying to atone for the appalling racist Dwarf caricature of the film trilogy by proxy. Either way, if they had focused on this character during the game rather than the beaten-to-death Men or Elves, this might have made the story vaguely compelling. As it is, the rest of the cast have about as much depth as an episode of Neighbours, and often a delivery to match. I realise that voice actors for video games almost always record their voiceovers before they get to see any game footage, but even if they have to deliver the most stilted of dialogue, they could at least try to sound like warriors in combat rather than a bunch of excited schoolchildren.
After playing through the game in about 45 hours, I have to say that I am incredibly reluctant to approach it again. It just doesn't work, and that's simply appalling. Tolkien adaptations in the digital realm have not progressed one inch since the days when The Hobbit was first rendered as a text-based adventure for the Vic-20. Licensors such as EA Games should hang their heads in shame for that.