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Turn-based Role-Playing



Electronic Arts



EA Games



T (Teen)



Q4 2004



- Score and cut-scenes from Peter Jackson's movies make production values exceptionally high

- Good fighting system, with unique special abilities tailored to each character

- Easy to use menu interface



- Some RPG fans might find the game too generous with level-ups and equipment



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Lord of the Rings: The Third Age

Score: 8.9 / 10

The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age from Electronic Arts is an excellent turn based RPG that allows players the luxury of exploring the nooks and crannies of Tolkien's world as envisioned by Peter Jackson.


the third age review          the third age review


Your team of adventurers aren't members of Frodo's Fellowship, but instead follow close on their heels throughout the game, stumbling onto abandoned campsites at the beginning, and later lending a hand in key battles.  And while the opportunity to kill the Watcher in the Water, fight the Balrog alongside Gandalf and later, lend a hand to other key members of the Fellowship might grate on the sensibilities of older fans, these fights fit well with the game's RPG as fantasy tourism feel.


You begin the game as Berethor, a fighter in search of Boromir, heir to the kingdom of Gondor. You're quickly paired with Idrial, an elven woman, and later with a Dunedain ranger, a dwarf and two Rohirim. Battles are fought with up to three available party members, which can be switched in and out during the frequent, turn-based fights against monsters such as wargs, orcs, trolls and uruk-hai.


If there is a problem with The Third Age, it's that the game also sometimes plays as if it were being run by the bi-polar Dungeon Master I was at age 12. (In the late 1980s, kids, all we had were 20-sided dice, nerdy friends, and a horrible Tom Hanks movie to give us a misplaced sense of rebellion.) I'd load up my charges with magical loot, level them up quickly, and then, with a complete lack of subtlety, lead them into an impossible fight with something from "The Fiend Folio."


Early on in The Third Age, it's actually a challenge to fight a battle in which at least one of your characters doesn’t level up. And since characters are restored to full health and magic after leveling up (and after saving your game at the save points scattered throughout each level), during the first several hours of play, you'll rarely find yourself in a fight where you're forced to be careful or conserve resources. Similarly, the game early on generously awards wins in minor scuffles with exceptional armor and weapons. That's partly out of necessity; players don't collect 




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gold or other types of treasure in the game, and there are no places to buy or trade armor, weapons or items, so in any given fight, improved gear is the best loot you can win. Then, suddenly, you're fighting a Balrog. And hey, at least the game stays true to Tolkien's mythology here. This thing will kick your ass, take your name and enter it as a footnote in the history of the Maiar. No matter how you play it, it's almost impossible to keep everyone alive longer than a couple of turns, so you'll basically end up letting your entire party get "knocked out" and use Gandalf to finish the guy off unless you're a whole lot more creative than I am.



After that, regular encounters never really get easier—since the game does a good job of balancing your party's strength against that of the new enemies you'll be facing.  But, while they do begin to require more thought and strategy—learning to pit each party member's ever growing arsenal of special attacks against particular types of foes—even at the game's later stages, you'll rarely find yourself in a real pickle. (Actually, here's a disclaimer—you can choose one of three difficulty settings when you begin the game, and since I wanted to get this review in before Christmas, I was only able to play through once, on "medium.")


The scope and variety of special attacks, all tailored to each class and race, lend a lot of character to the game. The elf's magical abilities, for example, focus primarily on healing and dispelling evil spells, while the Gondorian's leadership "magic" focuses primarily on shielding your party from certain types of physical attacks or increasing its strength as party members attack enemies. Each character also has a roster of special melee or missile attacks, along with passive abilities, such as the ability to counter strike an opponent out of turn on occasion.


the third age review           the third age review


Given the game's generosity with level ups and equipment, these special abilities offer players the best opportunity to really customize their crew. Earning more special attacks requires regularly using the ones you already have. For example, if you prefer to send Berethor swinging into every fray with his special sword attacks—which include strikes particularly deadly to orcs and uruk-hai, he'll learn more sword attacks. On the other hand, if you use his leadership skills more often, he'll ultimately learn abilities such as a war cry that give members of your party an extra, out of turn attack against opponents. Fight every fight with run-of-the mill hand to hand combat and you learn bupkus, no matter what level your players attain.


What makes this game a real standout, though, is its production value. For cut scenes, an abundance of well-edited clips from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies are combined with voice-overs by Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf in the films) to explain everything from immediate dangers to historical grudges. The score from the movies also plays throughout the game, and on both counts, the results are impressive. Having a licensing agreement with a $300 million dollar movie never hurts—kudos to the developers for making it work really well in this game.


Although the Lord of the Rings: The Third Age might leave some RPG fanatics itching for more of a challenge, it's a well-balanced title that's a great pick for any fan of the books or movies.


- M. Enis

(December 19, 2004)

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