The best Lord of the Rings game ever made is upon us, and it is a blast to play. The franchise has had a lot of awesome games, some even great, but this is probably the best one so far. With some fantastic gameplay, beautiful graphics, and a great hack n’ slash loot nabbing experience; you should really do yourself a favor and play this one! Unfortunately, a bunch of gamers are probably going to miss this game, given all of the other great games coming out soon.
The game follows the story of a separate fellowship of adventurers, an elf lore-master, human ranger and dwarf champion. While Frodo and company travel to Mt. Doom in order to destroy the One Ring, this fellowship is leading the charge in the North to prevent Agandaur (Sauron’s chief lieutenant) from taking over the Northern realms of Middle-Earth. Besides this explanation, the story takes a backseat for the rest of the game, for the most part. The game starts out with a Gandalf impersonation, and then you are placed in the Prancing Pony tavern at Bree, speaking with Aragorn a couple days before Frodo and friends stop by on their quest.
On your journey in the North, you will have the opportunity to pick up a few side quests, talk to some of the NPCs, and do some other interesting stuff. A lot of the characters do have quite a lot to say, and some are even interesting to talk to, but there is little motivation to do so. This problem is compounded by the fact that you know next to nothing about the main characters of the game. In fact, there is not even a character bio summary on the character selection screen. Problems with the story aside, the rest of this game is pretty fantastic.
Which brings me to the graphics: wow. They did a fantastic job of creating a visual delight here. The character models are fantastic, the animations are great, and the environments are stunning. A lot of games are pretty bland in the environment, you might catch some blurry textures on the walls or floors, or some muddled environment backgrounds, but not this time. Snowblind did a great job of capturing the mythos of the series, while also raising the bar for action RPGs in general.
Another thing to note: this is the first M rated LOTR game. Combat is full of bloody gore, and deaths are complete with decapitations and dismemberment if timed correctly. But, even the visuals are not absolutely perfect. You will run into quite a few glitches with enemies stuck in walls, frozen entirely while standing there, or having corpses randomly appearing and disappearing at times. Another one of the biggest glitches of the game happens only during dialogue. When talking with NPCs, I noticed the elemental outline of my weapon, while my character was not actually holding the weapon.
Another unfortunate thing about the dialogue is that the player characters seem like they have the least amount of emotion out of all the characters in the game. NPCs have a bit of emotion, but their faces never really have a whole lot of expression in them, save for the giant eagles and the dragon, they are pretty emotive fellas (and a bit creepy too…)
Additionally, it is unfortunate how much the armor lacks variety in some ways. Let me clarify however: there are a lot of armor types, and the model shown in game will change based on which character is equipping it, but during certain periods of the game, you will “upgrade” armor, but it will not actually change what it looks like on your character. The weapons on the other hand, do not have this issue. There are all types of one and two handed weapons, staves, shields, etc.
Now to the best part of this game: the gameplay. Battles on face may seem to get a bit repetitive, but anyone that likes dungeon crawlers, loot crazy experiences or action RPGs in general, will find a lot to love here. There are just soooo many items to collect, and armor and weapons to customize your character with, it is pretty astounding. The combat is incredibly fluid and easy to get into, the dodge roll is incredibly functional, mixing in blocks with combos is great, each of the three characters is balanced very well, and the leveling system works great. Generally combat consists of you using your light and heavy attacks to string together combos (along with a nifty critical hit/Hero Mode feature that allows some spectacular finishing blows that result in slo-mo and dismemberment at times) along with your special abilities. These special abilities expend your power (mana/magic) meter as you use them. The game is very generous with dosing out plenty of potions to regenerate health and power, so you will probably not ever die a whole lot. This is not to say the game is overly easy, just that the normal difficulty is not super difficult. Even still: the balancing is great throughout, creating an extremely fun yet still partially challenging experience.
The Ranger can specialize with 2-handed weapons or as a dual wielding fighter, or as a mostly ranged fighter, and even mix in some stealth into the equation. The options are very deep, and the other two characters share this feature. The lore master can develop a bubble that protects the party, heals them, and even explodes to cause big amounts of damage. The dwarf champion is a great tanker, can deal heavy damage, maintain the attention of enemies, and regenerate health. They all function great together, and are definitely best when all controlled by three real people. While the AI is passable, it does not compensate for actual humans playing with you. This game is, without a doubt, designed to be played with two other people, and when doing so, it is incredibly fun.
The game has a really great loot system, that randomly generates and distributes an equal amount of loot to all party members (AI or not) and usually provides the character with something useful for them specifically. So, when defeating an enemy, the loot dropped is different for each character, this is the same for broken containers, and even treasure chests. While traveling through areas you will find tons of loot, that allows you to slowly upgrade weapons and equipment over time. Along the way through a given area, you will come across chances to visit a shop, and even teleport back to a major town in order to buy and sell items, repair items, and drop off/pick up sidequests.
The entire dungeon crawling experience is broken up as well of course, with moments where you man a giant crossbow turret and shoot at waves of enemies. Near the end of the game these moments start to seem too frequent, however, and do a get a bit frustrating. One awesome addition though, is that you can call on a giant eagle to come in at any time in an open area, swoop down, and attack an enemy.One of my biggest pet peeves with the game, however, is how the armor stat in the game is never actually explained. Of course, it probably decreases damage a bit, but it never really explains how the arbitrary numbers translate into actual damage prevention.
The music in the game is appropriate in most parts, and is pretty solid throughout, but it feels a bit like a lost opportunity since fans of the movies will not really recognize any of the tracks here at all. It is unfortunate none of the music was used from the films, but they did do a fine job of creating a good score none the less. Voice acting is done very well, as Nolan North is the Ranger (so what did you expect?) and the rest of the cast hold their own, although I do wish that Aragorn sounded more like the actor from the movie, since the rest do a pretty good impression of their movie counterparts. A couple minor issues hold back the audio quality as well though, as some of the dialogue does not match up with their mouths, and there were quite a few moments where the music would get incredibly quiet, or cut out from time to time, which was unfortunate.
The game is supposed to be supported with DLC in the coming months, which would be great, as I am getting to my only really huge “complaint” that is not something nit picky: the map/content. While my first playthrough clocked in at around 20 hours or so, it felt like the game had a lot left under the hood. The story never really went anywhere other than what I explained in the first couple paragraphs, and the overworld map teases you too much. Once you set out, you are treated to this massive map of all of Middle-Earth, marking key points like Rivendell, Moria, Mirkwood, Helms Deep, Mini Tirith, Mordor, etc. The problem with this? Only the areas in the northwest region are visitable…Maybe this means they will include a lot of DLC, or maybe they were just going for a complete map, but if the latter is the case, I feel like they should have delineated between the locations you will be visiting, from the ones that are just there for show. It is pretty disappointing to see the credits roll when you think you still have 2/3 left of the game to explore.
The game allows you to start a second playthrough after defeating the final boss, and continue with your current level (note: I say current level instead of current character, because your experience/level can be applied to any character on your next playthrough, so if you finished game 1 as a level 21 ranger, you can start game 2 as a level 21 champion.) The game also has two challenge levels, that consist of tons of waves of enemies, but the rewards are not as awesome as they could have been.
Overall, this is definitely the best Lord of the Rings game I have ever played. It gave me hours of enjoyment and was a really amazing and fun time. The game never really gets boring, even though you are mostly just fighting hordes of enemies. The cooperative multiplayer aspectis fantastic and the game is balanced very well. While it may lack some content from an avid RPGer’s standpoint, it is by no means a game you should pass on. This game releases November 1st, 2011 for PS3, 360 and PC, and you should do yourself a favor and take a chance on it!
This review was based on a physical retail copy of the game for the PlayStation 3 provided by Warner Bros.