At first glance LOTR: The Third Age feels like a pretty derivative game. The story follows a secondary fellowship of sorts that trails the same path taken by the main fellowship in The Lord of The Rings after it leaves Rivendell. Included in their number is a Gondorian soldier named Berethor, a female elf called Idrial, a gruff dwarf named Hadhod and a human ranger, Elegost. The turn based RPG was developed by EA Redwood Shores and released in 2004. The game received a pretty positive reception upon release and after replaying the game recently it is clear why this particular licensed game has stood the test of time.
One of the first and most enduring things to point out is that the game feels authentically like The Lord of the Rings. Unlike more recent titles such as Shadow of Mordor and its sequel, this game isn’t trying to fill in gaps between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings but instead recreate iconic moments from the films. While sometimes it doesn’t make much sense in the overall plot that you are fighting alongside Gandalf against the Balrog it is enjoyable nonetheless and the occasional additions to your party of iconic characters work really well as you gain more powerful members in tougher fights.
Visually the game still looks authentic to the franchise and the battle animations in particular are still pretty cool to watch. As you level up your party and equip them with loot they will learn new abilities some of which are essential as the game continues such as immunity to stun or debuffs to enemies. The use of these abilities involves a somewhat over-the-top but cool animation which can be for simply firing a bow at an enemy or summoning an Ent to do massive damage. It gives the game a cinematic flair which is a nice added touch.
Iconic locations like Minas Tirith, Helm’s Deep and Moria all feature in LOTR: The Third Age and the voices of the characters in the films add a deeper layer of authenticity. One of the best elements is voiceover in small sections of the film footage by Ian McKellen (Gandalf) as he guides Berethor through Middle Earth. Despite the unlikelihood of a small party made of similarly different races tagging behind the fellowship, performances like McKellen’s really sells the experience.
Most of the plot follows Berethor, an exiled soldier from Gondor who has a strange connection with the Nazgul and at times appears under the will of the likes of Saruman and Sauron. Initially the plot goes through the motions as you gradually add new party members but becomes more compelling as you go. Side quests offer the opportunity to earn extra XP normally for fetching items but there can be cool loot to find too alongside a few nice additional story scenes such as when Hadhod finds some ancient weapons and armour in Moria. While it would be preferable to see some more from certain party members in terms of character development most of the scenes involving Berethor work well. Each of the characters is capably voiced particularly Idrial by Lori Phillips whose character becomes jealous once another female warrior joins the party and shows interest in Berethor.
If you’ve never given LOTR: The Third Age a chance, it’s worth going back to play. The basic gameplay loop of tactic based battles, progression through iconic locations from the films and an authentic LOTR experience all still hold up today. While the characters and plot are pretty unoriginal the cinematic flair and the expansion of themes and story in the later part of the game make it compelling to watch nonetheless. Despite its age, LOTR: The Third Age holds up as one of the greatest Lord of the Rings games but also one of the best examples of a licensed game done well.
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