The Lord of the Rings. I’m sure there are plenty of you who love that series of movies/books/video games. Don’t try to deny it. I of course will not be discussing the movies or books today, because by now you should know that in “D.G.M.’s Gaming Life Before Gaming Respawn” I discuss video games. Part 19 of my feature will focus on the LOTR games I’ve played over the years. I got into the whole LOTR craze associated with the movies (I eventually read the books too though) when they were released in theaters during the magical three year period of 2001-2003. Now I know what you’re thinking: How many LOTR games did this guy get into? There are A TON of games that focus on The Lord of the Rings, from hack and slash adventure titles, to real-time strategy games, to turn-based RPGs. So how many freakin’ articles is this guy going to dedicate to this topic?
Don’t get your Elvish cloaks in a twist ladies and gentlemen, I will only be dedicating two articles to the LOTR games, after which the discussion will simply diminish and go into the west. Fortunately for you guys, my inherent cheapness prevented me from buying every LOTR game under the sun, there are simply too many of them. Without further ado, let us begin discussing my video game related journey through Middle-earth.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (PS2)
Unlike most LOTR video games released over the years, this one is not a movie tie-in, instead it more closely follows the story of the first book in Tolkien’s classic fantasy trilogy. I had not yet read the books myself when this game was released, so I figured I’d give it a chance to see how different things would be with this game compared to what I saw in the first movie, plus the gameplay I had seen looked pretty cool. First off, this game was very linear and quite short, no more than four or five hours long. It wasn’t especially challenging, but certain parts did require multiple retries for me to get through. The graphics were pretty good, nothing exceptional, although the limited animations for each character, particularly in the cutscenes, were noticeable. Each character made the same gestures multiple times, when they weren’t just standing there like statues and speaking with emotionless voices.
Despite these issues, I had some fun with this game and played it multiple times, although I’m sure my repeated playthroughs were no doubt partly related to the “LOTR high” I was on at the time. You actually start the game playing as Frodo as he goes around the Shire talking with other Hobbits. This is the only portion of the game that lets you accomplish several optional side-missions when speaking with the other Hobbits, but once you decide to leave the Shire and officially start on your journey, the missions suddenly become linear, but also more challenging. And since this game followed the story of the first book, certain story elements unfamiliar to those who only watched the films were included in this game, namely Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin going through the Old Forest and meeting Tom Bombadil. Eventually, you start taking control of different characters in specified missions, so you’ll be jumping around between Frodo Baggins, Aragorn, and Gandalf the Grey.
Frodo is of course the smallest and weakest character, but he is able to use the One Ring in order to turn himself invisible so he can avoid or kill enemies more easily, but leaving the One Ring on for too long will corrupt Frodo and kill him. Aragorn’s gameplay is the most straightforward, he can kill lots of enemies with his sword and bow, easy peasy. As for Gandalf, he too could kick ass with his sword, but he also had shockwave and lightning bolt spells that could obliterate enemies with ease. One other feature that was relatively simple, yet I still enjoyed, was fighting enemies alongside NPCs that held their own (they actually couldn’t die, but they also couldn’t do quite as much damage as the playable characters). There were two standout moments for me with the NPCs. One mission was when Frodo and Gimli got separated from the Fellowship in Moria and had to fight their way through Orcs. But since fighting more than two Orcs meant certain death for Frodo, I had to go through the mission by trying not to let the Orcs spot me before I could activate bridges to let Gimli cross over, that way he could kill the Orcs for me while I “helpfully” threw rocks at the Orcs from a safe distance.
The penultimate mission where Aragorn had to kill a stronghold of Orcs with Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir at his side was also pretty fun. Speaking of enemies, the variety was pretty decent: wolves, large spiders, hostile humans, Orcs, and Trolls were the main enemies, while the bosses included a moving tree (not an Ent, a moving tree), a barrow wight, five of the Ringwraiths, the Watcher, the Balrog, and a Ringwraith riding a Fell Beast. As cool as all these bosses sound, only a couple of them were any sort of challenge. A direct sequel for this game revolving around the second book was planned but ultimately canceled, which was to be named The Lord of the Rings: The Treason of Isengard in order to differentiate it from the next game I will be discussing. I was curious as to how this sequel would have turned out, but perhaps its cancelation was for the best. So yeah, this game wasn’t great, but it was a good game to play when I wanted to kill a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, back when it took a lot less to entertain me. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring gets a score of 70%.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (PS2)
This game was highly popular back in the day, and still is with most fans of LOTR. I know I had a lot of fun with The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers back in my teen years, spending many hours reliving classic battles from the movie it was based on. But at the same time, this game frustrated the hell out of me. This game actually covers the main events of the first two films, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, starting with you controlling Isildur as he battles alongside Men and Elves against Sauron and his army of Orcs at the foot of Mount Doom. Afterwards, you begin the main journey to destroy the One Ring by battling the Ringwraiths on Weathertop as Aragorn, and you have to make sure they don’t kill Frodo.
All the levels after that allow you to play as your choice of characters among Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. Aragorn is the most balanced character in terms of strength and speed, with his sword and bow attacks allowing him to destroy lots of enemies back to back. Legolas is the speediest character, able to swing his dual blades quickly and shoot his arrows twice as fast as Aragorn, but he also does the least amount of damage and is comparatively easier to kill. Gimli is the tank, he can hit harder and take much more punishment then either of his taller and prettier companions, but he’s also slower at swinging his axe and is positively sluggish at tossing his throwing axes. Isildur can be unlocked after the final mission and is playable in all levels along with the other three characters, but he’s just a fully upgraded version of Aragorn, plus I don’t like his character, so no big deal. All the levels revolve around scenes taken right out of the first two movies, such as battling the Watcher and later Orcs and a Cave Troll in Moria, battling Uruk-hai at Amon Hen, and even some additional stuff like killing Orcs in Fangorn Forest, saving Rohan villagers from Orcs and Wargs, etc. There are only three bosses in the game, the Watcher, Lurtz (leader of the Uruk-hai at Amon Hen), and the Warg Riders. The first one was rather easy, but the other two were appropriately challenging.
Then there are the final three levels focusing on the Battle for Helm’s Deep. Holy crap. These three missions made me their bitch when I first played this game. You are required to keep up the defenses of Helm’s Deep by knocking down enemy ladders off the defensive walls and preventing gates from being destroyed so the fortress doesn’t get overrun, all while battling almost endless waves of Orcs, Uruk-hai, and Trolls. Many times I barely prevented myself from throwing my controller through my television screen when playing these three missions. Eventually, after repeated playthroughs, I was able to beat even these missions after just one or two attempts, a testament to how addicted I was to this game back in the day. However, the short campaign and repetitive missions kept this game from being considered a true classic, at least by me, and it didn’t particularly age very well either. Back in the day, I lived and breathed for this game, but now it has definitely lost much of its appeal. Nevertheless, it’s a game to remember. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers gets a score of 83%.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (PS2)
This sequel didn’t really do much of anything new to set itself apart from its predecessor. The combat system is basically the same as before and most of the missions are structured in the same way, which is fighting your way through a bunch of enemies until you reach the end. The graphics do look a lot better and have superior details on the characters and environments. One notable difference is how there are three main story arcs with their own set of missions: one has you play as Gandalf the White, the other lets you play as either Aragorn, Legolas, or Gimli (while you play one character the AI will control the other two who fight alongside you), and the last puts you in the role of Sam, with only the final mission putting you in the role of Frodo (yay…). After beating each story arc, you can play as any character in any mission, and you unlock additional characters Merry, Pippin, and Faramir. Not a huge deal though since Gandalf is of course the best character, hands down.
Much like its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a challenging game. While none of the missions reach quite the same level of difficulty and frustration as the Helm’s Deep missions in the previous game, plenty of the missions in this game were plenty tough on their own, namely the ones where Gandalf leads the defense of Minas Tirith against Sauron’s Orc army and when Aragorn leads the armies of Gondor and Rohan to the Black Gate. There are also missions that expand upon the scenes of the movie, like Gandalf joining the Ents on an assault against Isengard and Sam fighting through scores of Orcs to reach Frodo in Cirith Ungol. The combat feels largely the same as in the previous game. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli have the same qualities as before, while Gandalf has average melee attack strength and powerful ranged abilities due to his magic, as well as additional abilities like striking multiple enemies with a shockwave attack and surrounding himself with a magic shield. The Hobbits are small and weak, though they’re quick and can use their Elvish cloaks to momentarily turn invisible.
Like in the previous game, the enemies mostly consist of Orcs, Uruk-hai, and Trolls, but there are newer enemies this time like large spiders, Easterlings, and the Dead Men of Dunharrow. The bosses include the King of the Dead, Shelob, the Orc leader of Cirith Ungol (don’t know his name), the Mouth of Sauron, a few of the Ringwraiths, and, believe it or not, Gollum. Overall, this was a bigger and prettier version of the previous game, albeit a somewhat less challenging and somewhat more repetitive experience as well. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King gets a score of 81%.
So ends the first part of my discussion of the games I’ve played based on The Lord of the Rings universe. Although, I feel I should add that while I don’t own either of these three games any longer, I do sometimes miss The Two Towers and The Return of the King. As fun as they were back in the day, they just hadn’t aged that well for me, and my last play sessions with the games definitely proved that my tastes have changed…I may even go so far as to say they have matured, though that may be pushing it a bit. Still, there’s no denying that when it comes to movie-licensed titles, those two particular games are among the best. More surprisingly, they were made by EA, back when they apparently knew what they were doing.
Honestly though, I don’t have much knowledge on the company’s dealings myself and can really only go by what I constantly hear from others, so I really shouldn’t comment on something I know so little about. I’ll leave the EA bashing to professionals like our very own Michael Fitzgerald and Sean Morge. But I do know quality games, so join me next week for Part 20 of “D.G.M.’s Gaming Life Before Gaming Respawn” where I will continue to discuss the other games based on The Lord of the Rings. Check out more of our site’s content below while you wait:
Ian proves that he is indeed a gamer who values quality over quantity in his review of Firewatch, which you can check out here.
Kane reviews Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: Russia, the final entry in the Chronicles storyline, so see what he thinks of this particular title right here.
Jorge gets cerebral and goes over a collection of puzzle games released on the Wii-U and 3DS called Word Puzzles by POWGI. See what he thinks about these little brainteasers by checking out his review here.
Our silver tongued critic Sean Morge has returned after another extended leave of absence. Rumor has it he has traveled far and wide seeking special “trash-talk training” from world renowned masters who have perfected the technique, such as Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell. Has Sean grown rusty during his time away from Gaming Respawn, or has he become more powerful than we can possibly imagine? Find out by reading his latest “Five Points of Gaming” here.