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Lord of the Rings: The Third Age Package Art
 GENRE
  Strategy-RPG
 DEVELOPER
  Griptonite Games
 PUBLISHER
  Electronic Arts
 NUMBER OF PLAYERS
  1-2
 CONNECTIVITY
  No
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Lord of the Rings: The Third Age

The Lord of the Rings movies have come and gone (in grand fashion) and so have the games that were directly based on each individual film. So how can Electronic Arts and Griptonite continue the franchise without the release of any new movies? Enter The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. In this portable installment, the gaming juggernaut has opted to go with turn-based strategy entry that incorporates the major battles from the movies, some exclusively from the books, and some entirely new ones. Can the Lord of the Rings magic still mesmerize gamers nearly a year after the trilogy has ended its big screen romp?

visuals

Detail, detail, detail. Everything from Sauron’s huge minions to the little do-gooder hobbits is beautifully rendered. The Third Age certainly does an effective job of recreating the world of Middle-Earth. Animations, while very few and generic, are fluid. That said, Third Age’s graphics are simultaneously one of its greatest strengths and weaknesses. The detailed environments and characters are all well and good, but too much detail can be a bad thing. Characters tend to get lost in the equally complex backgrounds and sometimes it is hard to tell who is who. Also, the game feels very dark. While a good mood-setter, it takes away from the personality of what makes the Rings storyline so great. Each individual confrontation takes place on a separate screen, depicting the 2 characters involved on a “stage” reminiscent of the Fire Emblem series. This is a nice inclusion, as it helps discern characters and actions not easily seen on the top-view map. Overall, the visuals almost leave you wishing characters and settings were more “cartoonish” and less realistic so that it would be easier to get into the game. There was great potential for the graphics in this game to be outstanding, but the end result comes up a bit short.

audio

With eerie chants and haunting tunes reminiscent of the excellent soundtrack of the cinematic trilogy, Third Age does a superior job of setting the mood and establishing atmosphere in the audio department. The clang of swords, cries of pain and victory, and groaning of orcs resound beautifully with the games excellent use of sound effects. However, they would be so much more effective if the music changed to suit battle sequences (especially when characters are killed onscreen). It is hard to engage yourself in the action sequences when the music retains the gloomy calm feel that it has throughout the rest of the game. Battles that should (and could potentially) fill you with rage or exhilaration just leave you feeling apathetic. Again, more personality is needed.

gameplay

Unlike its home console RPG counterpart, Griptonite opted to go with a turn-based strategy game (with RPG elements) for the GBA version of The Third Age. When the game begins, you choose from a cast of characters, either good or evil, that includes the most familiar faces from the movies. This character leads your army into every battle and serves as the most powerful member of your party. Each battle plays out through scenarios that are described in the introduction, as well as your mission objectives. This is how the meat of the story is told: rarely any cut scenes, just onscreen chunks of text. It can actually get pretty boring. You are also given a group of secondary characters to choose from to lead the battle in different “sectors.” Each secondary character is given a “sector” of the map to lead soldiers into (sectors are divided by some cool-looking gold text that shimmers throughout). All characters have their own set of skills, which does impact their performance on the battlefield. Some are better at long-range combat and some perform stronger with melee attacks.

At the start of each battle, the number of turns is randomly assigned to each sector of the map. This can get very obnoxious, as the amount of turns allotted is usually one, two, or three and rarely four or more. Battles drag on in this regard, as it takes many turns for some objectives to be achieved. It can be frustrating to being really close to attaining a goal but taking forever to get there because that specific section has only been allotted one turn for the mission. While finally completing a difficult mission does feel rewarding, the actual battle is too tedious, driving you to smash your GBA (before realizing how much you paid for it).

As the battle fleshes out, characters gain points and items for killing enemies, increasing their strength and abilities as well as the number of turns they are likely to get allotted. Terrain plays a major role in forcing the strategies of each side to be well thought out. This helps to add to the depth of the gameplay.

multiplayer

Three methods can be used to play The Third Age with a friend: Hotseat, Link Mode, and Wireless Mode. All three offer the same experience of commanding opposing armies to defeat your friends in a multiplayer scenario, but each is set up differently. “Hotseat” allows two players to play “pass the GBA,” taking turns playing multiplayer on the same system. “Link Mode” is for 2 players with one GBA and one copy of the game each play via the GBA link cable. “Wireless Mode” is the same, except it employs the use of the wireless adapter. While the multiplayer scenarios can offer a bit of fun, they suffer from the same problems that the single player experience has. Yet it is still well worth checking out.

overall

The Third Age is a welcome addition to the Game Boy Advance library, but it is definitely not without flaws. While its production values are high and a lot of effort went into the graphics and soundtrack of the game, the two could have been more effective with less detail and more spontaneity. They end up feeling generic. That is not to say that the sheer level of detail in the visuals and beautiful atmospheric music should be underappreciated. They just had more potential. The same can be said for the gameplay.

While everything fits together seamlessly, it takes patience to get through the long battles. The graphics don’t make the experience any easier. More could have been done to give the game personality on all levels. A complete fleshed-out story with less text and more cut-scenes is at the top of the list.

That said, The Third Age is a good game, it’s just not for everybody. If you are looking for a challenge and do not care that the game isn’t teeming with personality, then it is for you. Hardcore fans of the Lord of the Rings universe or turn-based strategy games should definitely consider checking out The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. However, the casual gamer should be warned: this is not the game to spark your interest in the trilogy or the genre.

final score 7.0/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar Dan Butchko
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"Kicking names and taking...?!"


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