The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age PlayStation 2
by EA Games
Developed by Electronic Arts
Release Date: Out Now
Price : £39.99 each
The previous games based on The Lord of the Rings have been combat heavy adaptations of the films employing a real-time combat system. If you're like me and suffer from thumb ache after a decent amount of button bashing you'll be pleased to know that it's now time for a game using a turn-based combat system. Now I must confess that on loading The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age for the first time I didn't know what to expect and I was surprised to find that what we have here is almost a Lord of the Rings flavoured Final Fantasy style game and surprisingly enjoyable it is too.
Rather than cast you as one of the main characters from Tolkien's epic saga, The Third age creates an original character for you to play as. You play as Berethor who has been sent in pursuit of his captain Boromir. The game begins with Berethor being attacked by Wraiths and with Berethor all but dead a female Elf, Idriel, comes to your rescue and heals your wounds. As the game progresses you'll gain extra party members and whilst they are original characters they do look similar to those found in the movies. The games story runs alongside the events in the movies/books and it's a method that works very nicely indeed. Although the game still shows the main story events progressing as you would expect (by way of film clips) it's great that the role you play is something different. This helps to give you a sense of playing something fresh and yet familiar which is actually quite satisfying.
We said in the introduction that the game is a Lord of the Rings flavoured Final Fantasy style game and this is probably the best description of the game to give. The advantage of using this style for the game is that it's instantly familiar to those who have played a Final Fantasy game. Characters perform melee, ranged and magic based attacks and have HP (health/hit points) and AP (action points) that you'll need to maintain. What you will notice though is that in The Third Age your characters level up very quickly and this helps develop your characters more quickly than you would expect in a turn-based RPG. Battles for the most part are random encounters but there are also some that you can start if you want to. When you're not in battle you get to explore and open chests and collect items etc. As you might expect saving your game is done via save points and thankfully these are not too far apart.
Graphically The Third Age is quite good. Movie clips from the films have been included and although I'm usually against this, as I'd rather see original material, it actually works very well indeed in The Third Age. The quality of the in-game graphics are quite good. The Third Age is in full 3D and doesn't have 2D pre-rendered backgrounds to give the illusion of extra detail and in that respect it's not as impressive looking as some RPGs but it's still up to scratch. The character models look very good and they manage to capture the same look and feel of the characters in the movie. The animations for spells etc., are not overly elaborate (a blessing in disguise which anyone who has played Final Fantasy VIII will no doubt agree) but do look good. These animations can get repetitive but this is true for all turn-based RPGs and not The Third Age in particular.
The Third Age has the option to enable subtitles which means you'll be able to follow the games story which is great news. The movies are shown in a letterbox format with the subtitles being shown in the lower border. The text is clear and easy to read which is excellent. Conversations within the game are subtitled too which again is pleasing to see. Tutorial messages are shown in text and you'll also receive text messages when your objectives have been updated (and completed) or an Epic Scene has been issued. These Epic Scene movie clips are also fully subtitled. You're given text feedback of every attack and spell and text descriptions of all items that are acquired after a battle. Sometimes you'll get visual notification if it's a strong possibility that you'll encounter enemies. Suffice to say this is one game you'll have no problems with.
The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is a great game that RPG fans (especially those who are fans of the movies or books) will really enjoy. The game may not be up to the very high standards of the Final Fantasy titles and games such as Star Ocean (the best RPG on the PlayStation 2) but it's still a great game. The battles are enjoyable and the action has real pace to it which will keep you interested. It's also worth mentioning that whilst the PlayStation 2 is a treasure trove for RPGs, the Xbox and GameCube are not and if you own either of these consoles this is an RPG you cannot afford to miss out on.
Game Rating: 8.0/10
One of the surprises of the year in my opinion and both RPG and Tolkien fans should definitely pick this one up on whatever platform you can.
Electronic Arts have done a great job in making The Third Age enjoyable for deaf gamers.