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Written by  :  The Cliffe (1708)
Written on  :  May 05, 2008
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  2.43 Stars2.43 Stars2.43 Stars2.43 Stars2.43 Stars

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A shamelessly derivative RPG with a tantalizingly cinematic feel. Fans of the films take note.

The Good

EA Redwood does an excellent job of recreating the look and feel of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings Trilogy for The Third Age. The environments (including Moria, Rohan, and Osgiliath) are all convincingly rendered, and even include little landmarks you might remember from the films or the book. The music is all taken from Howard Shore's original score for the movies, and is incorporated into the game very well. Characters in your party, as well as the enemies you fight, are also consistent with the look of the culture they represent (Elves wear form-fitting steel, Gondorians don plate mail, etc). As a nice touch, weapons and armor that you find will change the appearance of your character, which helps to keep the game interesting.

The Bad

As an RPG, The Third Age is years behind the curve in terms of game design. The battle system is the same old turn-based stuff you've been playing for decades, which little innovation apart from lots of some-what impressive spell effects. A few of the fights are genuinely interesting, such as a tussle with the Balrog or the Witch King, but those sequences are few and far between, and the rest of the game by comparison is downright monotonous.

Wandering around environments taken straight from the movies is kind of fun for a while, especially when you locate some of the treasure chests which are often well-hidden. However, you'll quickly get a sense that the game is extremely linear, and any branching paths just lead to more chests or an ambush by the enemy. The map system points out pretty clearly where you have to go next, which sadly eliminates most of the challenge of finishing the game.

Finally, there's the issue of character development. The Third Age features an original cast of Middle-Earth adventurers whose quest intertwines with the path of the heroes of the Fellowship. This would be an interesting opportunity to explore a variety of personality dynamics and paint an epic tale of modern fantasy (because, after all, most RPGs are story driven), but EA forgoes all of that and settles for character exposition the likes of "Meet Hadhod. He's a Dwarf." This simple-minded method of story-telling can only mean that the designers either don't know anything about Middle Earth, or don't really care.

The Bottom Line

In truth, there are much worse RPGs on the market than The Third Age. But with flawed character writing, derivative gameplay, unscheduled boredom, and absolutely zero replay value, it's very difficult to recommend this game to anyone but rabid fans of the movies. But after a few hours of gameplay, even the most devoted fans will see through the cinematic window-dressing to the unremarkable RPG that this game truly is.