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PLAYERS:   1-2
November 02, 2004
Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest

Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest

More in this Series
 Written by Ryan Smotherman  on October 14, 2002

Full Review: For a licensed game created from a virtually unknown game developer, this turned out to be surprisingly decent.

Coming from developer WXP, producer Black Label Games, and publisher Universal Interactive, it's no secret that a lot of effort was put into the Xbox game based off J.R.R. Tolkein's first novel of the infamous Lord of the Rings trilogy. With that said, I must say that in the end they were quite successful in creating a game that would appeal to the hard-core fans, but for most gamers this is going to be your typical action-adventure title, just with an outstanding license.

Being based directly off Tolkien's literary works (and not the movie), it is no surprise that the game is very story driven, and for the most part it's pulled off really well. The story itself should by now be known to just about everyone ? hobbit obtains evil ring and a fellowship, whose one goal is to destroy the ring, is created; making for an incredible adventure The majority of the plot develops through the use of the in-game graphics; with the addition of some incredible CGI sequences spread throughout (your jaw will drop). Fans will be happy to know that the game stays very true to the book and even includes many parts that were absent from the recent movie (as such a scene with Tom Bombadil and the fight with the willow tree). Voice acting for all the characters is included and aside from a few small annoyances it's all good, and goes a long way in immersing you into the whole experience. Though, the parts with the hobbits dancing and singing we could have definitely done without. Thankfully, the story sequences aren't usually too long, and at times they seem almost rushed (like at the beginning you'll notice that the game starts out with Gandalf talking to Frodo about the ring, leaving everything that took place before it out) WXP did a fine job implementing ways to skip the dialog for those who have already played through once or for those who just don't care. With a press of a button you can either skip an entire sequence or just skip what one person is saying. But enough on how the epic story is pulled off, let's talk about the most important thing of them all ? how does it play?

Gameplay in The Fellowship of the Rings is sort of a mixed bag. Many different styles and ideas exist here, but none are pulled off exceptionally well. Some sections of the game have a hint of Role-Playing, others are strictly all action, and throughout you'll have a lot of simple puzzle solving to do. Oddly, the beginning of the game is unlike the rest that follows. You start as the hobbit Frodo, and are able to freely explore the hobbit filled Shire doing meaningless, and optional, tasks for the locals. These tasks usually include a lot of annoying scavenger hunting (used a few times throughout the game), and to be perfectly honest you'll probably just want to get out of the first section as quickly as possible. More than anything this section was probably designed for people to get accustomed to the controls, as things get nasty really quick. Once you leave the Shire the game turns into a strictly linear adventure full of action.

Three select characters of the nine in the fellowship are playable throughout the game ? the young hobbit Frodo, Aragorn the ranger, and the powerful wizard known as Gandalf the Grey ? and WXP's vision was to give each of these characters their own unique style of play ? Frodo is supposed to focus mostly on stealth, Aragorn on combat, and Gandalf on his magic. Unfortunately, things didn't really turn out as well as they hoped, as I found that with each character I mostly just fought enemies with my melee weapon. I encountered very few situations where Frodo's stealthy abilities became useful, as enemies always seemed to know where I was, plus, since the One Ring (which turns you invisible) will corrupt you fairly quickly, you can't wear it for long intervals (not to mention the fact that it's hard to see in this mode). Aragorn is made for combat, so everything checks out here. Gandalf, on the other hand, is all about magic, but I always felt that I was wasting my magic fighting the lesser beings and mostly just cut them down the old fashioned way, with his powerful sword known as the Glamdring. Though when the time does come to use magic a nice assortment is available. Offensive spells include the fiery blast, chain lightening, beam of light, and the staff strike; while the defensive spells are composed of heal, confusion and sleep (none of which I found all that useful).

The good news is that while most of your time will be spent in combat, the actual combat engine turned out to be surprisingly satisfying, if lacking immensely in depth. When you encounter enemies holding down the L-trigger is used to lock-on, the A button attacks, and the B button blocks. Tapping the attack button repeatedly does a small combo, while holding it in allows your character to do a powerful charged attack. Even though I said the combat is satisfying, it does have its fare share of problems. For instance, it can be a real pain to fight multiple opponents, as they don't take turns and instead all try to attack you at once. And at times the hit detection is way off; for instance, you'll hit someone and they'll go through their motions and hit you before they go backwards from your attack. This was all something that definitely needed to be worked on. In moving on, pressing in the right thumbstick puts your character is a first-person aiming mode, where you can either throw small round shaped objects with Frodo (apples, rocks etc?), shoot arrows with Aragorn, or use magic with Gandalf. This mode is of course most effective when hitting enemies at a distance, but I found that it's usually not too useful and is very limited in range. You are also given the ability to throw/shoot projectiles while running around in the standard third-person view; here the game will auto aim to the nearest target. Not especially challenging, but it works well.

Throughout your adventure there are a ton of different power-ups to aid you, including a variety of health restorers, Miruvors (restores Gandalf's magic), and a slew of other items. Actual weapon and armor upgrades are scarce and only happen at certain points within the story. For example, when Frodo meets Bilbo in Rivendell he is given the mithril armor and the short sword known as the Sting (glows blue when Orcs are around).

Overall, the gameplay is solid and can be a lot of fun, but its shortcomings really bring it down in the end. The game itself took me under 10 hours to complete and I kind of felt as if I was taking it slow, so there's no doubt that the game is short. Even worse is that there's no hint of replay value to be found once finished. Additionally, the game isn't all that challenging, which is really no surprise when you consider that it was developed to appeal to a wide audience.

In getting to something a little more positive, The Fellowship of the Ring really shines visually. WXP was mainly brought into the project because of their vast knowledge of the Nvidia chipset, and it really shows in the final product. The environments of Middle-earth definitely steal the show here. From the beautiful lands of the Shire, brimming with all sorts of life and activity, all the way to the River Anduin, your going to be catching yourself stopping just to enjoy the scenery. Most impressive of which is some of the best water effects the Xbox has yet to see and the beautiful skyline in sections of the game that are set at sunrise and at night. You'll see a ton of Xbox only effects in the game (such as the ever-so-popular bump-mapping), but to be honest I felt that they could have been exploited a little more; same goes for the lighting effects. The art direction in general is top-notch, with some great looking creature and character models.

As I mentioned before, the voice acting in the game is really well done, and the rest of the sounds throughout the game complements it well. Not to mention the fact that it has an outstanding musical score.

Bottom Line
While the game is a very solid attempt to recreate the tellings of the Lord of the Rings in a playable, videogame form, it just has too many gameplay related problems (flawed combat, moronic objectives, etc.) that keep it from greatness. However, if you have the smallest interest in Tolkien's novels I definitely consider that you check the game out in some way or another. It does a great job in telling the now classic story and it's complete with some really gorgeous visuals. In the end though, it just seems as if it needed a little more time to bake. Regardless, I can't wait to see how the next installment turns out.

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