The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Review
By Chad Montague |
Riding on the latest wave of Tolkien's mass appeal, Vivendi's Fellowship of the Ring is distinct from other Lord of the Rings games in being based on the books rather than the movie (which was also based on the books). But to be realistic, the success of the movie is definitely a factor in the release of this game. The story of Frodo's quest to destroy the Ring of power has captivated an entirely new and larger audience thanks largely to Peter Jackson's film. But while this game is related to the movie in terms of timing, it boldly sets a new path and tries to offer an experience that's different from but complimentary to the film.
It includes lots of elements missing from the movie which is a really great decision. Not only does it differentiate this game from EA's Two Towers, it also broadens the appeal somewhat. Fans of the book will love the sequence where Tom Bombadil rescues the hobbits from Old Man Willow while fans of the movie will appreciate seeing Sam stare into Galadriel's mirror along with Frodo. The Barrow-Downs are also included as is Glorfindel's resumption of his role in rescuing the party after Weathertop.
But it does sadly leave out big important sections of the story which can make things sometimes seem a bit disjointed. I particularly like the fact that the Rivendell sequences ends, a title card pops up saying "Later..." and a new cutscene starts with Gandalf saying, "Well, the mountain pass didn't work. What next?" In some ways you really need to have seen, er, read the book to understand how one sequence leads to another.
There are a few deviations from the books as well. While attentive players will notice small discrepancies here and there, they don't detract from the game. In keeping with Gandalf's relatively minor role in the early action, it's now Tom Bombadil who suggests the hobbits visit the Prancing Pony. By far the worst of these deviations is the strange ending of the game. I won't give it away except to say that it leaves a great deal out and replaces it with an end boss that's strangely out of context.
But that's getting ahead of things. The intro itself is a bit too brief and the whole impetus of the journey seems to be missing. Apparently there's a thing with the ring and this creepy gray guy and somehow it all leads to the end of the world. Gandalf's in and out before you can say Mithrandir. And the brief intro is a sign of things to come. None of the sequences overstays its welcome. In fact, most are over far too quickly. From start to finish, this game took me about five hours to complete.
It progresses in a traditional third-person adventure format giving you pre-scripted access to three different characters -- Frodo, Aragorn and Gandalf. Frodo's sequences are the most puzzle oriented while Aragorn handles most of the combat. Gandalf falls somewhere in between with a few puzzle elements thrown in amongst the general carnage. Most of the time will be spent merely trying to get from one end of the level to the other either avoiding or defeating the monsters that come your way.
Although there are a few instances where getting lost is a real possibility (particularly in the early levels), most of the environments are quite linear. This is convenient because the map feature that's included with the game is really just an overland map that shows your current location on Middle Earth. Why someone would need to access that during the actual game is beyond me. Better to put it up during the load screens between missions so you could see the progress of your character.
The levels all involve typical quest stuff, at least at first. To begin with Frodo has to find the deed to Bag End so he can sell it to Lobelia. Once that's found he has to head out to find Lobelia. Along the way he runs in to a hobbit child who's stolen something from the mill. The mill-keeper tells Frodo that he's missing a pin and needs to find it to get the mill working again. A nearby farmer is having problems with his weathervane. Wasn't there something about escaping the Shire in there somewhere? It's nice to ease players in to the game but there's not much urgency in the first few tasks.
When the player switches to Aragorn in Bree he has to find Sam and then locate the parts needed to construct hobbit dummies to fool the Ring Wraiths. Strangely there aren't nearly as many differing objectives in the later levels. While the search for missing hobbits occupies you for a few moments every now and then, most of the later levels simply require you to reach the exit. There are also a few minor oddities in the quests themselves. In the second conversation you have with the hobbit child, he tells you where to find the missing pin, even if you've already found it and returned it to the mill.
Other than progressing to the next level, there aren't many rewards to be had here. In fact, all the levels contain (besides enemies) are health-boosting items (or magic in Gandalf's case). I've long since given up complaining that eating ham and apples heals you in most adventure games. While that concept is given somewhat better treatment here, running around looking for something called 'cram' still seems a bit out of place.
That holds true for the various switches and levers and blocks that you'll need to manipulate in Moria. It seems the dwarves were crazy for Tomb Raider-esque type puzzles. But unlike Tomb Raider most of the puzzles are almost immediately obvious. Switches are almost always right in front of the object they activate and little lines on the ground clue you in that there's a block to be pushed. Although the introductory tutorial teaches you how to climb up on ledges, I never found a use for the skill anywhere in the game.
The Ring of the title doesn't have much to do with the game either. There's one sequence where it's needed (and the game even tells you by placing a text message on the screen reading, "The Ring???") but otherwise it might as well not even exist. Frodo does have a purity meter that determines how long he can wear the ring but since he can outrun 90% of the monsters in the game and since the levels end once he reaches the exit, there's really very little benefit to being invisible. Maybe if Galadriel was taking a bath or something...
Combat is very basic with one melee attack and one ranged attack per character. Frodo carries a walking stick and an endless supply of rocks. The rocks are really only useful to distract enemies (like the deadly Ring Wraiths) but since they come in an unending supply, you can use them for whatever you'd like -- say, building a little dam or something. Aragorn also has a kick move that knocks enemies down, setting you up for a cool deathblow. Gandalf's deathblow is the best as he stabs the point of his staff down in the monster's face. Gandy's also got five spells to choose from -- a fiery blast and a lightning blast to take down enemies far away and a staff strike that knocks down all nearby enemies. One of his cooler moves is called attract and forces enemies to fight each other. Finally, a heal spell lets him regenerate health.