"Malice Lies Heavy in Here...." - From Helm's Deep to the Pelennor Fields....EA's LOTR: Return of the King Game Review Part I
Available for XBox, PS2, GameCube, GameBoy Advance, and PC
Okay, let me begin by posting a disclaimer:
I am tired after a long weekend of pretty much continuous gameplay of Electronic Arts' LOTR: Return of the King game for both XBox and PC. My elbow aches from playing the PC version; and my thumbs and wrists are going to need traction from XBox. At times, I (along with my nephew) have cursed, screamed, (both at the game and each other), and stomped in reaction to this latest LOTR release from EA. The rumours are indeed true: This game is hard, even on the "easy" difficulty setting.
But, while it is indeed hard....but NOT impossible....it is also beautifully made, very challenging, and again, we find ourselves immersed in Peter Jackson's visually stunning Middle Earth.
For those who have been wondering whether or not to play this game, be fairly warned that it is a few levels above the "challenging" description, but if you want to be dazzled and you don't mind gnashing your teeth and cursing every now and again, then wait no longer. As tired and frustrated as I am now and have been since the game was released last Thursday, I'm still playing it. I intend to beat it. I WILL beat it or probably really hurt myself in the attempt do so.
Yes, you are going to need to give yourself pep talks. A lot. Be MEAN and aggressive when you play. Use PARRY A LOT. The strategy guides aren't exaggerating; learn Parry, use it, and learn your special attack and use them. If you don't, you will not make it past the first level. This is not a hack n slash, run through the masses of orcses and Easterling, clearing a path for your companions on your way to victory. I don't know what we did to make EA mad at us and thus torture us in this manner, but they have forced us to play the game as THEY designed it to be played; the keys to winning this game are your special attacks, tact, and patience. And PARRY!
My nephew and I, (yes the "famous" nephew who, at this time last year, wanted me to refer to him as Fangorn, and who, this year, wishes me to refer to him as simply "nephew"), began our journey, as do all players of this game, at Helm's Deep. The game begins with another brilliant display of movie-to-game magic and, again, fooled both of us into being dazzled and then stunned when we realised that we were now playing the game. There is quite a bit of movie footage in this game; in fact, almost too much. I suppose that there are those who really enjoy the rather longish movie segments, and I do too, (the first time), but after that, I just want to dig in and do battle. Shorter movie-to-game sequences would be my preference; but, I don't seem to have much influence with EA.
Oh, do I sound a little bitter? Well, I am...a little. EA, I am dazzled by the game, I am determined to master it, but yes, I do have one wee little complaint.
NONE of the secret, unlockable characters are Eowyn. We get to see Eowyn on the Pelennor Fields; she needs "protecting", of course, from our heroes. *rolls eyes* She even gets a moment of glory in a game sequence post-Pelennor Fields mission, but she is not available as a playable character. ARGH! We can play FOUR Hobbits, (Sam, Frodo, and then secret Merry and Pippin), and two Ranger types, (Aragorn and secret Faramir), but no Eowyn. Could ya not have spared us one of the Hobbits and given us Eowyn?
On to the adventures!! My nephew and I began our ROTK gaming weekend with a copy of the XBox version and the Prima Official Strategy Guide. My nephew shuns such blasphemous pieces of information, but I have learned the value of the invaluable game "hint". After this weekend's trials and tribulations, I think that my nephew now agrees with me. We even had a debate on who got to keep the strategy guide when we parted ways. (Auntie Elbren won.)
As I've stated before, the ROTK game is indeed visually stunning. Gorgeous graphics, intense film scenes, and magical movie-to-game transitions are now par for the course. We expect it, and EA delivers. The special attacks are still amazing; I absolutely love watching the characters spin, twirl, and dole out their lethal damage. I even enjoy watching someone else play the game; it's that purty. 'Nuff said, we know this about EA.
13 levels consisting of three paths; I have not completed the game (yet), but here are the missions that I have completed thus far:
The Path of the King: Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas
- The Paths of the Dead--Lots and lots of undead with finale on a bridge that is visually and hauntingly like the Bridge of Khazad-dum minus the Balrog
- The King of the Dead--Lots and lots of undead plus the King of the Dead who is a maddingly, dangerous foe. Then more undead as you race out of the mountain with rocks falling on you and creating so much dust that at times you have no idea which way to run.
- The Southern Gate--Hordes of orcses...HORDES of them! Siege weapons galore and enemies on every side. Very intense level. Nice view of a burning Minas Tirith in the distance.
- The Pelennor Fields--Easterling and Orcses....TONS of them. Rohirrim allies, Mumakils that must be taken out on every side, and Eowyn and Merry to "protect". Intense level that has a great reward for the victors: Nice game sequence film of Eowyn facing the WitchKing; although the game WitchKing must be in the armour design of the first movie WiKi as he looks an awful lot like Sauron. Still, I'm thrilled that Eowyn got her moment of glory in the game, (even if I don't get to play her! ARGH!) The Army of the Dead entering the Pelennor Fields is also a part of this game film sequence, though, I hope, it's not how they will enter the battle in the movie.
- The Black Gates--Ah, Aragorn as Elessar! Nice armour! Great boss battle with (SPOILER!!!!!) the Mouth of Sauron! The Mouth of Sauron even tosses Frodo's Mithril shirt at our heroes. Gandalf is one of your sidekicks. Ringwraith battle! INTENSE!
The Path of the Wizard: Gandalf
- Road to Isengard--Gandalf is perhaps my favorite, so far, of the playable characters. In a word, he is powerful. This level has Ents and orcses, the dam sequence, and Gandalf. What more could you want?
- Minas Tirith--Top of the Wall--I have not played this level yet, but I did watch the nephew. Exciting level with Gandalf defending the walls of Minas Tirith; Nazgul flying around, ladders with orcses, and siege weapons firing right and left.
- Minas Tirith--Courtyard--This is the game demo level that I have played on the PC and the one where I killed Gandalf so many times that I finally wept and quit. I hate this level. My nephew, who played it on the XBox, also hated it. VERY hard.
The Path of the Hobbits: Frodo and Sam (and Gollum tags along though all he does is mutter and whine)
- Escape from Osgiliath--I actually like playing Sam almost as much as I like playing Gandalf. Sam has a great "go invisible" ability with his Elvish cloak, plus he's pretty handy with his little short sword. Osgiliath is being hammered with siege weapons, orcses, and that nasty Nazgul on his flying fell beast is still circling hope that Frodo will give him yet another chance to get the Ring. Linger too long on the rooftops, and he will do just that.
- Shelob's Lair--Observed nephew's play of this level on the XBox. Lots of spiders....and I mean LOTS. Very creepy level where fire and stealth...and of course Sting will lead you to victory.
- Cirith Ungol--Observed this level, too. Orcses. Orcses. Orcses.
- Crack of Doom--Haven't seen this one just yet....
Yes, the nephew has completed the game and already played a few levels with (SPOILER) Faramir. Auntie Elbren is close behind and still wishing that Eowyn will somehow become an unlockable character....
CO OP PLAY
Ah, the big feature that so many of us have been waiting for! I remember asking Neil Young, VP of Game Development for Electronic Arts, in October 2002 about the possibility of multiplayer for ROTK, at the time, they just weren't sure. However, they've come through for us with this feature, (and the PS2 version does have multiplayer online capability), though I now wonder if "CO OP" is the correct term for it...
Let me explain: Nephew and I were very eager to play ROTK together in the CO OP mode. He had forbidden me from building any of the characters up beyond the first levels of the game so that we could do this "together".
Well, CO OP mode, mellyn, is just as hard, if not harder, than single player mode. Why? Well, I don't know if it truly is harder because of some AI setting that clicks in when CO OP mode is chosen, or if it's due to the following:
- You must share the health vials that drop. And from what we could tell, there were no more dropped for CO OP than there are for single player.
- There aren't checkpoints in every CO OP mission. On these missions, you either get through the whole mission from start to finish, or you start over from the beginning, (ie Pelennor Fields).
- You get two respawns, total, for the entire mission.
Now, nephew is an excellent gamer. On a scale of 1 - 10, he's probably an 11 or 12. I am an old time gamer who maybe merits a 7, sometimes an 8. I am very hack n slash. Nephew is very finesse with fast, flying fingers and thumbs. He played Aragorn for 99% of our CO OP missions; I played Legolas for 99% of them. Legolas died a lot. Aragorn's player got very upset. We switched. Legolas died less, but we still had a hard time of it. He switched back to Aragorn; I switched to Gimli. We built Gimli up to level 5 or so. STILL tough.
In fact, nephew and I spent about 4 hours trying to beat the Pelennor Fields in CO OP mode, (each "go" was about 20-25 minutes). We would get SO close to victory, and then doom. DOOM. doom. Once, and I swear this is true, we FINISHED the bloody mission, watched Eowyn take on the Wiki, saw the Army of the Dead come in and whip the Mumakil's arses, and then we got the message, "YOUR MISSION HAS FAILED. Try again?"
I thought that my head was going to explode. Nephew emitted a few choice phrases.
Yet, we tried again. Finally, FINALLY, we were victorious.
As I mentioned, we played both PC and XBox versions of the game. You can assume that the visuals on both platforms are, as I've said, gorgeous. Brilliant. Gameplay is intense. Remember: Special attacks, tact, and patience. And PARRY!
Now, my few complaints about the game:
- No Eowyn.
- Camera angles are awkward at times. Many times in CO OP mode I had no idea which way to run and could only see my little "2" above Legolas's head to know which way to go.
- No opportunity to save the PC version game DURING the mission! Same as console: You have checkpoints.
Is the game TOO hard? For the casual gamer, it may well be. However, I found that when I used my special attacks, tact, patience, and parry, (SATPP), I was in the "green" quite a lot more often than in the "red". SATPP. Know it. Use it.
I am sworn to complete the game, and this I will do. I must see this through to the end, if you know what I mean. I will report back when I have seen the Cracks of Doom and faced the Black Gate!
Note: For those who have been worried about spoilers in the game, if you've not read the books, (shame on ya!), then yes, you're in for some surprises. If you've read the books, (HUZZAH!), then play the game with no worries.
EA also has a couple of cool contests that you can enter over at the ROTK Game Official Site:
WIN THE SWORD OF THE KING (Anduril)!Reforge the Sword Looking for a piece of the sword? Collect all of the pieces of the broken Narsil: http://www.eagames.com/official/lordoftherings/returnoftheking/us/home.jsp
ENTER THE SWEEPSTAKES: http://www.eagames.com/official/lordoftherings/returnoftheking/us/editorial/sweeps_entry_page.jsp