Barrow Wights and Old Man Willow - A Review of the Univeral Interactive LOTR Games at DragonCon

First off, these are beeeeuuutiful games!! Second, the detail and mindfulness of Middle Earth BOOK accuracy by the company's design team is impeccable. This is the company that has the LITERARY license, so we get Barrow Wights, Tom Bombadil, Goldberry, Old Man Willow, and MORE!

The gameplay is not quite RPG, as in you gain XP to level your character, but rather you go through the adventures and gain items that enhance the abilities that you already possess as Frodo, Gandalf, or Aragorn. The road begins in the Shire where you play Frodo and greet Gandalf in Bag End. Gandalf has dire news: Bilbo's Old Magic Ring is, in fact, the ONE RING. Time to freak out; but, what's that noise? Yes, those who have been paying attention will have already heard the sound of shears in the background while Gandalf and Frodo have been speaking. Samwise Gamgee, eavesdropping Hobbit. It's the sort of detail that, in my opinion, make the UI game worthy of being a part of Tolkien's Middle Earth.

And the game isn't only about 'hack, slash, get treasure', either. There are many side quests. For example, in The Shire chapter, one must sell Bag End, pack for the trip, help repair Ted Sandyman's Mill, and scold wayward Hobbit children.

Oh, and you won't walk up to beasts in this game, whack'em a few times, and simply pick up the loot. You'll have to choose the weapon that best suits the situation and wield it with skill. I watched Aragorn get his back side hammered by a Mountain Troll in the Weathertop chapter of the game, (UI's logic for Mountain Trolls there at all is that the Trollshaws are very nearby, per the book.) One disappointment: there is no 'night and day' in the XBox version of the game so you can't run around until sunrise and then watch the Troll turn to stone. (Somebody did ask that question; hey, I would have probably tried it!) However, the other platforms, (PS2, PC, and Gameboyw Advanced), will have variations in the game; night and day may just be one of them. If not for the Fellowship game, then definitely for the games to follow, (The Two Towers, Return of the King, and as-yet-unnamed titles).

Moria is fabulous; lots of dark caverns, long jumps (no wonder Pippin was unnerved on some of them), and lots and lots of those nasty little Moria orcs. Ever wanted to explore the areas of Moria where the Fellowship didn't go? You're in luck; with UI's Moria, you can take your own journey through Moria and see what YOU can awake in the deep places!

It won't be in the XBox version, (which should be out in just a few weeks), but the PC version (and perhaps others) will have the gameplay set to allow the main character to have a "sidekick". For instance, Frodo will have Gimli with him during some of his battles.

I saw both of the UI sessions during the Tolkien Track at DragonCon; there were as many or more "oooos" and "ahhhhhs" as I heard at the Two Two Towers "secret" preview sessions. I kid you not; these games rock. Highlights include:



COOL THINGS:

Sting glows blue when orcs are around; so does Glamdring

If you put on the One Ring, you can escape enemies but your corruption level will rise accordingly. You better be really GOOD to keep from fading into a Ringwraith if you do a lot of 'sneakin'.

You get to rescue Pippin, Merry, and Sam from the Barrow Wight

Lotsa Barrow Wights to either sneak past or fight in the Downs. Creepy Barrow Wights, I might add.

You get to meet up with and will probably have to rescue Merry and Pippin from Old Man Willow

WAY COOL THINGS:
There will be future games based on other literary adventures from Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. For example, you may very well defend Caras Galadhon from the orc attacks during the War of the Ring and/or accompany Galadriel to throw down the walls of Dol Guldur. You may get to defend Erebor during the War of the Ring or perhaps defend Mirkwood with Thranduil's warriors. You may get to travel as each member of the Fellowship as they GO to the Council of Elrond; yes, for instance, as he travels from Gondor to Rivendell to answer the riddle of his dream.

No promises or confirmation, but we may get to play Eowyn or Eomer in The Two Towers and future game titles.

Strong hint that we will get to play the "Ninth member of the Fellowship" in The Two Towers. Scratching your head? Think about it: Yes, Boromir is dead, but the Fellowship gets an "addition" to the cause of destroying the One Ring.

I have to say again that the depth of the devotion, (that was very apparent), of the Universal Interactive development team is impressive. This game is what we, as gamers, have been waiting on ever since we first read Lord of the Rings and we first discovered PC or console gaming.

Three words, mellyn: Get this game!

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