Down Along Under Hill, Shining in the Sunlight - From the Shire to Mora, Universal Interactive's LOTR:FORT for XBox is a Jewel

Yes! Yes! Yes! I am thrilled to be able to share with you that Universal Interactive's Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring for XBox IS a doorway into Middle Earth! Farmer Maggot, Tom Bombadil, Goldberry, the Old Forest, Old Man Willow, Bree, GLORFINDEL, and more! As a book fan and Purist Tribe member, I can honestly tell you that this game is a valid ticket to Middle Earth. You will absolutely love walking in Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf's footsteps. In fact, just play it. If you're new to Xbox games, the Shire will help train you for your journey ahead. If you're an Xbox gamer, the Shire may seem a bit slow, but once you get to the Barrow Downs, you'll be all set for action. If you love the books, the dialogue and cut scenes will delight and thrill. If you're a movie fan and you skip the dialogue and cut scenes, well.....that's why you are thusly dubbed a "MOVIE FAN".

If that's all that you needed to know, then GO BUY IT! If you would like to read excerpts from the journal that I have kept while playing the game with my 14 year old nephew, then read on and experience Middle Earth with us!

JOURNAL ENTRY 1: THERE AND NOT BACK AGAIN JUST YET

Upon engaging the XBox to the "on" position and cranking up the Universal Interactive game, my nephew and I instantly find ourselves blinded and unable to see. This frightens us both, though we manage not to squeal too loudly. We were prepared for something mysterious; this IS Middle Earth, after all.

Moments later, we find ourselves in what must be the Shire. Bag End. I am quite sure of it. Looking over at my nephew, I am stunned and unable to speak: he has transformed into a tree. A tree with eyes. A very big tree, in fact. When he speaks, it is painfully slow. Gods above, my nephew has turned into an Ent. My sister is going to kill me.

JOURNAL ENTRY 2: There and in BAG END

Gandalf and Frodo are speaking as my Ent-nephew and I observe. We must sell Bag End and get out of the Shire. Gandalf is most explicit: time is not to be wasted.

We quickly discover that we must gather food, (mushrooms, apples-which can also be used as range weapons-lembas), as we go in order to heal and sustain us. Our walking stick is our weapon. This is not good news, I say. We need a lock picking kit and the deed to Bag End to sell our home before we can be off.

Well, if time is not to be wasted, WHY oh why do we have all of these tedious little tasks to take care of! The Mill is missing a hinge; the wicked witch of the Shire, Lobelia, needs us to ring the bloody bell of Bywater because she thinks that she's seen wolves; Fatty needs some eggs and honeycomb for his pie. GAWD! Don't they know that BLACK RIDERS are on their way!?

My Ent-nephew tells me that these little quests will help acquaint us with Middle Earth and how to survive here. Hmph.

JOURNAL ENTRY 3: The Green Dragon Inn

My Ent-nephew, who now insists that his name is Fangorn, and I make our way to The Green Dragon Inn. We must meet Merry and Pippin. I am thrilled to see Rosie Cotton behind the bar. I order an ale while my nephew, Fangorn, speaks to the hobbits and pokes around. Lovely fireplace with grand dragon design upon it. Rosie keeps addressing me as if I am an Elf. Am I an Elf? I can't find a mirror to confirm. Fangorn says we must be off to find Lobelia; he finally found the deed to Bag End.

JOURNAL ENTRY 4: The Wicked Witch, Lobelia

She's just as wicked here as she is in the books. She insists that Fangorn, who she keeps calling Frodo, ring the Bywater Bell. She's seen wolves. Well, guess what, Witchy Poo? If you don't let us out of the Shire, you're going to have much WORSE than wolves running around! Ever heard of the NAZGUL? Sheesh.

Fangorn-Frodo finds missing bell component. He rings the bell. I keep insisting that we bugger out of here. Fangorn-Frodo understands; he knows how Nazgul affect me. It's not pretty. However, Fangorn-Frodo insists upon finding fireworks and setting them off. Great. Perfect signal to Ringwraiths that we are here and running around the Shire as if we have nothing better to do than attract attention. I am on the verge of soiling my breeches. Still can't find a mirror to confirm if I am an Elf or not.

JOURNAL ENTRY 5: 3 BAGSHOT ROW

Took the Bag End key to the Gaffer and now I must change my breeches: Black Rider. Talking to the Gaffer. Asking about Baggins in a pretty skeery hissing tone. He's on horseback. We're not. Gaffer is a pretty brave fellow; stands up to the Rider like a good ole chap. We give Gaffer the key and bugger out. Immediately run into a Nazgul. And Another. This is not good. Fangorn-Frodo does not move very quickly at all; we are dead Free Folk walking. Still need new breeches.

JOURNAL ENTRY 6: FARMER MAGGOT'S

Using some sneak tactics and a bit of luck, we make it to Farmer Maggot's. Meet up with Merry, Sam, and Pippin. Maggot offers to take us to the entrance of the Old Forest in his carriage. We accept, declining his invite to dinner, (I WANTED mushrooms; Fangorn-Frodo was anxious to get out of the Shire. He, in very un-Entlike fashion, is bored with the Shire and ready to get to Bree.) I am still in need of clean breeches; must wait for Bree, I guess, since Hobbit clothing is much too small.

JOURNAL ENTRY 7: OLD FOREST AND BOMBADIL

Old Forest is creepy. Merry, Sam, and Pippin all manage to get separated from us. We set out to find them. Old Man Willow has Merry and Pippin as we suspected that he would. I tell Fangorn-Frodo to just wait for Bombadil; Fangorn-Frodo insists upon whacking the tree with walking stick. Whack. Whack. Whack. Does no good, as I told him it wouldn't. Then, in the distance, I hear singing. BOMBADIL! And then there he is...singing and dancing like a Middle Earth fool, the Eldest. He gets Merry and Pippin out of Old Man Willow with a song and off we are to his house.

And there we meet Goldberry. In fact, Bombadil and Goldberry entertain us with a song and dance. I am mesmerized. Fangorn-Frodo wants to skip all of this and get to the action. I insist. Bombadil is able to give me clean breeches. Thank Eru. In the morning, we are off, Sam, Merry, Pippin, and Frodo, to the Downs. Bombadil gives us a song to sing if we need him again. I nudge Fangorn-Frodo with a wink; this is just way too much fun.

JOURNAL ENTRY 8: BARROW DOWNS

The Barrow Downs are creepy. Arms and nasty things shooting up from the ground trying to grab us. The Ring, at times, spins above us and tempts us to put it on. We have resisted. Puzzles involving rocks that grow from the ground. Spooky place, this is. And dadblast it, Merry, Pippin, and Sam are missing again. We know where they are, but MAN, do I NOT want to go in there!

Just as we thought, the Hobbits are in the Barrow Wight's evil home. Naked blade is lying across their sleeping necks. Yuck. This is too creepy for me. Barrow Wight suddenly shoots out of ground and smacks us hard. Several times. I soil my breeches again. We try to sing for Bombadil. No good. We sing again. No good. I am beginning to panic. We sing again. IT WORKS! Bombadil appears and gets rid of nasty Barrow Wight. Takes us out to sunshine. Gives us four Westernesse swords and explains their history. Tells us to go to Prancing Pony and get some rest. He tells me to get some new breeches.

JOURNAL ENTRY 9: BREE and THE PRANCING PONY

Perfect Bree. Despite my need for clean clothes, I am thrilled to see the village. It is just as I have always pictured it. The Pony is even better. In fact, the Pony is even better than the movie Pony. We talk to the various patrons, Bill Ferny included, and finally find Butterburr. Guess what? THIS Butterburr seems to recall something important that he forgot. It's the name Underhill that sets him off. Good, we think. Perhaps THIS Butterburr will be able to find the letter from Gandalf and confirm that Aragorn is friend and not foe.

A strange man, even stranger than the fellow over in the corner, offers to help us. We refuse. Blast it all if he doesn't knock us out and take us captive. Seems there is a ransom for Underhill/Baggins in Bree! Without too much difficulty, and only one use of the Ring, we manage to get back to the Pony. Pippin is running his mouth, as usual. Only this time it's not about food. It's about Bilbo's party! He's about to tell how Bilbo disappeared....and then Strider grabs me. He feels it's a good idea to shut Pippin up. So, Frodo begins to dance and sing...and darn it, even though we KNOW it's going to happen, Frodo slips and falls and the dadblasted One Ring falls on his finger.

This can only mean trouble. Aragorn takes us to our rooms and tells us to stay put. He's going to find Merry who, again!, is missing. Geez the darn Hobbits anyhow. I can see why Gandalf used the word "foolish" so often with them.

Butterburr shows up and gives us the letter from Gandalf. Confirmed: Aragorn is friend. Wonder if he has any spare breeches?

Note: Nephew is THRILLED to be Aragorn now! I must admit, it is quite COOL. Love the bow and sword action. Yes!

We find Merry and send him back to the Pony. We must gather items to make fake Hobbits for the Nazgul to chop into pieces.

JOURNAL ENTRY 10: THE PRANCING PONY

Found all items while attacked numerous times by those seeking ransom for Frodo. Bree has become a dangerous place. Take Hobbits to Aragorn's rooms after setting up dummies. Nazgul, as we figured, show up and chop dummies into bits. Yuck. What a mess for Butterburr to clean up. Still, melons, hay, and firewood is better than flesh, bone, and blood.  At least that's what I tell Butterburr as we leave.  We must be off.

Very sad to report that we have no Bill the Pony. Sigh.

JOURNAL ENTRY 11: THE WILDS

We see lights and flashing from Weathertop which is still some distance away. We don't know what it is, (well, Fangorn and I do, but that's because we have read the books); so Aragorn is off to investigate.

Lots more little trolls around here than we first thought. Nasty business to get to Weathertop. Fire Arrows very useful. Once we get to Weathertop, BIG TROLL waiting for us. Knocks us down several times. Ouch. Finally finish him off with Fire and Steel arrows. We like those.

Find signs that Gandalf was here. Wonder if he's anywhere close by? Make camp at foot of Weathertop. Aragorn goes off to be a Ranger. Hobbits make fire and eat. Nazgul show up. Frodo, like a dimwit, puts on One Ring. Morgul knife and Ringwraith swords are frightening blades. Morgul knife gets Frodo. Ouch. Aragorn rushes in with burning wood and fights off three Nazgul. Drives them off. Frodo is injured badly. Time to get to Rivendell post-haste.

JOURNAL ENTRY 12: GLORFINDEL!

At bridge, we meet the one figure that has so far been ignored by EVERYONE who would dare attempt a gateway to Middle Earth. So, Bakshi and Jackson, shame on ya....Universal Interactive....THANK YOU!...GLORINDEL AND ASFALOTH! YEA!

After hearing some pretty tasty Elvish, Glorfindel puts Frodo upon Asfaloth and tells the horse to get the Hobbit to Rivendell with all speed. THE ENEMY IS UPON US!    GO FRODO GO!

While Frodo disappears upon the speeding back of Asfaloth, Glorfindel confirms it; I am an Elf and he has spare breeches for me. Thank Eru.

JOURNAL ENTRY 13: FORDS OF BRUINEN

Just what we Purists wanted: Frodo's SOLO defiance to the WitchKing at the Ford as the magical torrent of water washes the Nazgul down river. Perfect.

JOURNAL ENTRY 14: RIVENDELL and COUNCIL OF ELROND

Another area of this game where it outdoes the movie; which means, it does complete justice to the book. Perfect. Loved it. Talk to the Fellowship members and get the dialogue from the book on why they are in Rivendell. Perfect.

Aragorn gets NARSIL reforged:  ANDURIL. Crucial. Wonderful. Perfect. Frodo gets Sting and Mithril shirt. Perfect. No ridiculous transformation of Bilbo into orc creature. Thank Eru.

JOURNAL ENTRY 15: MORIA

We only hear about Caradhras, but soon, Wargs are upon us. We are now Gandalf. The Fellowship discusses our choices of path, right from the book, as we determine our course. Moria it is.

It takes a bit to get used to the magic spells, but in the meantime, Glamdring is amazing. Slicing and dicing nasty things on the way to the West Gate. Love it.

Find West Gate. Watcher wakes up and causes a bit of a commotion, but it's nothing like the silly thing in the movie. Gandalf takes care of the Watcher while Fellowship lazily looks on. Why aren't they helping? Hmmmm. Must speak to them about that when everything calms down.

The doors glow in the moonlight with a lovely radiance. Perfect. You must choose the correct Elvish word for friend or sit there forever. Love it.

Looking at the modern world watch that I've brought with me, we are 4 hours and 48 minutes into Middle Earth. Not bad.

Looking ahead....Moria is dark and dreary. And, what is worse, my nephew, Fangorn, and I know what lies in there for us. Just like Gandalf, we know that a Balrog lies somewhere deep within. Yet, we must go on. With a heavy, yet pounding heart, we enter the Mines....

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