LOTR: The Third Age has some good ideas, they just don't use them
I had some mild hopes for this game. I'm a big Final Fantasy fan, I liked the Lord of the Rings movies and I loved the videos I saw of the game. I didn't expect it to be separated in chapters and I was expecting atleast some freedom in the game, not just battle to battle situations that this game turned out to be. I also didn't expect the story to be so bad. Nothing lived up to my expectations, but luckily I only paid $17 for it.
All I have to say is thank god this game was short!
The battle system is a fairly simple Final Fantasy clone. Any somewhat experienced RPG fan should get the hang of this within the first minute of battle. Everyone has their own unique special attacks and magic abilities, which use up AP points. After you level up in a game you gain all your HP and AP back, so you rarely have to watch how low your AP points are. Your players level up very quickly in game. After you level up YOU have to apply the changes in attributes. I didn't realize this until an hour into the game, I was wondering why my characters weren't getting stronger. They don't explain a lot at the beginning of the game.
You do not gain money in the game, so you can't buy items at all. The way you get new equipment is finding a treasure chest in the game or winning a battle. You get new equipment pretty often in the game. Everyone has their own personalized weapons and armor.
You can only have 3 people in your party at a time, but sometimes there will be a special 4th character to join your team for a one-off battle like Gandalf and Aragorn among others. These 4th characters often are the strongest person in the battle, so use them as your power hitters. Within the battle you can switch out any of your 3 characters with a back up character. You can only switch characters when you're in battle. This is another thing the game or book didn't explain to well and it took me a while to figure out.
There’s one big problem I have with the combat in the game, and that’s the hit or miss ratio. The enemies rarely miss you and you rarely hit them. The only guarantee hit is a magic ability, but they're usually weak. I've never had a problem this big in a turn based RPG before this game.
The only sidequest in the game was "Evil Mode", which recreates certain battles in the game, but you play as the bad guys. Sometimes they're hard, but none of the time is it ever important to finish. You only get a few items or weapons out of doing it. Playing "Evil Mode" doesn't go against your score or percentage, and isn't important at all for the game, just a cheap sidequest to make the game sound more enticing.
Characters / Story:
The story is mostly told in cutscenes that consist of clips from the movies that Gandalf narrates over. This seems very cheap and lazy to me (this is an EA game of course).
The story is really confusing because there 3 or 4 major in game story telling in the game worth remembering, and in between all of that is hours of battling and going through a linear maze to complete secondary goals, by the time you complete those goals you forget what the story is all about. I spent more time worrying about my characters stats than their history or what they're going to do next. They're pretty much unlikeable.
Through out the game your team is just a few steps behind the fellowship at all times. It's almost a retelling of the Lord of the Rings with new, generic characters with no depth, compacted in a 20 hour RPG.
The character and enemy graphics look great for the most part. It almost looks movie quality, but up close during (one of the few) in game cutscenes in the game they look really shaky and just odd looking. Whoever takes the last blow in a battle gets to have their own victory scene. Every scene is the exact same everytime and gets really old.
When you get a new piece of equipment they change with the character. For example, if Berethor gets a new helmet. the helmet will appear in his status scene, cutscenes and in battle scenes. Also if someone gets shot with an arrow, the arrow will stick in their torso for most of the fight.
Everywhere you go in the game is the exact same place Aragon goes in his adventure in the books / movies, so there’s not a whole lot of creativity that went into making the fields in the game. Even older games like Rune have better graphics and more field freedom than this game.
The movie sequences look condensed and choppy at times. They like to repeat some scenes over and over again as well. There’s 106 movie scenes in all and none are really worth watching, if you've seen the movies and have little to do with the game.
The Voice Overs are really good. EA ended up getting most of the actors to reprise their roles in the game, Ian McKellen taking up the biggest duty of narrator of the game. The main characters in the game rarely speak, but when they do it's nothing horrendous. The music is what you would expect from an Lord of the Rings game, I wouldn't be surprised if they recycled the music from the other EA Lord of the Rings games or even the movie.
The most annoying thing with the sound is the enemies constant, grunting, growling, shrieking and just overall being annoying. The game is LOUD too so this doesn't help at all, I had to turn my TV down to 6 while playing this, and it goes up to 50.
There IS a world map in the game, but if you blink you'll miss it. At any save point you can "travel" to any point of the game if you wish. At this point you can choose which past chapters to visit. This is the only map in the game, just a simple chapter based Super Mario Bros.3 styled map. It's almost pointless to travel back to another part of the game if you completed it 100%.
The game is very linear, you just go to point A to point B until the chapter is done. This makes a simple game to get into, if you have the patience for such repetition. There's a ton of Save Points in the game, so you'll never have to worry about dying. When you save your life is replenished too.
There's only one town to visit in the game, and its just part of a level. You can't talk to people, get tips, go inside of houses, or any RPG goodness that should apply to every RPG of this nature. The only time in the game you get to chat with villagers is in Helm's Deep and they don't say anything interesting, don’t have their own Voice Overs, and repeat lines.
Time to Complete Game (First run through, last save before final boss):