Review by neothe0ne
"Takes chess and strategy to a whole new level"
Graphics are detailed and smooth
Can find items and buy upgrades
Can play as movie heroes
Character models look alike
Basically a prolonged game of chess
Sometimes relies on luck more than skill
Electronic Arts has the license to make the official movie-themed games, and they've taken it beyond the movies for the first time. The Third Age for consoles was supposed to be an RPG, putting you in the shoes of normal fighters of Middle-earth, and once again, the handheld version of the LotR title is totally different. Take Action/Adventure, swap Action for Strategy, and you have an impressive original and fun game from EA!
The graphics of The Third Age are very good for the Game Boy Advance. The levels are very detailed and clear, and in the battle screen everything becomes even more detailed. Many character models look similar, and so do their portraits, so sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a Wood Elf archer and a High Elf archer, or the difference between different kinds of Orcs. This doesn't really detract from gameplay, because you get to see the health bar and other information when you move your cursor over the character. During the short scenes of battle, one character does his/her attack animation and the other character does his/her flinch or die animation. The animations are all very well done, with the characters realistically swinging their swords and drawing arrows and firing.
The sounds in The Third Age are very good. The background music is either from the movie soundtracks or from previous GBA Lord of the Rings games, and the general quality has been improved. All the songs place the mood for a level well, even if the songs aren't very memorable. Although different levels have different background music, they are pretty repetitive. The sound effects for swords, arrows, grunts, and cries of pain are very well done and sound good, too.
The gameplay of The Third Age is a lot like chess. You can choose different Heroes to play as each game, and each character has different move limits and attacks. Each turn, you get control of a few areas of combat, each area independant of the other. These areas all have different amounts of moves they can take in one turn depending on what Hero is in it. You can move melee people a few spaces or have them attack enemies next to them. Archers can also move spaces and can also attack from a distance. You control units in the game with a cursor that moves across set squares in an invisible grid, and controls are just as you'd think they'd be. You don't always have to move in a straight line, either, so you can zigzag past other characters and go in any direction you want. When units get into combat with each other, the screen dissolves out and into the battle screen. This screen has the character attacking and the character being attacked, and here the detailed backgrounds are shown off, in addition to the smooth and realistic animations for the attacks and flinches. There are swordsmen, pikemen, archers, and others, and each attack does a range of damage and then that's it. Yeah, the battle mode only shows one unit attacking then returns to the overhead view. The shoulder triggers let you switch controls for areas and see where you can move. Sometimes when you kill units you can pick up items, and you can gain experience from each kill. When you kill the enemy commanding hero or finish the objectives, you win and get to return to the menu where you can save, buy upgrades, or continue to another game.
One problem with The Third Age is that all the missions are basically the same, as in it's the same game of chess. The difficulty and challenge rises as enemies become more powerful, and so you should replay older missions to level up. However, the problem is that the gameplay is so repetitive that you may get bored very fast, and it's not very action-oriented. Of course, there are many characters to play as, and each one has a different set of missions, but they're all basically the same. If you've read the books, or even watched the movies, you'll follow along the missions well, but otherwise, you won't know the real story and might feel left out. Again, the main problem with this game is that it's too repetitive.
One nice feature in the game is the multiplayer. You can play against friends and test which one of you has a higher IQ :). Just kidding. You just need to plan your strategy appropriately, and then it's more luck than skill if you're even remotely familiar with how to play. You can also play without linking multiple GBAs, so you only need one cartridge and one Game Boy.
Overall, The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is an impressive LotR-themed strategy game. It doesn't take too long to get used to the controls and gameplay, and when you do, you're set for the rest of the game. The Third Age for GBA involves the movie heroes, unlike the console versions, and for once, strategy is involved instead of button mashing. The Third Age is definitely a game you can't miss out on.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/23/05
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