Review by miyaa

"Plays about as well as trying to train an orog."

If you ever cornered any Computer RPG fanatic and press 'em really tight, most of them will eventually admit to you that in comparison to any other genres, we have a rather low standard for RPG games. RPG rarely is about the RP, but is more of a hack and slash feature and customizing your character with very little room for talking to cnpcs and negotiating about stuff. The really good ones tend to be freeform, and makes the repetitive nature of the things characters can do to AI (without making them go through the Touring test) as unique and as interesting as possible. A really good storyline helps too.

Sadly, this is not the case for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It's no different than the other two installments, so what I'm going to say about it will probably cover for the other two.

If you haven't had to read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (thank you, Mrs. Zapf), then you should. The game's plots mirror the movie's version of the books. As far as I can tell, what the game does is highlight some important points in the third book, both from what the movie did and did not show.

There are three things that I really dislike about Return of the King. The first thing is that I don't like the method of gaining experience which is based solely on how many you can kill in a set period of time. The more you can kill, the bigger your kill rating (for lack of a better phrase) gets until you reach perfection and then for as long as you can continuously kill orogs and other such brutes, you maintain this perfection. Otherwise, you start back at zero. And this timing is really strict, there's probably a 15-25 second period between where the 'meter' goes from 'excellent' to zero.

The other point about that is that this works best in melee combat where you're pressing against the foes. I haven't seen it work very well in ranged (bow & arrow or magic) combat. That's not right.

On top of this is that they don't give you experience for completing tasks. You just get it for the kills and the bonuses that you accrue for how often reach 'perfect' or 'excellent' status. Ugh.

The second thing I don't like about Return of the King is the eye-candy. It's really ugly, in comparison to the movie shots. The characters are very blocky and they have this look on their faces that makes me wonder if they took their shots from their driver's license. And in a lot of cases, the colors while necessarily needs to be very dark, is too dark for purposes of seeing your character versus your foes (even if you're playing the over bleached Gandalf). The music is really good, but it goes on too long and too loud at factory setup.

The last and biggest problem I have with Return of the King is the the gameplay. The AI is really tough, and maybe too tough. But that seems to be less about having a really good AI system than a gameplay that emphasis massive waves of foes and cheap blocks and attacks than rather a solid AI play. If you're playing alone, your fellows are really useless and it's really up to your character to do everything, which really sucks. And it really doesn't do justice to the book in terms of how relatively intelligent the opponents were in the book. On top of this, chapters/episode last way too long, meaning if you fail (and that's often I've noticed from pretty good players) you lose everything your characters gained in experience up to that point. It's almost enough to make you to want to throw your hobbit overboard.

Now that I've shown you the bad points, I'm not going to say the game's a total wipeout. Unlike Enter the Matrix, this game is pretty good entertainment. I did enjoy playing the characters, and the actor voiceovers are pretty good, especially if they're in an one-on-one encounter. Then again, they're probably ripped directly from the movie, so if you're expecting them to say something different than what you've might hear they say in the movie, forget it.

In addition, while I don't like how you get exp, I do like how you can then spend what you've earned on customizing your character's equipment, abilities, and finishing moves (through it doesn't seem like these new upgrades help your character that much). And it makes a much better multiplayer game than it does as a solo game.

So overall, this is a game that might be good for one of those long three or four day holiday vacations to play at. Other than that, it's not something I'd buy to keep.

Good: While not a spectacular game, it is the kind of game players will probably enjoy more than not, especially in a three-player group.
Bad: But shear difficulty of finishing some of the levels, particularly the hobbit side, will really frustrate players.
Ugly: The frustration as players watch their character die...taking their four levels gained by slicing and dicing with them. And then they have to start over.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 11/24/03

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