Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Xbox)
I’ve been faced with the unfortunate task of reviewing Black Label and WXP’s latest title, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for the Xbox. I’m in a lose-lose situation here, it’s impossible to remain unbiased against something that has such a large fanbase. In the end I’ll eventually end up offending someone, sure does suck to be me eh?
Anyways, you may have heard the story about the upcoming games based on the Lord of the Rings franchise. Vivendi/Black Label have earned the right to publish games based on the literary works while EA owns the rights to the motion pictures, and while the motion pictures are indeed based on the novels, there are minor storylines and sequences that must be taken out in order to create a fascinating story. Since Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings is based on the novel, you can expect it to include far more storylines and scenes than the movie did, but does that necessarily equate to a better experience?
I was forced to read the book back in high school and I’ll say it now, I hate it. Tolkien’s stories seemed to be too long-winded and drawn out for me. I’m not going to take the time to explain the story but here’s a brief overview. Hobbit gets ring, old guy tells him to go to forge to destroy it, hobbit sets out on quest with other hobbits. Dwarf, ranger, elf and sorcerer come together, story has no end. Sorry if I spoiled it for the people who have yet to read it.
I’m going to give this game credit right now, but don’t get used to it because it won’t be happening very often in this review. The storyline remains rather faithful to the novel. Not an easy task, especially when you consider the scope of Tolkien’s novel. Of course this also means that the game is entirely linear. Even though there are certain sequences in the game where you will be offered a choice, it doesn’t really matter which selection you choose because the outcome will be the same anyways. Some of the environments may be large an expanse but they’re all for naught because eventually you’ll be forced to follow the set path. Mountains and extremely shallow creeks serve as your artificial boundaries in this adventure. I also found it rather odd that although the rest of the Fellowship travels along with you on your quest, they only appear during cutscenes. The rest of the time you’ll only see your character, kind of like the old traditional RPGs of yore. The only times they’ll appear are during large events or boss battles. They’re not much help though and seem to only be along for the ride.
Of course you’ll assume control of Frodo Baggins, Tolkien’s version of a midget. You’ll wander around the lands in search of this forge so that you can demolish the ring once and for all. Via a 3rd person action/adventure (with a heavy emphasis on action) you’ll be able to freely roam the lands and interact with the inhabitants, as well as the environment (nothing beats hitting chickens with clubs for no apparent reason). There are no RPG elements so don’t expect to level up or advance your character here, you’ll be playing the exact same character throughout the course of the game. LotR gets mediocre rather quickly, it’s always do this or do that, especially in the beginning. Being everyone’s errand boy isn’t as glamorous as TV makes it seem, damn them for lying to us!
Combat is fairly mundane in the beginning and unfortunately, it never really does pick up. It involves the exact same routine, spot an enemy and mash the A button. You’ll have the option to block also but it really is counterintuitive, you’ll lose health for every attack you block. Block too many attacks and you’ll be dead a lot sooner than you’d like. You generally have a better chance of survival by just running at your enemies and hacking away like Paul Bunyan on crack. It’s really sad too, because the combat is exactly the same no matter where you are in the game. Enemies never really do get smarter and although they don different clothing and outfits, they’re basically just foxes in sheep’s clothing.
As far as I’m concerned there are only two types of enemies, a) ones that run at you and try to hit you over the head and b) ones that sit back and toss random objects at you. Both of them are pretty run of the mill and suffer from some poor AI coding. B-type enemies must have had their feet glued to the ground because they are unable to move towards you to attack you. That means that they’ll only attack you from their position and only their position, just move out of their range and you’re home free. Type A enemies suffer from the same amount of stupidity. Most of the time they’ll just stand idly by as you beat their asses into the ground. Hit one of them in the back? You can expect them to stand there and take it like a man. Of course they’ll have weapons in their hands but hey, who said that everyone knows how to use a club? Then of course you have the enemies that run around in circles for no apparent reason, it’s amusing at first until you realize that the guys who tested this game for hours on end actually let this fall through the cracks.
Boss battles are equally as bad. As I mentioned above, the Fellowship appears beside you during the large boss battles. The problem? They literally just sit there on their collective asses and do absolutely nothing. There are certain sequences where they give off the illusion that they are actually fighting and being helpful but again, it’s all for show. They can’t die and for some reason, they don’t deal out any damage. They’re just like the extras in the background of those cheesy westerns, they’ll attack each other but they’ll never die.
This game seems to have an awful lot going against it and to be honest, it does. There are quite a few positives, however. WXP has done a great job of bringing the environment to life. You’ll notice leaves falling from trees as you run through the town, butterflies and birds flying about, beautifully rendered water and a whole host of attractive details. I especially like the way the villages look, they really have the whole fantasy, geekdom sort of locales down pat. The entire look of the game definitely fits the image that popped into my head as I was reading the novel.
Though the game looks fairly good, the overall visual package is average at best. Too many corners were cut with the details, cabinets and chests will magically open with the press of a button. Even when there are animations to go with these actions they’re really poorly done. You can even open doors without facing them, only to have Frodo reach out in the direction that you’re facing. Oh well, maybe he just has a way of magically doing things? The draw distance is horrendous, it looks far because of the static backgrounds as opposed to the rendered environment. The videos are just absolutely horrendous, it’s just about some of the worst you’re going to encounter this year. Combat is also pretty bad, it really could have benefited from the addition of a few more frames of action. The rest of the animations are also pretty bad, don’t expect this game to win any awards for technical achievement.
This game looks to have been designed on two completely different engines. The outdoor engine on the one hand runs extremely well and suffers from minimal amounts of lag and load times, but enter a building? You can expect to be greeted by an extremely long load time for an environment that is absolutely uninspired. A wall of nothingness’ll greet you as the word “loading” is spotted on the top of the screen, only after waiting for 10-15 seconds will the interior environment appear. I’m not certain as to the merits behind this because the rest of the game runs so damn efficiently. Saving and Loading a game takes little to no time, this simply shouldn’t be happening.
Perhaps the best aspect of this debacle resides in the audio department. Each of the lines are spoken quite clearly (complete with cheap phony accents) and seem to fit in really well with the context. Horrible voice acting can really cripple a title but thankfully, it really helps keep you in this game. The music is also nice, featuring a nice mix of the fairytale/fantasy fodder, easily cinematic quality. It’s also dynamic so you’ll notice subtle changes as you approach danger or safety. Combat noises are fairly well done but then again, can you really screw up the noise that a wooden stick makes? The Dolby Digital helps engulf you in the environment and makes good use of the rear channels for atmosphere.
There’s so much more that this game could have been and to be honest, that’s what this game is all about. Not enjoying it, not having a great time, but wondering literally “what could have been.” This game is filled to the brim with potential and other facets of the media have problem that an entertaining adaptation of this novel is indeed possible. Indeed it is, but just don’t come looking for it in Black Label and WXP’s latest title.
Getting lost in the world of the Hobbits? Gaming Nexus used Prima Guides' in-depth Strategy Guide to navigate the foreign lands. With excellent maps and step-by-step details you can't go wrong!
Filled to the brim with potential, Lord of the Rings fails to deliver on nearly all levels. Much was expected from this game and sadly, it will do far more to disappoint than to please. Only die-hard fans need apply.
Rating: 6.1 Flawed
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile