STAFF REVIEW of The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Xbox)

Saturday, November 23, 2002.

The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Box art The bottom line is that The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of The Ring is fun to play. I didn't say it was a blast, or I was blown away, but it was a satisfactory time nonetheless. The chief problem for FOTR is the extensive amount of time that it takes to get into the game. The controls are done astonishingly well, so it is possible to ?pop n play?. However, I also must assume you have either (a), read the book or (b), seen the movie. If you have not done either, do not waste your life and continue to read this review. It will have no impact on your buying decision, because you will on no account want to buy it. There are too many characters with a multitude of things going on. From a personal view, I?m not all that big on side quests. They don?t accomplish much, and I myself want to get through the game without wandering around looking for eggs and honeycomb for Fatty. I do not have time to be looking for metal pins or cider. Why? Simply because in a quest driven game you are finding enough stuff already. While some side quests might be useful to get something special, there is a reason they are optional. Luckily they are pretty much limited to the beginning of the game. However, some people might not like this because side quests do lengthen the game, especially a short one such as FOTR. Unless you are a LOTR fan, don't even bother with this game. Now that we have that out of the way let?s go over why if you picked (b) a little while back you would not enjoy this game. The game is licensed by Tolkien Enterprises, so you can expect to find many neat additions that can not be found in the movie. The only issue I have is that there are more video gamers who have seen the movie than the book. Identifying with characters is very important, especially when you are playing a licensed game (albeit this is licensed on the books). If I am playing a James Bond game, I will insist Bond to look like Pierce Brosnan (or whoever is Bond at that time). The voice acting by the actor is also a very good bonus. In FOTR you want to be Frodo to be Elijah Wood. You want Frodo to sound like Elijah Wood. Even though this shouldn?t be an issue because this game is based solely on the book, you can?t help but think of the actions and events that took place in the movie. It was just an unlucky time for the game to come out, because you can?t avoid this comparison. Anyway, if you can get around of the whole idea that this game is not based on the movie, and because of that you will do a lot of different things, the game is actually quite engaging. Of course, the game has a great storyline. On the other hand, a big problem is that the game constantly changes directions. It starts as an adventure game, and then you get a taste of the action, and then it seems like you are playing Tetris because of all the puzzles, which are just exasperating and involve you to simply pull a box, move a crate or smash a barrel. It?s a shame Black Label Games had such a great story and they couldn?t complete the aspects of a game. It was still a good effort.

Except for the shortcomings mentioned above, the gameplay of FOTR is?well?average. It is very slow and tedious in the beginning, which can only make people throw down the game and wish they never bought it. This is an unfortunate fact in the video game industry. If the game comes off bad in your first impression, then you are very likely to never play it again and not recommend it to anyone else either, and both hurt the makers of the game. You need action right from the start. FOTR does not have this. In fact, I might as well go out and say this?RPGs really are starting to have trouble with fighting. I don't know why as this is, or should be one of the most important aspects. FOTR fighting gets old, almost instantaneously. Call it Hack and Slash, call it Blast and Block, or even call it Hit and Run from the terrible enemy AI. I think you should go with the last one, if you are a truthful person. The fact is that due to energy constraints, blocking can not always be used, and you don?t want to just stand there and take the hits, so you jut hit a few times and get behind the enemy and so some more hitting. Your so called friends don't even help you fight. They are usually missing or gone, and even in the huge battles barely even life a finger. I guess Gandalf ran out of spells, and Aragon shot his last arrow. Not much strategy here. Well, I suppose in an RPG there are more gameplay elements than only fighting. The load times are pretty good, but it is annoying every time you try to go into a building, because it could turn out to just be a waste of time and it takes even additional time for the outside to load back again. The silly opening door animation is also horrid. It is the same action for every kind of door. Big or slam, rectangle or circular. You never see the door open, you just see yourself reaching out and pulling in while the door stays still and you go to the loading screen. All in all load times are decent. The story is wonderful, and the extra efforts to remain true to the book, while adding things to make the game fun are noticeable. Unfortunately, most of the main parts of the book are shortened. If you don't know what the ring even is, you will be confused. A little more could have been done to prevent this. The whole Council of Elrond scene should have been one of the most exciting in the game; at least I thought it would have been. In this game, if you blink you can miss it. The adventure part succeeds, and that?s where the fun comes in. It is enjoyable to be Frodo, Aragon and especially Gandalf. I wouldn?t have minded a whole game with only Gandalf. While FOTR introduces nothing not seen before in an RPG, its effort to remain true to the book is a very good one, with an adventure derived straight from the mind of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Call me a Graphics Buff. What can I say, except, ?I own an Xbox?. I bought it for the most cutting edge graphics, but I know superb graphics go not make a game great. Unfortunately even a sub-par game like FOTR can not be saved with graphics alone. Overall, the graphics are very good. The playable characters are modeled very well, especially when you think they are made from a book, and not an actual picture. Obviously there was much more time spent making the playable characters of Frodo, Aragon and Gandalf. All of their faces are smooth, and for the most part motions are realistic. I could be picky and say that it is realistic to stop walking once you reach a wall, and not keep trying to walk and have the walking animations even though you are at a wall?or even the mysterious disappearance of things that you throw when you are indoors?or even the blockyness of all the characters hands?but I will just be quiet because I have seen the environments. Anywhere outside looks great. In fact, it is not a step overboard to say outside is breathtaking-until you start to walk. Although the environments look similar to what the book describes, they do get old and can be a bit different. In the book it seems as if you could fun wild. You were Frodo. You were on a mission. The game is very linear. In some places, you can?t even walk on water, thanks to invisible fences which seem to keep you in. There are plenty of invisible path fences which you can?t cross. Oddly enough, there are even times where you can not jump over a fence, but 30 minutes ago you jumped over a fence that looked exactly the same. You can?t help but compare this RPG to any other, in this case let?s go with ?Morrowind?. While many found it to be a little of a let down, at least it was open ended. In FOTR you can?t do what you want, and in many cases there is only one way to do something. The game makes a success in making you feel like you are in jail. In fact, from the start you are plagued with quests to do things that could have been a bit more fluidly. So in the graphics department FOTR shines, but it definitely does not blind you with the glare of polish.

As far as sound goes, you can hear it. The same song over and over again. Actually, it only plays it when you are indoors so it isn?t that bad. Outside does sound like outside, with birds chirping and the like. Battle sound effects are average, nothing stunning. The voice acting is not stellar, but it works. It would have worked better if there was any mouth sync to the words, but this clearly was not even attempted. Once every 10 seconds or so the character might move his bottom lip, but the mouth wouldn?t even open. At this stage, you just wish that the music from the movie was taken. Like I said, it is unavoidable to not compare this title to the movie, especially when the movie is so much better.

Let?s do it again. Actually, the movie itself ruined the game, it was terrible and unfortunate timing because the game probably got released too soon just so it was out while all the LOTR hype was brewing.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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