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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Score: 65%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games
Developer: WXP
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (LOTR: FOTR) sports lovely 3D graphics. The environments are richly detailed, with pleasing textures and dynamic lighting. Environments, while not totally interactive, do provide a good amount of interactivity, which brings the world alive. Special effects are well done, and overall, the graphics are very good.

Animation, while mostly top notch, does occasionally suffer from clipping. You learn to ignore it, but you wish you didn't have to. Also, although the camera recenters itself and you can adjust it at will, it can be quite irritating to deal with. Other than these problems, there's not much to complain about in the graphics department.

Sound, while generally good, does occasionally suffer from some poor sound effects or voiceovers. Music, while not varied, is very well done and provides a lot of ambience. Having just complained about voiceovers, it must be stated that there are lots of them and they provide much needed background to the game. In addition, there are a lot of non-interactive cut scenes, all viewed in letterbox format, that add a tremendous amount to the story.


Gameplay:

LOTR: FOTR is a traditional action-adventure. The game includes lots of quests, both large and small, as well as puzzles, jumping, climbing, sequences where stealthy movement is required, and fighting. You play the game as three characters from the J.R.R Tolkien book: Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn. The characters are introduced at various times during the game, depending on what is happening in the story.

The game uses a third-person perspective predominately, although you can switch to first-person view at any time. First-person view is necessary for targeting ranged weapons, but movement is not allowed, so its use is limited. As mentioned before, the camera can be adjusted, although there are some situations where it is locked. Also, as you move your character, the camera will generally rotate to provide a rear view of him.

Depending on the character you are playing, different types of actions are allowed. Jumping, climbing and stealthy movement are important for Frodo, who generally avoids battles, but for Aragorn, combat with sword and bow is far more important. Gandalf, on the other hand, mostly uses spells to get through the game. The various characters provide much needed variety in the game.

In addition to the actions described above, you will find lots of objects to pick up or interact with during the game, and many characters to perform quests for. As in most games of this type, healing your character is mostly handled by drinking potions, although occasionally this happens automatically at campsites. Gandalf can heal himself through a spell, and there is a potion he can drink to refresh his magical power.

Frodo carries The Ring with him, and he can use it to remain invisible to enemies. Unfortunately, it really only ends up being a device that allows him access to hidden areas, and has no real bearing on the game. There is a meter that shows his purity, and the more he uses The Ring, the less pure he is. In practice, its use is superficial.

Quests are either given by the people you interact with, or through the current situation. If the pig farmer cannot round up his swine, then you are given the quest to round them up yourself. This single quest might turn into several, including finding food to put in their trough, as well as carry each pig back into the fenced area. For these types of quests, you are usually rewarded with items. Sometimes these items help you complete other quests, or they just provide much needed inventory items. Situational quests include such things as finding a needed key, the lever to a switch, or maybe traversing a particular region of the game.


Difficulty:

While combat is generally not too difficult, some boss creatures will take many attempts to beat. Puzzles can sometimes be fairly obscure and take quite a while to figure out. You can save the game at any time, and create as many save games as you wish, so it is never necessary to play large sections of the game over and over again. Overall, the game is pretty easy, and there are no difficulty settings, so there's no way to make it any harder.

The sheer variety of actions presents the most difficulty, as you have to travel all over the various areas, completing quests for a number of people, and fighting large quantities of foul creatures. Although people have reported taking as little as four hours to complete the game, if you do everything you can do, and watch all of the cut scenes, it will probably take closer to ten hours.


Game Mechanics:

The Xbox controller is used to good effect in Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. The left thumbstick moves the character, while the directional pad allows you to select weapons, potions, and other items from your inventory. The white button and the right trigger provide an alternative means of accessing your inventory, while the black button always uses the currently selected item. The left trigger provides targeting functions, while the A button attacks, the B button blocks, Y allows the character to jump, and X interacts with the person or object the character is facing. The right thumbstick rotates the camera, as well as allows you to toggle between first and third person perspectives.

An on screen bar allows you to keep track of your character's health, and a second bar is available depending on which character you are controlling. If it's Frodo, it serves as a purity meter, and for Gandalf, the available magical energy. For Aragorn, it's only shown if he is guarding someone, and then it displays that person's health.

The currently selected weapon and inventory item is shown on screen, but a separate inventory screen allows you to get a more detailed look at the items your character is carrying. Items are picked up automatically as the character moves over them, although sometimes it can be tricky to pinpoint an item's exact location. Items flash on the ground, or in the shelf or cabinet they reside in, but unless you move the character directly over the item, they will not pick it up.

When playing as Frodo, the left thumbstick can be used for sneaking. There are situations when he is trying to evade someone, and an on screen light shows whether the person has detected Frodo or not. Frodo also has the opportunity to climb ladders, jump over or across obstacles, jump or fall and grasp ledges, and shimmy along edges. For the other characters, walking and running are the only two movement options. Frodo and Gandalf are required to occasionally push items like boxes or boulders in order to complete puzzles, and Frodo can carry objects. All characters are required to open doors or activate switches and levers, as well as break items using the currently selected weapon.

Combat is frequent, and all characters can engage in both melee and ranged combat. Switching between weapons or inventory items while involved in combat is tricky, which makes spell casting sometimes seem less than useful. Ranged combat is very useful, and quite enjoyable too. Melee attacks can be charged by holding the A button down for a bit before releasing it, but timing is critical, which means often times the charge is lost before you can hit an enemy.

Quests are tracked through a very nice log, which you can easily page through, and which dynamically updates. Quests are automatically accepted, and rarely do you have any choices during the game. Some quests are marked as optional though, so you can choose to disregard them if you wish. Many quests are trivial, and early quests expose you to the interface, serving as a tutorial of sorts.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is an enjoyable game, although flawed in many ways. While the game mechanics are generally sound, some aspects are too difficult to practically use. Camera control is sometimes wacky, and navigating inventory items and weapons can be quite tricky. Combat is fun, and while the game does track fairly well with the book the game is based on, quests are often so trivial it belittles the source material. Overall, if you are huge fan of the book and movie, or of the fantasy genre in general, and you don't mind putting up with the negative aspects of the game, you will enjoy LOTR: FOTR. If, on the other hand, you are looking for the definitive video adaptation, then you will probably want to wait for future games based on the Tolkien trilogy.


-Gordy, GameVortex Communications
AKA Gary Lucero

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