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Game Over Online ~ Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

GameOver Game Reviews - Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (c) Universal Interactive, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (c) Universal Interactive
System Requirements Xbox
Overall Rating 60%
Date Published Monday, December 2nd, 2002 at 09:56 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Shortly after the film was released, word was that games were already in production from Vivendi Universal in anticipation of all the cinematic hype. They chose, however, to base their license on the book and I remember reading various interviews about how the developers painstakingly tried to translate the words of Tolkien into a splendid looking story-heavy title. The novel, being intricately detailed, was simple and easy for this task. And my expectations for the title, especially considering what I saw on the Game Boy Advance, was one where adventure would take precedence over action. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for the Xbox, unfortunately, is one where the action takes precedence over the adventure and it plays on the game's weaknesses rather than its strengths.

The first component of Fellowship is where you assume the role of Frodo. Like in the film, you'll try to escape from the shire but not without performing some side quests and errands before you're able to actually leave. This looked like a tutorial section to the Game Boy Advance Fellowship. In that game, it was subsequently followed up with devious and sometimes diabolical puzzles based on the fiction itself. The Fellowship begins as an adventure title when you act as a courier from one place to another and explore the life of a hobbit. This is arguably what most of the novel is about, walking from place to place, exploring the life, pondering about good versus evil and getting a good look at the different flora and fauna across Middle Earth.

It feels like the succeeding parts of Fellowship were done after the cinematic cutscenes and the story of the first portion because Fellowship subsequently degenerates into one combat scene after another. In this sense, it's a lot more like the film than the novel. By the very end of Fellowship, it even degenerates to the level of Diablo or Hunter: The Reckoning because, by that time, it absolutely doesn't need the plot to sustain the action.

The visuals, unfortunately, follow this downward trend. As you progress deeper into the game, into settings like Moria, you end up noticing that the meticulous attention to detail of the first half all disappear by this time. Elements that were so polished before, including things like monsters, animation and combat pacing, suddenly walk off a cliff steeper than banner advertising did with websites. Luckily, the audio remains consistent and while the soundtrack isn't a smash hit, holistically speaking, it doesn't waver in its performance until the very last bar.

Unfortunately, the battles themselves are not that interesting. It feels like they were inserted because of lack of time or out of convenience to the developer. Neither Aragorn nor Gandalf really turn the game up a notch. The spellcasting system is arcade-like. There's really no progression like in RPG titles so the spells end up being colorful versions of projectile weapons. The melee combat is limited and again, the lack of skill upgrades and sophisticated combos turn the combat into a busy hack and slash affair.

Even the ring itself is more hackneyed than anything; putting it on for Frodo simply gets you access to hidden areas. How very original indeed. It easily could have been integrated into the story in a stronger manner. Then there's the stealth component, which is a little useless, considering most of your opponents can be baited and beaten with ease.

The theatrical success, ipso facto, raised the bar for games based on Lord of the Rings immeasurably. Fellowship, for the Xbox, is a title that misses that mark. Its brevity and limited depth really hurts, rather than helps it. Understandably, the game was probably made easier to cater to a larger audience but the frequent resort to frivolous combat is not what the novel was about. Ironically, this entire license was built on the novel and not the movie. But upon playing through the action sequences, you would think otherwise.

When you have such a powerful console system, it's all the more ironic that the story-laden Game Boy Advance captures the zeitgeist of the novel better than the Xbox. While we've yet to see the Two Towers games (which have the benefit of being an instant hit and EA gaining the movie license) that are to come shortly, Fellowship will most certainly not be the magnum opus in the gaming trilogy.

There is an initial rush and glimpse of Tolkien's novel in the early going. The ensuing action lacks punch and never arcs to a point to make any of the combat substantial. That's why I believe Fellowship is a hand of cards played wrong. Adventure should have taken precedence over action and not the other way around.


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