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Tycho / on Mon, Oct 11 2004 at 10:00 pm

LOTR: Third Age

It’s almost midnight, so if I want even a passing chance at not being a liar I’d better crack out that Third Age thing.

I’ve been meaning to talk about the ways EA has been using Lord of the Rings ever since I saw Battle for Middle Earth at the San Diego Comic Con, and by now of course everyone probably knows every God Damned thing there is to know about it.  Squad level combat, unparalleled graphics, unfuckingbelievable world maps and a crafty UI and resource system.  I would go over there and bother the EA guys at their booth in the morning before the hall opened and it was always one of my favorite parts of the day. 

See, they’d done some neat stuff with the “franchise,” by which I mean Tolkien’s much beloved work of genre defining and globe consuming power.  They had published some perfectly amusing hack and slash games that didn’t overstay their welcome and were released in a timely fashion.  Battle for Middle Earth was something else.  This was the C&C Generals guys with their balls out, motioning passersby to gaze upon them, to gauge the size comparative to balls they might have seen hanging from other games.  They were starting to take real chances with the setting, and when you look at Battle for Middle Earth you get the impression that they aren’t sparing any expense.     

Understand that this is a game that looked pretty good, great even, at E3 - but there wasn’t really gameplay to be seen.  It was essentially showing scenes from the film rendered in engine, which was a nice effect, but it gave me the impression that safety was still the primary concern.  There was another game on the same demo reel, on the screens right outside the typically gargantuan, “EA In The Hizouse” booth that is usually the first thing you see at the annual event.  Wasn’t a whole lot to it, but it was clearly an RPG in the vein of Final Fantasy X where your guys were on your side and theirs were on theirs, turns were being taken, and I was intrigued but this was the first I’d seen of it.  I performed the mental calculations and presumed I wouldn’t need to pay attention again for another year, two years at least.   

It comes out on the second of November.

I don’t think it is going to consume the world in fire and usher in a pure age, but I think it will be a game with a serious story, feature characters set in a world I want very much to explore on my own terms, and be executed in a way that is stylish and technologically savvy.  The game actually winds through the events of all three films, which surprised me - I thought for sure they were already counting their RPG Trilogy money.  It’s important to note that the characters that form your core group are not people you already know about.  Your party is made up of the races you’d expect, with the abilities you want desperately to utilize against the ravaging Uruk-Hai - they’re similar to the protagonists from the books and films, but have their own motivations and cross paths with the Fellowship on more than one occasion.  Just how vile your opponents are has been captured with their modeling and their striking animation, and the sound - coming as it does directly from a film trilogy costing hundreds of millions of dollars - is applied to the game with grace and strength.  I actually found the audible ferocity of my foes a little unnerving, and the cues which accompanied the more potent techniques I saw were simply perfect.   

Just as in Final Fantasy IX, a friend can plug in a controller and effectively play through the combats co-operatively.  Right now, we’re wrapping up (the still excellent) Shadow Hearts so we can start and finish Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne before the second of November.  I don’t know if we can do it.  But God Dammit, we’ve got to try.   


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