The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Review

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (FOTR) is an adventure game based on Tolkein's book of the same name.  While this means that the characters and locations won't resemble those in the excellent film adaptation of the book, it also means that the game's designers have the freedom to include far more of the story than was possible in the film.  Tom Bombadil, the Barrow Downs, and a whole host of details were cut from the film by the need to keep its running time under six hours.  With RPG games providing 40, 50, and even over 60 hours of gameplay these days, the opportunity is there to make a true homage to The Fellowship of the Ring that encompasses the full experience of the book.  Unfortunately, with this game it is a missed opportunity, and we're left with a mediocre effort that would fare even worse were it not for the epic storyline provided by Tolkein.

The game is played from the third person view, and during the course of the game you'll have the opportunity to take control of Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf.  The playable characters in FOTR are given the characteristics of traditional RPG classes.  Frodo has thief-like skills, such as a stealthy ability to sneak past enemies.  As the Ring Bearer, he can also use the One Ring to turn invisible, but at a price.  Aragorn is a fighter and both a swordsman and an archer. As a wizard, Gandalf is a magic-user and the only one who can cast spells.  Although other members of the Fellowship will accompany you through the levels,  they will often be off-screen and don't really do much when they are around.  Sometimes they'll join you in battle, but far more often you'll be locked in combat as your companions stand around and watch.  That's when they're even around.  Most of the time you'll be walking around solo which is just kind of odd for a game based on The Fellowship of the Ring, not The Solo-ship of the Ring.

You begin the game in the Shire as Frodo, and must tie up a few loose ends before heading off to Bree with the One Ring.  Bag End looks great and is filled with little details, as is Hobbiton and the rest of the Shire.  Unfortunately, like the One Ring the shiny exterior belies an emptiness inside.  Bag End looks comfortable and inviting, and is filled with cabinets, bookshelves, and a kitchen with a meal cooking on the stove, yet you can't interact with anything.  Your first task is to find the deed to Bag End, so you run around the place until you run into the one trunk that opens and the deed is added to your inventory.  Outside Bag End, the Shire looks pretty good and features hobbits going about their day, singing birds, and a brook running through town.  However, things aren't as expansive as they at first appear to be.  Try to run up a slope on what appears to be a path and wham, you run into an invisible barrier.  Kind of shatters the illusion.

On your way to deliver the deed to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, you'll encounter a miller missing a rod for the mill and a farmer with a stuck weathervane.  These are tough puzzles to solve, as the rod is stuck in the weathervane.  Five minutes into the game and three puzzles down.  So it's off to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, who for some reason won't accept the deed from you unless you summon the sheriff by ringing the town bell.  The bell is right across the path from Lobelia's house, so you need to turn around and toss a rock at it.  Next, you need to return to Bag End to get the Ring.  That's it.  In a single paragraph I've given you a walkthrough for the first level. 

The game is not made up entirely of simple adventure puzzles.  After the first third of the story, the game becomes more of an action/adventure.  There is a fair amount of fighting involved as you traverse the linear paths between the story's major locations such as Bree, Rivendell, and Moria.  The various monsters that you'll encounter don't always correspond to those in the book, as Frodo seems to run into more than his share of giant spiders.  The combat system is a fairly simple clicking affair, but is handicapped by a camera that far too often swings around in the wrong direction.  Playing as Gandalf adds some powerful magic to your arsenal, but his spells are limited by his magical energy and there never seem to be enough potion bottles around to restore it.  Funny, Gandalf never seemed to require energy to cast spells in the book.

What should be the most powerful item in the game, the One Ring, is almost a non-factor.  Frodo can use the Ring to turn invisible, and when he does the visual effect is pretty good.  Flames surround the edges of the screen and Frodo appears almost translucent.  Using the Ring, Frodo is slowly corrupted as represented by a "purity meter."  Should the meter become empty, Frodo falls to the minions of Sauron.  Purity slowly restores over time. and can recuperate more quickly when in the presence of some of the other characters in the game.  The problem is that using the Ring is not critical to success in the game - you can complete it easily enough without ever using the Ring.  The power of the Ring is supposed to present an almost overwhelming temptation to all who encounter it.  Why then is it so easily ignored in the game?  There should be moments that force you to make a critical decision on whether or not to use the Ring.  The temptation should be strong, and the consequences heavy, and you should be rewarded for doing things the hard way and avoiding the use of the Ring.

In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 56%.  FOTR is a short game, and does not capture the epic scope of the work which inspired it.  With such great material to work with, it is sad to see the missed opportunity this game represents.  We can only hope that a much better effort is put into the game adaptation of The Two Towers.

System Requirements:  Pentium III 600; 128 MB RAM;  32 MB Video RAM; 4x CD-ROM;  800 MB Hard Drive Space;  Mouse.


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