The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Review

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (FOTR) is the official game based on the books of J.R.R. Tolkien.  This means that the locations and characters in the game won't resemble those in the movie of the same name, but that you'll get to play through events in the book that were not shown in the movie (e.g. the trek through the Barrow Downs).  The game itself is an action/adventure that lets you alternately control Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf as you move through the locations visited by our heroes in the book.

ScreenshotsThe playable characters in FOTR are given the characteristics of traditional RPG classes.  Frodo has thief-like skills, such as the ability to sneak past enemies and pick locks.  He can also become invisible by using The Ring, but more on that later.  Aragorn is a fighter, adept at both swordplay and archery.  Gandalf, of course, is a magic-user and the only one who can cast spells.  Other members of the Fellowship will accompany you through the levels, but they will often be off-screen and don't really do much when they are around.  In fact, there a few moments in the game when you'll be locked in combat as your companions stand around and watch.

The game opens in Hobbiton, with Frodo preparing to leave the Shire and begin his journey with the ring.  This opening act plays out as an adventure game, with Frodo traveling back and forth collecting items for lazy Hobbits such as the ingredients to make a pie.  Some of these tasks are optional and serve as opportunities to increase Frodo's "purity" - his ability to resist the corrupting influence of The Ring.  Frodo is free to use The Ring to turn invisible at any time, but doing so will corrupt him.  Should he lose all his purity to the corrupting influence of The Ring, he will succumb to its power and you will lose the game.  The Ring will also alert you when you are in the vicinity of a secret location that can only be entered while wearing The Ring. 

The use of The Ring in the game works better in theory than it does in practice.  When using The Ring, it is hard to see where you are going making it more difficult than it should be to sneak past enemies or find secret locations.  The corrupting influence also eats up your purity too quickly and there just are not enough opportunities to build it back up.  In fact, once you leave the Shire there doesn't seem to be any opportunity to perform good deeds and restore your purity.  If the payoff from entering the secret places justified the sacrifice of purity, then the use of The Ring would force the player to make some important tactical decisions during the game.  Unfortunately this is not the case.  The game does not award your characters with experience for defeating enemies or accomplishing tasks, and there aren't any special weapons to be found that will make your quest easier.  Invisibility is not that much of an asset either, as you can maneuver past enemies without all that much trouble anyway. 

After finishing your business in The Shire the game switches to stealth mode as you must avoid the Ring Wraiths looking for you.  This is one of the game's more suspenseful levels as you must sneak past patrolling Nazgul intent on blocking the exits from Hobbiton and getting their hands on Frodo.  They have a nasty habit of sneaking up on you from behind and giving you a start as they put an end to poor Frodo.

Unfortunately, it does not take too long to get past them and then it is back to standard adventure game fallbacks such as finding your way through forest mazes or collecting items scattered about.  None of these tasks are as difficult as they are tedious, and they leave you wishing the game's designers made the quests more challenging or puzzle-like.  Traipsing down forest paths that all look the same without the benefit of a map or clue as to which direction to go makes for tedium, and not exciting gameplay.

The puzzles that do appear in the game are very simple and easy to solve.  For example, you must collect leaves for a Hobbit's tea in one quest, only to find that the leaves all are pretty much out in the open and include a light above them to make sure that they can't be missed.  A missing gate hinge needed to escape Hobbiton with the Nazgul on your tail?  It's lying right inside the door of the the building right next to the gate.  Finding the hidden gate to Moria requires you to press X while standing in front of what obviously is the gate's location.  Not much to tax the brain here...