Serious Lord of the Rings fans may want to steer clear.
I’ve been a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings since I was in Junior High. I have the $75 engraved one-volume edition of the book and have spent a good portion of my time learning how to write in Elvish scripts. I enjoyed the films thoroughly, but I have steered far clear of the games since my first experience with one on the Super NES. Still, I approached The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age with a blank slate when the bored representative called my attention to the game so he could get a break from playing it repeatedly.
The current demo is actually quite short. Strangely similar to the Mega Man X: Command Mission demo, it only consists of two battles, some cut-scenes, and a short walk in-between.
The game puts you in the role of another group of adventurers loosely following the same path as the Fellowship, and as you play you can also control characters from the movie as you cross paths or even unlock the ability to play as the monsters. The representative used a debug option to play as both sides to demonstrate the option. It’s generic turned-based RPG action, with options to use specific weapon or magic types, etc.
While the heroes’ models could use some work, the trolls and balrog being shown are huge and intricately detailed. The limited environments we saw also look pretty good, and one of the bigger draws of the game may simply be venturing out to the countryside and wandering around Middle Earth.
Unfortunately, nothing in the art design and limited gameplay shown can outshine the liberties taken with the license, glaring as brightly as the Eye of Sauron, especially for serious fans of the book. The first idiosyncrasy is this second fellowship, which may be selectable by the player, but in the demo consists of an elf, a dwarf, and men from Gondor. This group merrily jaunting around Middle Earth for no apparent purpose undermines the uniqueness of the real Fellowship and the unlikeliness of the brotherhood Legolas and Gimli grow to have. The next is that this group just happens to be in the Mines of Moria just in time to walk up and join the battle between Gandalf and the balrog, disregarding Gandalf’s warning to the Fellowship that “this foe is beyond any of you." And to top it all off, the “finishing blow" on the balrog consists of the elf casting “Water Steed," just like it were any other generic RPG spell, and drenching the balrog in the same river of horses that takes down the black riders in the first film. Afterwards an abbreviated clip from The Two Towers takes over as Gandalf engages in the real battle.
I’m sure a lot of people won’t mind and will just want to romp around Middle Earth and get a longer look at some of the enemies and the environments. However, I feel that fans like myself that respect Tolkien’s painstaking work – having created a fantasy world that has its own languages and cultures and has reasons for everything even if it’s not explicitly explained – I feel that those people will be upset that EA has taken those assets, ignored the details and underlying logic, and left a shell of what they think might look cool.