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Lord of the Rings: The Third Age

We slay orcs and trolls in the latest build.
by IGN Staff

October 14, 2004 - The Beginning...

Regardless of how cool anyone thinks they are, there's just something about the Lord of the Rings that forces the inner dweeb in all of us to come bubbling to the surface. Let's face it; the literary masterpiece covers all the basics: hot elf babes, wicked-cool magical powers and weapons of orc destruction.

It may have been surprising for Hollywood executives to green light the film adaptation with a practically un-proven director, but it's no surprise the three films went on to gross a zillion dollars.

A movie adaptation satiated the needs of film fans, but what about gamers? Where do they go for their own special brand of Tolkien-based heroics? Now there's an answer. Lord of the Rings: The Third Age delivers orc-crunching action spanning the entire trilogy.

And while you can't play as any of the main characters, the experience parallels the events from the movies closely, allowing for several run-ins with the characters from the original story.

To prove we're not high off the Hobbit's leaf (sorry, I had to) we've taken the latest build of The Third Age for a spin. We've spilt gallons of orc blood and trampled on Sauron's minions to bring you this updated preview. Full details down below.

A Tale of Two Previews

IGN posted an earlier, in-depth preview on an early build of The Third Age back in June. At the time, The Third Age looked damn impressive. Borrowing from one of the greatest literary masterpieces of our time, the epic RPG claimed to have it all. It married classic RPG elements with a hot license and juiced its source material for all it was worth.

Plus, it featured epic battles with notorious monsters we've all seen on the big screen. Thankfully, the game still looks to impress upon release. Having said that, EA has been hard at work tinkering their epic RPG--cutting things here, adding things there--to smoothen the experience. We've run through a portion of an advanced build of the game to bring you up to speed on some of the changes EA decided to implement.

The Only Constant is…

Change. It happens all the time. So what has changed in the months between the first preview and this one? For starters, the game now looks far sharper than an in the earlier test build. Textures look sharper and there's been an extra layer of polish added to just about everything. Characters boast an increase in detail all-around.

Facial expressions have been cleaned up and now look more defined. Armor, shields and helmets benefit from the same treatment. Although subtle, these improvements ultimately serve to enhance the overall game experience. After all, a huge chunk of fun associated with playing a big license game is having it look like the property it's based on.

Character animations have also been sped up, most noticeable during combat. One of the few complaints I had with the earlier build was the slow speed with which characters performed special attacks. Nothing entirely brain-detonating, as Final Fantasy fans know that awesome spell attacks are worth waiting for, but the boost in speed is a welcome change nonetheless. EA has also done a snazzy job of making character animation during magic attacks and special moves look smooth, marking a definite improvement over earlier builds.

Another issue present in earlier builds was difficulty. Slaying orcs and goblins by the hundreds came way too easily. Of course, the lax in difficulty made you level insanely fast. It seemed every encounter would result in an increase in level. EA seems to have addressed the issue somewhat. Enemies seem to deal more damage per attack than before and can take more of a beating.

Of course, EA has left most things untouched. And for good reason: they work remarkably well. The combat system harkens to old-school RPGs that fans of the genre have grown to love. The environments and characters look as though they've been ripped straight from the recent trilogy. And the musical score is as grand and moving as any Hollywood epic.

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