Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Game Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: 11/18/2002
$49.99 / $6.00: GameStop - Roseville: July 30, 2006
16:9 Support, 480p Support, Dolby Digital 5.1
Artistic vision is such a broad and varied thing. What I see in my mind’s eye when I read The Lord of the Rings is bound to be different than what anyone else sees. This difference is one of the most difficult points of contention when it comes to games and movies that are based on books. Anyone who has read the book has their own vision of what the world and its creatures should look like. The gamble that a developer or filmmaker takes is that their vision will be appealing to the thousands of other people who have their own. So, with the release of the The Fellowship of the Ring in both film and in game form, there are now two new visions of that world created by J. R. R. Tolkien, each with its own interpretation and limitations.
This is what I was thinking when I first took a look atThe Lord of the Rings™: The Fellowship of the Ring from Black Label Games. I had already seen the film version of the same story, and while I enjoyed it quite a bit, I recall noticing that there were a good number of things left out of the movie. Of course, there isn’t any way that the movie could include everything from the books, at least not without making it a five-hour long extravaganza. So, the question was, which route will the game take? Will it follow the book religiously, with only minor adjustments to the story and plot laid out by the original author? Or will it take the path of a more flexible artistic interpretation? While I respect anyone that has a compelling vision of their own, I tend to lean towards sticking to the original. And, holding true to the original story, is one thing that this game appears to do rather well. There are, of course, plenty of little additional details that are there purely for the game aspect of things, but the original story is still present underneath it all. My encounter with Tom Bombadil (who was unfortunately missing from the movie version) was enough to make me realize that.
Outside of the story itself, on the game side of things, one must realize that this game is geared more towards an adventure than an action title. The game boasts extensive puzzles and exploration. There is certainly combat involved, but a good portion of my playtime was spent trying to solve smaller sub quests and tasks, like helping a friend get the ingredients to make a pie or fixing the Mill. Once you realize that and stop approaching it like a combat game or shooter, then it really is quite enjoyable. The artistic style and gameplay are more along the lines of the cute and comic, rather than the dark and foreboding feel that one might expect from the books and movies.
I found the user interface to be pretty manageable, though switching through the inventory, in the middle of a battle (“Where did I put that healing item?”) could make my life a little bit hectic. The pace of gameplay is rather moderate and easily managed. I didn’t often feel rushed to finish a task or get somewhere. As odd as it may seem, running like mad wasn’t the first thing I thought of when I encountered the Ring Wraiths (the dark riders). I was inclined more towards a slow and stealthy approach. The movement and camera controls are similar to games like Azurik, so if you are comfortable with that, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting used to the layout in The Fellowship of the Ring.
All things considered, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found in this rendition of the classic work of J.R.R. Tolkien. It is actually rather well thought out and treats the original story with the sort of reverence and respect that those of us with a passion for such things appreciate. While heart-pounding excitement may not be the name of the game, it is an excellent attempt at telling a long and powerful story. My hat goes off to the developers.
J.R.R. Tolkien's seminal fantasy work The Lord of the Rings has generated an astounding amount of new interest recently for a series of books released half a century ago. Most of this attention is focused on New Line Cinema's production of three films based on the trilogy, but some of the Rings buzz is now spilling into video games as well. Not surprisingly, games based on the first book (and movie) in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, have begun to appear, and one of them has landed recently for the Xbox. Interestingly, the Xbox rendition of Fellowship is based directly on the first book of the series and shares no overt ties with the movie released last Christmas. Unfortunately, it seems that even the blessing of Tolkien Enterprises isn't enough to save the game from its bland design and tedious gameplay.
If you have read The Lord of the Rings, seen the first movie, or even lived for a little while in a world where Tolkien's epic is so pervasive, you should be at least somewhat familiar with the storyline of The Fellowship of the Ring. The game stars diminutive Frodo Baggins, a hobbit who has undertaken a quest to destroy the One Ring, a magic ring that contains all the power and malice of the dark lord Sauron. Frodo is joined by his friends Sam, Merry, and Pippin, the crusty but benevolent old wizard Gandalf, the ranger Aragorn, the warrior Boromir of Gondor, Gimli the dwarf, and Legolas the elf. Together, these eight must accompany Frodo as he bears the ring to Mount Doom, the only place in Middle-earth where it can be destroyed. Of course, Frodo and his friends will have to evade the forces of the enemy and seek out friends among the free peoples of Middle-earth.
The Fellowship of the Ring is set up much like a typical Zelda-style third-person adventure game. It lets you assume the roles of three of the fellowship's members at various times of the game--Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf are all playable at times dictated by the storyline. Each of the heroes has the same basic moves, like attacking with a sword or walking stick, jumping, and using common inventory items. All three characters have unique gameplay aspects, as well. Frodo can sneak past enemies, as hobbits are wont to do; Aragorn has a bow with multiple types of arrows; and Gandalf has command of a range of magic spells. Each hero also has access to a few character-specific items, such as Frodo's ability to use the One Ring to become invisible. Overall, the three playable characters are distinct enough that the gameplay feels fairly varied throughout.
Though it has all the familiar adventure-game trappings, The Fellowship of the Ring is hardly the best game you'll play in that category. For one, your objectives are never more complicated than “take item X to place Y” or "escape the current area," and as such, they can get pretty predictable after a while. The early parts of the game, which you play as Frodo, are especially bad about sending you on too many fetch quests. For another, the fighting system is rather clumsy, and you'll find yourself cursing as enemies get in cheap hits and unfairly block your own attacks. Perhaps the only enjoyable aspect of the game's combat involves Gandalf and his magic, but you play most of the game as Frodo or Aragorn, who are limited mainly to frustrating melee combat. The game's lock-on feature, which is somewhat reminiscent of the one used in the Zelda games on the N64, is effective only when it doesn't ruin your perspective on the action. A pile of other minor technical issues round out this list, such as a very jerky and hard-to-control camera and some very unpleasant bugs. One of these bugs, a heinous lock-up issue that crops up upon starting a new game, has been addressed by the game's publisher. We observed another lock-up later on in the game, however, as well as a couple of collision-detection problems, such as falling through a seemingly solid floor. In short: Caveat emptor.
Fans of the original literary trilogy may be especially interested in The Fellowship of the Ring on the Xbox, as it purports to bypass the recent movie entirely, instead drawing its inspiration directly from the novel. However, upon playing the game, one may realize that the game's connection to the book is slightly dubious. It does follow the events of the book a bit more closely than the film--the old songster Tom Bombadil makes a weighty appearance, for instance. But for all the talk of adherence to its source material, The Fellowship of the Ring on the Xbox lacks the power of Tolkien's masterwork. It's rushed but not urgent, it's dark with no real sense of melancholy, and its characters seem to be going through the motions of a story whose outcome they already know. To those looking for just another adventure game, this complaint must sound like a nitpick, but for those who hold the trilogy dear, it's disappointing that the game fails to evoke the same feelings as the book.
At least The Fellowship of the Ring is aesthetically sound, for the most part. The game's environments are generally lush and appealing, making liberal use of the beautifully pixel-shaded water the Xbox has become known for. The character models are also detailed, and the designers apparently took great pains to make the characters look different from the actors portraying them in the movie. Strangely, though, for all the effort the marketing of The Fellowship of the Ring has made in trying to distance the game from the movie, the Xbox version shares a lot of little touches with Peter Jackson's film. The Eye of Sauron, for instance, is identical to the movie version, as is the Balrog seen at the end of the Moria sequence. Perhaps these things are simply taking their place in The Lord of the Rings visual canon. The voice acting in the game ranges from decent to merely competent, but the music is actually quite atmospheric and provides a nice aural backdrop without being obtrusive.
Though the setup sounds promising--a wildly popular fantasy license and the approval of the author's estate--The Fellowship of the Ring is ultimately an average game at its best and a frustrating and boring one at its worst. It's also exceedingly short, and good players will finish everything, including the optional objectives, in perhaps eight or 10 hours. That makes the game a fairly entertaining rental, but those who pay full price will likely end up feeling burned. As a whole, The Fellowship of the Ring is just passable--it can't stand on the strength of its lackluster gameplay or its sometimes ill-used license, but add both of these components together and you may have a somewhat enjoyable weekend with it.
Voice Character Credits
- Gandalf Tom Kane
- Aragorn Darren Norris
- Sam Cliff Broadway
- Pippin James Taylor
- Merry/Gollum Quinton Flynn
- Gimli/Boromir James Horan
- Legolas Michael Reisz
- Frodo Steve Staley
To activate these cheats, quickly enter the button codes during gameplay. A message will show on the screen to confirm that the cheat is enabled.
- XBYAXB Infinite ammunition (Frodo and Aragorn)
- YAXBAY Infinite health (all characters)
- YBABYX Infinite Ring Use (Frodo only)
- XYAXBX Infinite Spirit (Gandalf only)
Unlockable Cheat codes
Complete the required task to unlock that cheat