Just when you thought that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was complete, along comes Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. But before you think that someone has fished the ring out of the volcano, The Third Age is a compilation of all three movies rolled into one game. Focusing on battles, you won't get a true retelling of the story but at least you'll know where you are in reference to the movie. If you haven't seen the Lord of the Rings movies, you will find this to be a turn-based, strategy game - and an average one at that.

Part of the problem with The Third Age is that it's not really that much fun. It's challenging and there are strategic elements that rival that of Fire Emblem but it fails miserably to capture the essence of the Rings movies. Basically it's a generic turn-based strategy game using the Rings in the same way that kart racers attach to various franchises.

The console version of The Third Age is a RPG, and while the GBA version utilizes some RPG elements, there's not much justification for its existence.

You can join forces with good or with evil. You will earn experience points commensurate with your success in either discipline. You will control various soldiers on the battlefield, both ranged and close. The battle map is divided into three sections: Center; left and right. The number of moves you can make during a turn will be determined at the beginning of a game by a roll of the virtual dice. Expect an average of three, but you'll pray for six or even a five to keep things moving along even if it spells disaster for you. The game does drag as wave after wave of soldiers take their turn.

It's easy to forget that this game has anything to do with Lord of the Rings, so almost at random you will hear voiceovers that span the trilogy. If I were not familiar with the movies the story, as it's presented here would be virtually impossible to follow. As it was, I didn't read the book and I found parts of the movie virtually impossible to follow. There are simply too many characters, locations and situations to keep track of.

I won't say the gameplay is simple but it could have been better explained. It's certainly less complicated than it at first appears. The interface menu is composed of small icons that are difficult to read. Finding information is a pain in the arse. You can't tell what the various units' strengths and weaknesses are. It's hard to keep track of individuals since they move around randomly, and unless you highlight the troops you won't be able to tell if they're yours or not. Graphically the game also conspires against you as some characters tend to blend in the with backgrounds making it difficult to see them. For the most part I really like the style of the graphics but combined with the top-down view, it really makes it difficult to see things in their proper perspective.

The AI is capable of a good fight but there's a two-player mode in case you want to play against someone that you might have a chance of beating. As I mentioned, the gameplay can get tedious but there is only a Sleep mode which allows you to save your progress as long as you don't take the cartridge out of the machine. Why not just go all the way and put in a cart save?

Aside from wasting a few hours or days of your life, I really don't see any benefit to playing The Third Age. Not only is it not fun, but it doesn't tell you anything more about the world that Tolkien created than you probably already know. Of course some of you will just have to get this game out of Hobbit.

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System: GBA
Dev: Griptonite
Pub: EA
Release: Nov 2004
Players: 1 - 2
Review by Fenix