Fans of Peter Jackson's THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy are in for a real treat with THE THIRD AGE! Spanning all three films and featuring main characters (complete with original film actor's voices) at key scenes, this game is a sheer delight to play!
The adventure begins with a sole character - a Gondorian soldier - but he is soon joined by five others in an original story which superbly ties in with the Trilogy. Hence throughout the quest the Party finds itself at places such as Helms Deep and the Pelennor Fields in time to fight some impressive set-piece battles!
Each Party character (which includes an Elf, Dwarf and member of the Dunedain) is unique and has strengths and weaknesses to match. By gaining experience points for winning battles and completing quests, they can improve any of their eight statistics (hit points, constitution, dexterity etc) for greater chance of survival. As characters increase levels and grow stronger, new skills become available to them via an extensive skill tree, adding a strategic element to the game. Being proficient in a certain skill can make all the difference between winning and losing vital encounters. Along the way they may also find new, and improved, weapons and equipment too.
Battles, and there are plenty of them, are either Planned or Random encounters. Planned battles (such as the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad Dum and Saruman's forces at Helms Deep) must be won to progress in the game. Random battles can be avoided if desired, for the Party receives plenty of warning that enemies are nearby, but are best fought anyway to gain experience and items.
The combat system is turn-based. Each character is placed in a Battle Queue and will act only at certain times. Their actions may drastically change the sequence of events that occur, from altering the order of battle to effecting which attacks a character may use. Certain actions prevent counter attacks, for instance, while others cause continuous damage over time ensuring that enemies may even die before having a chance to fight back! Battle actions use Action Points, with powerful attacks obviously using up more, although these can be regenerated by magic or using specific items found throughout the game. A universal, low-powered basic attack uses no Action Points whatsoever, allowing characters with few points (or strategically wishing to save those they have) to still participate in the fight.
There are a few minor problems with the game. The 3D perspectives, while brilliant to look at, sometimes hinder movement and the battles can become very long-winded. This is especially noticeable at Helms Deep, where wave upon wave of attacking Orcs take over half an hour to defeat, and frustration creeps in if the battle is lost and must be re-fought again right from the beginning, but perseverance and attempting different tactics are the key to success.
Featuring many hours of game play, the ability to (temporarily) control key characters such as Gandalf and Aragorn, combined with an exciting and intriguing story, THE THIRD AGE is one of the very best games to come out of Middle Earth and as such is highly recommended!