For three wonderful years (2001, 2002 and 2003), we waited impatiently for December to (re) plunge into Middle-earth thanks to Peter Jackson’s cult trilogy adapted from the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. An expectation that was even more difficult for gamers in 2003 since The Return of the King was to follow the Two Towers, critically successful and public deserved 2002.
If three films were needed to pay tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, it took at least two titles to portray the mood and action of Peter Jackson’s films. Released at the end of 2002, The Two Towers was a real success and a great success for New Line Cinema and Electronic Arts. The decision is quickly taken to finalize a production that we imagine already started the Return of the King for the end of 2003. An adaptation entrusted to another studio since the Californians of EA Redwood Shores are in charge of the project. A fairly young studio at the time since this is their second title after the nice James Bond 007: Agent targeted.
For the record, the studio changed its name to Visceral Games and will become known by creating the saga Dead Space. But for the time, he strives to repeat the same process as for Les Deux Tours while making the improvements of rigor.
The Electronic Arts adaptation of the early 2000s completely assumed the fact that they were derived products and rarely attempted to tell other stories than the stories of the films. A choice made to stroke the fan in the direction of the hair but this aspect did not prevent a game of quality as Tours proved it.
The Return of the King is content to summarize the film in broad outline using abundant extracts that are often coupled with the engine of the game taking over the scene before you plunge into the war. A very effective process that gives the impression of taking part in battles seen on the big screen. Nevertheless, EA made an effort of adaptation by extending a little its title with the point of view of Gandalf taking precedence over the others. Each beginning of the mission, and often its end, is narrated by the magician who reminds us of the current issues for the heroes and what is happening for the rest of the old Community.
Thus the game mixes moments of the Two Towers and the Return of the King since we start with a tutorial putting us in the skin of Gandalf at the end of the battle of the abyss of Helm. The rest of the missions track Gandalf’s fate to Minas Tirith on one side, that of the Aragorn trio, Legolas and Gimli who sought help from the dead, and finally that of Sam to flee Osgiliath with Frodo and then attempt to save the mandibles of Shelob.
The three storylines are well thought out and allow to offer five characters (plus three to unlock) playable against three previously. Similarly, these three different courses allow to better adapt the plot of the Return of the King since we follow more characters in more situations and especially more places. We can defend Minas Tirith on its ramparts with Gandalf, fight on the fields of Pelonnor with Aragorn and fight their way through the lair of Shelob with Sam. Of course the different characters do not have the same approaches because the trio Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli is more of a kind to get into the pile while Sam tries mostly to go unnoticed by eliminating only enemies if necessary. The highlights of the film are there and we are not disappointed by the choice of developers as to levels to go.
The technical aspect is still one of the undeniable successes of the title. If the game engine remains the same, we feel that it has been improved to display even more enemies on the screen and also truffle the scenery of more interaction. The battles are dantesque with dozens of enemies and allies fighting. This is all the more visible when you play Sam because you can see the number of NPCs fighting between them without them taking care of us. The graphics do justice to the film as the artistic direction modeled on that of the footage. The animations also allow us to find the ways to move and fight our heroes as different races that we must face. We are immersed in the action that works even more thanks to the use of Howard Shore’s music, which always reacts with what is happening on the screen. The title benefits from dubbing actors in VO and their official dubbers in VF. Only a few VF voices like Gollum succeed the feat of getting us a little bit of the title as we are caught thanks to an irreproachable sound work.
To fully benefit from such battles, it was necessary that the developers give us the same weapons as the first game. This is obviously done with some significant improvements and more. EA of course kept the basics of what made the strength of the Two Towers before entrusting the sequel to another studio. The title is still a beat’em all Devil May Cry way with environments all in 3D rather closed where one progresses by eliminating enemies with a score at each end of level.
As for the Capcom series, the title of EA is always as accessible for neophytes as technical for those seeking a challenge. But the real novelty is the ability to play cooperatively which really transforms the gaming experience. The second character fits well in the game without it impacts the engine. Chaining the eliminations and progressing against Sauron’s armies alongside another member of the ring community gives much more punch to the title. Especially since the solo and cooperation modes are well separated so as not to parasitize the parties.
The gameplay remains the same ie two shots to attack (single shot and powerful blow against enemies with a shield), a load, parrying, to complete his enemies on the ground or to brandish his bow and other axes / knives to throw. Obviously Gandalf will choose to throw balls of energy. The set is complete for fun without being too complicated even if the many combos allow the artists of the controller to release beautiful sequences. Through the combos, we can get rid of several enemies with class but the counter system is much more effective to eliminate an enemy and then be able to fully measure his combo gauge to do more devastating damage.
The more one chases the shots without being touched, the more one is rewarded in XP spending himself at the end of the levels. Getting rid of the small fry is enjoyable but tougher enemies (especially trolls) like bosses also stand on our way in fights where you have to be more patient but the victory is even more gratifying. The gameplay of the title is a success because we have fun constantly.
The player who decides to do the solo levels once with only one character can find the game well run but the title is made to be done in cooperation and with all the characters. Each end of level allows you to spend your XP when you level up to unlock new abilities and combos. Each character has his own abilities to unlock (ranged attacks for Legolas, making himself invisible to Sam or Gandalf spells). But we can unlock the combos and increase the life of all the characters if we decide to spend a little more XP. Doing a level with a character at level 0 then this character at level 10 radically changes the way you play. Finally, derived product requires, we also dislodge drawings and photos of production but especially interviews of actors who are friendly without being essential.