I pretty much had an extra day here. I expected to be in London but as we’ve already established, that didn’t happen, and as a result, I had an empty day to fill.
Therefore, in an effort to ensure that I didn’t accidentally do something productive, I finally got around to playing Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. In many ways, the game is a poster child for licensed trash that ends up in the bargain bin almost as soon as it hits the shelves. Certainly, it’s yet another so-called role-playing game that features characters with various modifiable statistics and nonexistent personalities, as well as an utter lack of variety or meaningful content. As is almost invariably the case in console RPGs, you cannot play the role of these characters any more than you can, say, play Frodo by reading the book or watching the movie. Sure, you can tweak their stats and decide on various tactics, but that hardly amounts to much more than playing Counter-Strike and figuring out which guns you like best. There are no meaningful decisions to take or relationships to make; you can either proceed along the narrow, narrow tracks, or you can stop playing.
Not that I expected anything more. I had plenty of advance warning, as not only did I edit the review for it way back when the game came out, but I also played it for a few hours about, oh, six months ago or so with a friend, and that was enough to leave me with the impression that I should really put some extra hours into it. Sure, it’s a blatant attempt to cash in on the hugely successful movie franchise, where the recognizable title and the now-familiar movie logo hide a void of innovation in game design… but it does feature a fairly nice turn-based combat system.
Now, I’m a sucker for turn-based combat systems. Oh, it’s full of dumb crap — if you have the energy, you can simply have your characters trudge through random encounters, not really fight in them and just soak up hits from enemies who’re too weak to do any real damage and keep using the characters’ skills so that they’ll eventually improve. In a typical game design decision (one that makes complete sense to those who’re working under what must be a ridiculously tight deadline so they can crap out yet another licensed game that will sell as well or badly as it will almost regardless of its quality), you can only create healing substances and whatnot, and thus improve those skills, when you’re in combat. It makes no sense, but it certainly caters to what some people like to call “game balance”, and what I prefer to refer to as “shitty game design”.
But damn it all, I am a sucker for turn-based combat. That part works well enough for me to go slumming.
I feel deliciously filthy now.
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