Reviewed on PC

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Reviewed By: Brendan Frizzley aka bertuzzifan

Computer Platform: PC, GameCube, PlayStation 2, XBOX, Macintosh
Produced by: EA
Price Range: $21-30
Learning curve time: 1-30 min.
Age level: Children (Older)
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
System Requirements: Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP; 700Mhz CPU; 128 MB RAM; 8x CD/DVD Drive;; 2.0 GB Hard Drive Space; 32 MB GeForce 2/ATI 7500

Overall Rating:
Genre: Action
Christian Rating: 4 of 5
   (slightly offensive)
Gameplay: 4 of 5
Violence: 3 of 5
Adult Content: 5 of 5

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.  Illustration copyrighted.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is an example of the best and the worst in modern gaming. Based on the movie of the same name, it features gorgeous graphics and THX certified sound. Moreover, Return of the King (RotK), takes advantage of its movie license to the fullest by using both the actors and the stuntmen featured in the film. Unfortunately, all of these great features are structured around simplistic gameplay.

The game starts at the fortress Helm's Deep, casting you as Gandalf, rushing to the rescue of Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, King Thoden and the other heroes. This level serves as your tutorial, as your allies yell out advice to you. Unlike many patronizing tutorials, this tutorial actually feels like a mission. After Gandalf's victory, you are allowed to follow one of three paths. The Path of the Wizard follows Gandalf to Minas Tirith, defending the city from the forces of Sauron. In the Path of the King you follow Aragorn on his quest to kingship. You may also follow the Path of the Hobbits, and play as Samwise Gamgee, defending Frodo from harm. At any time you may switch between paths, which is a nice, albeit common, touch.

RotK's gameplay is unimaginably basic. The goal of every mission is to run around and kill various enemies without being killed. You accomplish this by mashing one of the two attack buttons. If you kill enough enemies you can buy combos, which will require you to press the buttons in a certain order, and will allow you to pull off even greater feats of wanton destruction, which in turn will allow you to buy even better combos. Occasionally you will be required to solve a puzzle, which requires you to look for a big glowing blue circle, run up to it, and press the “use” button. While some players will like the easy-to-grasp “hack and slash” gameplay, others will find it dumbed down.

Despite the uncomplicated gameplay, RotK is a very enjoyable action game. The camera, while static, does a good job of following the action most of the time. Unfortunately, artillery fire blocks your view, although this is a rare occurrence. The simple controls are very tight and responsive, and the combos are very easy to pull off. The multi-platform port is very well done, the PC version allows mouse support in the interface, and the entire game seems completely bug free. Multiplayer games are a solid experience, played with two players on the same machine using the single-player missions.

Unfortunately, the game designers made a few odd design decisions. A difficult boss battle in the second level is incredibly frustrating, especially because there is no such battle in the movie. In the final mission, the developers have you fight an invincible opponent who can only be defeated by trickery. Furthermore, you are forced to fight him using a new character who lacks any combos. Lastly, while most of the combos are very well designed and easy to accomplish, the “bane” combos are worthless.

All of the characters’ fighting animations are stunning, especially their combos. Whether it's Gandalf, using his staff and sword in perfect conjunction, or Aragorn pulling a dagger from his belt to deliver the final blow, these animations are truly jaw dropping. An added bonus is that these animations look identical to those of their on-screen counterparts. The amazingly accurate fighting styles reveal some of the best motion-capture work ever seen. The developers' decision to motion capture the actors’ respective stuntmen has really paid off. The character models themselves are highly detailed; Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Sam and Frodo all look amazing. Gandalf's model, unfortunately, seems slightly odd, mostly due to his rather strange beard.


In addition to the nicely rendered characters, the levels are beautiful and lifelike. Rocks are covered in moss, ancient stone walls have small cracks beginning to form and dust flies up whenever something impacts dry ground. Not only are the levels gorgeous, but they are vast. In one mission, you start on the edge of a wide valley, as orcs and humans fight below and up on the opposite ridge. When you cross to other ridge, you discover that the battles you saw in the distance aren't merely background animations, as you are now fighting those same orcs you saw in the distance. Unfortunately, while the levels are expansive, they are also extremely linear, giving you one very narrow path to get from point A to B.

In addition to the amazing graphics and lifelike worlds, the audio is astounding. The voice acting is amazing, as the entire movie cast lends their voices to this game. With the exception of Frodo (voiced by Elijah Wood), all lines sound lifelike and enthusiastic. Unfortunately, Elijah Wood's lifeless efforts will leave you rolling your eyes after lines such as, "Biting off my finger won't stop me," with the enthusiasm of Ben Stein on horse tranquilizers. Also, for some reason, Orlando Bloom doesn't sound like Legolas, which is rather odd considering he is Legolas. Unlike Wood and Bloom, Ian Mckellen brings a stunning performance, as he provides both the in-game voice of Gandalf and the game narration. Not only is the voice acting impeccable, but the music is also magnificent. The Oscar-winning score from Return of the King perfectly adds to the already epic experience. Combine that with the THX certified sound effects, and RotK's audio rivals that of the movie.


One of the game's biggest draws is the collection of high-resolution video clips. Every level begins and ends with sizeable clips from the movies narrated by Gandalf. Video clips end by seamlessly morphing to the in-game graphics, and the effect is truly stunning. In addition to these great clips, there are several excellent interviews with cast members. The “Hobbits on Gaming” interview deserves to be on the DVD, and is likely worth the price of the game itself.

Despite earning a “Teen” (T) rating from the ESRB, the content of this game is relatively clean. The “T” is most likely due to the large body count; one thousand orcs are slain from start to finish. However, the violence is entirely free of blood and gore, and the bodies disappear very quickly without suffering any mutilation. There is no profanity or nudity of any kind. There is “magic” in Gandalf's long-ranged attack; however, there are no incantations and the “magic” just shoots tiny fireballs out of Gandalf's staff. The only other problem in RotK occurs in the first level, when ghosts reanimate skeleton corpses. Simply put, if you didn't have any problems with the movie then the game should also be fine.

All in all, this is an excellent “hack and slash” game. Unfortunately, games from this genre always suffer from a lack of depth, annoyingly difficult boss monsters, simplistic controls and limited replayability. Yet the gorgeous graphics, flawless sound, and the DVD caliber extras elevate this game from its button masher roots. So basically, the question is not, "Is this a good game?" but rather "Is this a good game for you?" If Lord of the Rings bores you to death or if you require a 300-page manual with every video game you own, look elsewhere. However, if you're a fan of the “hack and slash” genre or if you're a Lord of the Rings fan, pick this one up!

Year of Release—2003

Positive—I loved the game and also enjoyed it's predecessor. It had great graphics and enjoyable features. My Ratings: [5 / 5]
   —Erik Oberg, age 12

Positive—This game was really fun to play on my PC, but it was better on PS2. I agree that the character voiceover by Ean McEllan was very well done. I also thought the battle with the ents in Isengard was really realistic. For any LotR fan, this is a must-get. My Ratings: [4 / 4]
   —Jeremy Getz, age 12

Positive—I personally disagree with the reviewer. The game is NOT a simple Hack-and-Slash game. You're moves are not just wacking a sword up and down to kill thing, it's using every single move I could think of: Blocking and then atacking, block a different move and attacking with a different move. You can also do a combination of shooting an arrow at an orc, kicking it on to the ground, and finishing him off with a double knife stab, ax stab, or sword thrust while it's on the ground. The graphics are amazing, and while some parts aren't true to the story, like when you have to “fight gollum” to win the game, I still found it incrediblly fun. This is deffinetlly one of my favorite games of alltime. My Ratings: [5 / 5]
   —Stephen, age 12

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Christian Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Films for Christ or the Christian Answers Network.

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