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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
March 29, 2004 | Nat Panek

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Anyone else out there suffering from post-Lord of the Rings letdown? Now that the last of Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations has been released, triumphing at the Academy Awards, what else do we have to look forward to besides another DVD special edition? As it happens, Mac gamers have at least one more big premiere coming up - the imminent release of the Mac version of EA Games’ Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Originally released last year for console platforms, and later ported to the PC, the game now makes its way to the Mac side of things courtesy of Aspyr Media.

The Return of the King is a third-person hack-and-slash that recapitulates the events and settings of the last of the three Lord of the Rings films. Players have the option of playing any of several characters: Aragorn, the ranger-king, Gandalf, the wizard, and Sam, the hobbit, well as Legolas the elf and Gimli the dwarf. Each character has his own set of levels to experience. For instance, choosing Gandalf’s path will require you to fight through hordes of uruk-hai in Fangorn Forest and defend Minas Tirith’s walls from legions of orcs. Aragorn, fighting alongside Legolas and Gimli, must brave the subterranean Paths of the Dead, while Sam must lead Frodo (and that slimy freak Gollum) through the ruins of Osgiliath, dodging the notice of the Nazgul, and then into Shelob’s lair. All of their destinies converge at Mount Doom in the game’s final levels.

The characters are distinguished by various strengths and abilities; Gandalf can call on magic spells to aid him (though he can administer some crazy wizard beat-downs with his staff and sword as well), while Aragorn is a fierce and fast physical fighter. The hobbits’ main advantage is their speed and agility, not to mention the ability to turn invisible on occasion. All characters have some combination of melee and ranged weaponry, which they use throughout the game. These basics are augmented by various interactive elements in the environment, which can be used against the enemy: stray war pikes, torches, braziers full of hot oil, even large catapults. Such opportunities for mass destruction tend to break up what would otherwise turn into fairly monotonous combat.

Characters can be augmented between levels with ever more powerful abilities, adding a touch of RPG-style customization to the game. Players can use experience points, gathered in combat, to purchase special moves, most of which amount to powerful attack combinations, but some of which are defensive in nature. As the characters level-up, more and better abilities become available.

In addition to the single-player campaigns, ROTK offers a co-op mode in which two players, sharing the same machine, can slice their way through Sauron’s legions together. Each player picks a character, and they fight side by side, competing for kills much the way Legolas and Gimli did in the films. There is no online multiplayer component to ROTK.


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