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The Lord of the Rings - The Third Age [PS2]

Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (PS2) - Hard Mode Difficulty

Proclaimed as "One RPG to rule them all…” in the game's manual, The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age offers a unique Middle Earth adventure. However, keepers of Tolkien lore should always approach new Lord of the Rings initiatives with skepticism. Aside from featuring newly invented characters and battling over 30 Nazguls (there are technically only 9), the lore appeared relatively consistent. Prepare for an entertaining tale from another perspective outside of the traditional Fellowship.

The Challenge? Complete the main story on Hard Mode.

Is this a worthy Challenge? Let's find out.


Gameplay

Survival in the Lord of the Rings: The Third Age can be Difficult. There is no shopping in Middle Earth. Items are only obtained from treasure chests and battle rewards making it important to conserve resources for tough fights. Specifically, items such as Dwarven Ale (removes character Immobilization) and Bags of Old Toby (fully heals party Health and AP) should be cherished. Woe will incur if Idrial’s magic is suddenly immobilized during a boss battle and the game has not been saved for 2 hours.

Lord of the Rings: The Third Age includes "Win Buttons"; the unsatisfactory indulgence that results in easier gameplay. By far, Idrial's Aura of the Valar is the biggest culprit and is discussed on numerous forums as a game-breaker.


Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (PS2) - Hard Mode Difficulty

Aura of the Valar provides full HP and an instant turn. Even on Hard Mode, this is an unsatisfying decision to make. In contrast, consider Final Fantasy X’s Auto-Life spell in which characters instead revive with minimal HP and must wait their turn to attack. Planning and forethought is still required to defeat the most Difficult Superbosses such as Nemesis.


Final Fantasy X (PS2) - Auto-Life / Nemesis Superboss

The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age mirrored Final Fantasy X's "conditional turn-based" battle system. The main similarities include the side-bar Act List indicator for turn-based attacking and character Perfect Modes reminiscent to FFX Overdrives. EA Games does not appear to have implemented these features correctly though.

Perfect Mode attacks such as Berethor's Banner of Elendil inflicts high damage and stuns opponents from attacking on their next turn. Towards the end of the game, bosses are generally immune to stunning but Perfect Mode attacks should still be taken advantage of due to damage potential. However, if stun-immune bosses are hit with a Perfect Mode stunning attack, enemies will begin attacking out of Act List sequence for the remainder of the battle. Without an accurate turn indicator on Hard Mode, this provides an unprecedented sense of randomness resulting in unfair defeats.


For instance, in the below example, Berethor is indicated six consecutive times on the Act List. This sequence is entirely inaccurate and is a result of attempting to stun the stun-immune Sauron. Battle motivation will diminish when Berethor's smug human face litters the screen.

Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (PS2) - Hard Mode Difficulty

In short, LOTR: TTA is unsympathetically inconsistent. In Gamasutra’s article Difficulty is Difficult, consistency is cited as a cornerstone to designing video games:

The player must understand how and why he failed, so that he can learn from his mistake and increase the feeling of failure being his responsibility.

At this juncture, the player has two Options to defeat bosses that are immune to stunning:

Option #1: Utilize high damage Perfect Modes but prepare for random haymakers from enemies attacking out of sequence.

Option #2: Avoid using the most powerful attacks in the game on the Hardest enemies in the game.

Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (PS2) - Hard Mode Difficulty

Neither Option is practical. Option #1 appears manageable but the turn-based sequencing gets even more haphazard as players attempt to direct character speed in relation to the previously described problem. Alas, Lord Rigor chose Option #2 and laboriously trudged through high-HP boss battles. The game's sound was sorrowfully muted because the epic Lord of the Ring's music score was too monumental during such prolonged repetitiveness.

Like many RPGs, it is natural for the player to not train all available characters. The EA developers introduced a single trivial attempt during the battle of Minas Tirith to utilize all 6 characters but, with enough stockpiled items, survival is assured. Lord Rigor did not perform any creative leveling distributions across His three characters. These simply included Health for the Tank (Berethor), Spirit for the Mage (Idrial) and Strength for the Warrior (in this case Elegast the Archer). Below is Lord Rigor's end-game character stats:


Hard Mode

In the Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, Difficulty ranges from Easy, Medium to Hard Mode but the player may change this setting mid-game. Unfortunately, this outlet introduces a fundamental discrepancy in the entire definition of Difficulty. In a review, a Patrick Gann from RPGfan discusses this flaw:

When a player can switch back and forth between difficulty levels, the lesson learned is that there is no reward for playing on "hard mode" (many games will give added storylines or different endings for completing the game on a higher difficulty level). Why not just play on easy?

. . .

Of course, one can play on hard through the game, and then when the player encounters a "tough boss," let's just switch back to easy! The ability to be tempted in such a way is simply irresistible, and it leaves many gamers feeling unsatisfied; the accomplishment was cheap . . .

The dilemma has been declared and a Challenge of Rigor is now understood. What factors motivate the player to dismiss such beguiling availability? None; aside from Personal Gratification, of course.



Regarding Difficulty options, it appears that the only variation between the Easy, Medium and Hard Mode is enemy Health Points (HP). Most tediously rigorous video games can be conquered by sheer Trial-and-Error which are best handled in spurts of willingness. However, The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age's inconsistent battle behavior negates such tactics. Lord Rigor's willpower was closely extinguished near 75% game completion whilst battling the Hard Mode-HP injected Mûmakils on the Gondorian fields outside Minas Tirith. A desolate killing ground, this place.

Although perhaps not a rewarding experience, Hard Mode is indeed Difficult. Lord Rigor openly admits that His party of Berethor, Idrial and Elegost were consistently annihilated. Most notably, Lord Rigor's party met their deaths at:

- Ramparts of Helms Deep -

- Bridge crossing into Rohan -

- Mûmakils outside Minas Tirith -

Collectability: 100% Chapter Completion

There are two types of Difficulties related to RPG games like The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. The first is obviously related to the native Difficulty setting the player chooses such as Hard Mode. The second is the player's ability to complete a game’s “Collectability” Challenge.


Collectability can be enjoyable in certain circumstances but more often not. GrayRemnant's The Decay of Difficulty captures Collectabilities generally negative connotations. Excerpt below:

It’s over. The gaming industry no longer makes games that are challenging. Instead, they make games that virtually anyone can beat. But, of course, you’re probably wondering how an easy game can be fun and addictive. That’s actually pretty simple. They replaced difficulty with collectability. Now, instead of focusing on actually beating a game, you’re focused on collecting gems or coins.

We live in a strange time. A time where people sit, zombified, collecting coins, unlocking easy achievements, and shooting zombies in the face. And that’s all well and good; I like those games too. But I like the process of struggling, shouting, and conquering a fairly difficult game even more.

In short, there must be serious incentives for convincing players to invest time in exploring a game's every nook-and-cranny. With nominal explorative effort, Lord Rigor completed The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age at 90% completion. Below is an overview of a few Chapters that Lord Rigor did not fully complete:

Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (PS2) - Hard Mode Difficulty

On a different save file, Lord Rigor attempted the Speedrun Challenge to defeat the Balrog on Hard Mode at 100% completion. The Quests in the first three Chapters are simpler than later Chapters making this experience enjoyably straightforward. As if watching an extension of the extended edition of Fellowship of the Ring movie, the Balrog was slain and the Difficult journey was fulfilled:



Collectability can be more rewarding on subsequent play-throughs once the game is better known. Then, with this knowledge, an intentional choice to start another file...


Always honoring Time, Lord Rigor is reminded of a quote from a smart wizard:

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

- Gandalf The Grey

Conclusion

Is this a worthy Challenge? No.

The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is not worth playing on Hard Mode but is worth replaying to revitalize the Lord of the Rings saga from a new perspective. From being directed by Gandalf (Ian McKellen), to spelunking in the Mines of Moria to defending Helms Deep, these aspects offer renewed excitement for Lord of the Rings fans.

Branch out from the movie screen and participate directly in the events that shaped the Third Age of Middle Earth. Just choose Easy or Medium Mode and enjoy the scenery.

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