Snowblind Studios is one of those houses that put themselves on the map with a game no one saw coming in Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Combining a high frame rate with that sensation of fast paced killing and looting that we’ve grown to love since Diablo, it was an instant console hit. Fast forward ten years, and we’re doing it again, this time in the Lord of the Rings universe.
Has anything changed? No. This is a good and a bad thing, but the genre could sure use a little more ingenuity after all these years, especially after indie titles like Bastion reimagine and reinvent things.
This is rated M for Mature, but strictly for intense violence. You won't find too many things to argue about here otherwise, unlike say, Grand Theft Auto.
Several builds exist for each character though, and you can even build the wizard in melee combat and kick ass surprisingly. Other than her, you’ve got your typical LOTR ranger and warlord archetypes to play as for sword and bow combat. Each character also has a tradeskill of sorts to earn their keep and maintain some semblance of being a unique snowflake.
Very few games allow you to cast with one hand and beat orcs in with the other.
We’ve seen it before, and it doesn’t really change here—you basically kill and quest from one hub to the next. Whether you choose to do it alone or with the AI is up to you, but some fights are significantly harder with the AI’s boneheaded antics. Fortunately you don’t have to backtrack much at all, so everything feels fresh and new as you push onward. Snowblind did an exceptional job as usual with their dungeon design, making the world feel more alive than just corridors with encounters as you see with lesser dungeon crawlers.
The control scheme doesn’t really lend that well to a keyboard and mouse, so I highly recommend making the investment for a controller if you don’t have one already. Similarly to Dungeon Siege III, it’s workable once you get used to it. Exchanges of blows feel crisp and the blood flows freely, cementing that M rating. Just realize you’re going be attacking pretty much nonstop, because there’s little to do besides kill in this game.
Is that a bad thing though? The replayability takes a dive when the diversity of the game is so low, consisting of combat after combat, with story taking a backseat to violence. All in all, I feel like this was a game they made after Dark Alliance II that was shelved, then revived and optimized for the new generation of consoles. It’s the same damn thing as their previous games—albeit just as polished and fun for those seeing their games for the first time. The LOTR license almost feels wasted seeing as you barely interact with any of the setting’s major characters.
A fine mess is probably the best way to describe this game. Given sufficient hardware, the game will shine and shimmer even in the bloodiest of fights. But for those of us whose graphics cards are only packing 1 GB of ram, it could still use some optimization, and as a result, you find yourself slamming the settings down to enjoy the flow of combat. On lower settings though, the mess turns into a muddy pile of red textures. That might be a good thing if youre getting distracted in combat though.
The highlight of the game, as every LOTR game should have a great soundtrack and voice acting to back it up, and this delivers. While the actual context of the story is pretty pathetic, the production values are high enough to keep you listening rather than skipping cutscenes.