Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest is the latest foray into Peter Jackson’s vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, brought to you by developer Headstrong Games and WB Games. It is set some number of years in the future, where all the Hobbits of the Shire are preparing for the King Aragorn’s visit. Samwise Gamgee is telling his son Frodo and his friends the story of the War of the Ring, in which dear ol’ dad fought along the side of their king. What results from this setup is a very easy Lord of the Rings adventure game for a very casual player, and also strives to be a sort of interactive storybook.
The main player in Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest will alternate between playing young Frodo Gamgee in the Shire and Aragorn in different Middle Earth locales. While playing as Frodo, players will be issued quests that mostly serve as tutorials for the game’s very straightforward combat system. There are also a lot of side quests in the shire Frodo can embark on, either alone or with a second player as Gandalf, to earn money that he apparently deposits into some temporally phased shared bank account with Aragorn, because all of the money earned by Frodo is usable by the ranger. When players tire of menial tasks such as blocking cabbages with a wooden shield, they can send Frodo to talk to Sam and hear a chapter in the rioting tale of Aragorn.
The Aragorn sections of the game are when it really shines. Players will guide the ranger-turned-king through tons of painstakingly recreated areas of Middle Earth. Along the way, you will complete mundane quests that usually involve finding a person like a delegate from a group of dwarves, or finding a thing like Bilbo Baggins’s lost sword. All of these quests are incredibly easy, and made even easier by the golden trail you can conjure up to point you in the direction of your objective. This trail is a lot like the golden trail in Fable II, except it is not constantly present and doesn’t always show up when you attempt to trigger it. Just like when you’re questing as Frodo Gamgee, a friend can hop in at anytime as Gandalf who offers his magical support by healing the party of computer controlled NPCs or hurling devastating fireballs at foes. One big strike against the co-op is that the camera tries very hard to keep the whole party on the screen at once. If Gandalf is lingering behind and Aragorn wants to venture on, he seems to hit an invisible wall and can’t move until Gandalf moves.
Gameplay goof-ups don’t end with shoddy camera work. Aragorn vanquishes his foes with a sword and shield which rely heavily on the exhausted waggle control scheme everyone has come to hate. Waggle your left hand for a shield bash, waggle your right hand to slice ‘n dice Sauron’s minions with your sword. You are supposed to be able to slash the sword up, down, left, right, and forward but the game seems to register the correct gesture only about 25% of the time. This is unfortunate, because big mysterious arrows appear out of thin air to let you know which move will best eliminate your enemy. If you execute the wrong move, you will do little to no damage to your opponent. Adding support for the Wii’s MotionPlus controller add-on probably would’ve fixed this issue in a snap, and would have made the sword play more on par with that being offered in the PS3 version via the Sony Move. You also eventually gain access to a bow which works pretty well, but only if you can get Aragorn to stop spinning in circles long enough to look at his target. You will definitely be looking for some Dramamine by the time he settles down long enough to fire an arrow!Thankfully, even on the highest difficulty setting, the mobs of baddies are so weak you can waggle and slash until your heart’s content and still walk away unscathed.
Visually, Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest is decent. Characters and enemies have a slightly exaggerated and cartoonish look that lends itself well to the storybook presentation. The lighting effects are copious and well-executed, and thankfully they help obscure some aliasing issues in background items like foliage. There are a few eye-catching moments like when Aragorn issues a “Battle Cry”, which causes all members of the Fellowship of the Ring to look like they’re on fire and fight their enemies harder. The “Chain Attack” Aragorn does with his sword also has some neat visuals that remind one of a slow motion light saber battle. These effects add to the minimal amount of excitement players will feel during a battle. The score for the game is perfect and captures the tone of the movies’ scores without lifting too much straight from them — a lot of the music is original. The theme heard when questing in Rivendale is particularly nice, bringing to mind images of elven sopranos hiding in the trees letting pretty vocalizations pour forth. Voice acting, however, is not original. With the exception of Sean Austin reprising his role as Samwise Gamgee, almost all of the main characters’ dialogue is taken straight from the films. This method works out for the most part, but for some reason Gandalf sounds like his sound bites were recorded from a cell phone conversation.
Slashing your way through throngs of giant spiders and orcs is a lot more fun that having story hour with a midget who has huge, hairy feet, but the casual presentation of Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest will make it an approachable game for players with no previous knowledge of the War of the Ring. Once you wade our way through the tedium of the Shire quests, you will be treated to a very open, accurate and mostly visually appealing recreation of some key areas of Middle Earth that could be fun for those players who are very, very, very passionate about the Lord of the Rings books or films. It’s just a shame that the quests given to you are so mundane, and that the motion controlled sword fighting falls a little short of the epicness we’ve all come to expect from a Lord of the Rings title.
|Presentation is nice, low difficulty will make it appeal to people who may not have otherwise tried the game, and drop-in/out co-op make this game very family friendly; large and expansive environments will be fun for Lord of the Rings fans to explore||Glitchy controls turn sword fighting into a waggle fest, some graphical and sound shortcomings detract from the grandness of the environments, the low difficulty could be a bad thing for more seasoned players|
|Verdict||Definitely worth picking up if you are a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan who can't live without owning every single game, or if you want to get a younger gamer into a hack-n-slash adventure.|