The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (video game)

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The Lord of the Rings:
The Return of the King
Box art, depicting the characters Aragon and Gandalf wielding their weapons. Behind them are Orcs against a background consisting of a flying Nazgûl, Mount Doom and Barad-Dûr. From left to right along the bottom are the ESRB rating of "Teen" and the EA Games and New Line Cinema logos.
Developer(s) EA Redwood Shores
Publisher(s) Electronic Arts
Platform(s) PlayStation 2
GameCube
Xbox
Game Boy Advance
Windows
Mac OS X
Release date(s) Windows
  • NA October 31, 2003
  • EU November 14, 2003
Game Boy Advance, GameCube & PlayStation 2
  • NA November 5, 2003
  • EU November 14, 2003
  • JP January 8, 2004
Xbox
  • NA November 5, 2003
  • EU November 14, 2003
Genre(s) Action, Hack and slash
Mode(s) Single player, multiplayer
Distribution CD-ROM, DVD
Nintendo optical disc

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a 2003 cross-platform third-person hack and slash video game based on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The game was published by EA Games and developed by EA Redwood Shores and released for the PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox and PC. A hack and slash role-playing game version was developed for the Game Boy Advance which when combined with the Gamecube edition via the Nintendo GameCube–Game Boy Advance link cable unlocks unique content.

The game is similar to its predecessor The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, but differs by adding multiple storylines, more playable characters and increased interaction with environments. The game follows three separate story arcs loosely based on events in the film. A two-player co-op mode is available for some missions.

The Return of the King was developed in close collaboration with New Line Cinema, using many of the actual reference photos, drawings, models, props and other assets from the film. The game was met with positive critical reception for its graphics, audio, and gameplay, though its camera control was criticized.

Gameplay[edit]

Described by the developers as a modern version of Gauntlet, The Return of the King is a hack and slash action game.[1] The game is very similar to its predecessor.[2] The levels are twice the size of the largest level from The Two Towers and less linear.[3] A major change from The Two Towers is the interactive nature of the game environments.[1] The player can operate machinery, for example bridges and catapults, to complete objectives, and use environment objects as weapons, such as spears and cauldrons, to kill enemies.[3][4]

Each character has their own set of combos and attributes. After the end of each level the player can upgrade their characters' abilities and combos using experience points earned in the game. The number of experience points available to the player depends on the efficiency of their kills in the game.[2] Interviews with the film's cast and similar DVD-style extras are unlocked as the player progresses through the game.[5]

Unlike The Two Towers, The Return of the King features a co-op mode, allowing two players to play through parts of together.[2] The PS2 version also has online multiplayer options with USB headset support.[6] Since at least March 2009, EA's server for online play has been discontinued, and The Return of the King is no longer mentioned on EA's official Web site.

Plot[edit]

Todd Arnold, senior producer of The Return of the King, stated that the game was not intended to re-tell the story of the film, but to allow the player to come as close as possible to experiencing the critical parts of the film for themselves. Levels were designed with this goal in mind, giving just enough story to provide action and give context to the player's actions.[7] Reviews of the game acknowledged this lack of plot detail. Liberties with the plot are taken,[6] and critics noted that there was little footage which could spoil the film for those who had not seen it.[2][8] Greg Kasavin of GameSpot said that "if you didn't know anything about the story of The Return of the King, then the story of the game may be hard to follow, though you'll still get the gist of it... in case you don't want any aspect of the movie spoiled for you, it'd be wise to hold off on playing The Return of the King until after you've seen the movie."[2]

Synopsis[edit]

The first level sees the player assuming the role of Gandalf, helping to end the Battle of the Hornburg.[9] After this level, the game splits into three separate mission arcs, each with its own individual set of characters. The Path of the Wizard follows Gandalf, the Path of the King follows Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli (the player chooses one of these to control,) and the Path of the Hobbits follows Frodo and Sam (initially only Sam is playable).[2][5]

Gameplay screenshot showing the player, as Sam, delivering a killing blow to an Orc on a bridge while other Orcs run to attack him. In the top-right of the screen is a counter related to the game's objective of preventing Frodo from getting captured by the Nazgûl. In the bottom-left the player's health, experience points, ranged weapon ammunition and the quality of their kill are displayed.
Gameplay screenshot of the player, as Sam, fighting through Osgiliath.

The Path of the Wizard continues immediately after the events of the first level. Gandalf travels through a forest to Isengard, fighting Orcs with the occasional help of Ents. He then helps the Ents to destroy a dam and flood Isengard.[9] The following levels are set in Minas Tirith. Gandalf helps defend the city's walls from the attacking army of Orcs.[10] Eventually, Gandalf and the soldiers of Minas Tirith retreat to a courtyard, where they must save a number of fleeing civilians from the enemy.[11]

The Path of the King starts with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli travelling through the Paths of the Dead, fighting the Army of the Dead on the way.[9] They must then defeat the King of the Dead in combat to persuade him to aid Gondor in the War of the Ring. The Paths of the Dead start to collapse; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli must escape before the falling rubble crushes them. They then travel to join in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, passing through the Southern Gate and fighting many of Sauron's troops.[10] During the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli defend Merry and Éowyn from Oliphaunts and the Witch-king of Angmar.[11] The Path of the Wizard and Path of the King share the same final level, set at the Black Gate of Mordor. The player must first defeat the Mouth of Sauron, then fight off the attacking Orcs and Nazgûl, ensuring no members of the Fellowship of the Ring are killed.[12]

In The Path of the Hobbits, Frodo, Sam and Gollum must escape from Osgiliath, fighting past Orcs to get to the sewers and ensuring that Frodo is not captured by the Nazgûl.[10] The following level sees Sam travel through Shelob's lair, fighting past spiders and eventually Shelob to find Frodo.[11] Sam then fights past Orcs to get to the Tower of Cirith Ungol and rescues Frodo.[11] In the game's final level, the player controls Frodo and fights Gollum in Mount Doom.[12][13]

Development[edit]

Following the success of the video game tie-in of The Two Towers, a video game adaptation of The Return of the King was announced on April 25, 2003.[14][15] While The Two Towers was released on the three major consoles (the PS2, GameCube and Xbox) but not the PC, The Return of the King was released on the PC in addition to the three major consoles.[1] EA announced that the game would offer three separate story branches rather than one and that eight playable characters would be on offer rather than the three of The Two Towers.[15] Parts of Howard Shore's score and footage from the films were set to feature, and members of the cast from the films would lend their voices to the game.[16]

Two screenshots from a cutscene just before and after a transition from footage from the film to footage rendered in the game's engine. The scene is taken from The Paths of the Dead and shows Aragorn wielding a sword in the foreground and Legolas standing in the background.
Above: a scene from The Return of the King film. Below: the same scene rendered in the video game.

Developers working on The Return of the King described the game as "bigger and better"[4] than The Two Towers.[4] "In The Two Towers the player would occasionally run into 10 or 15 enemies," said lead game designer Chris Tremmel, "In The Return of the King there are areas where the player faces up to 40 orcs... Fans familiar with The Two Towers will find that the combat experience in The Return of the King feels familiar but much deeper."[17] Before creating levels, the developers would initially write in-depth level designs out on paper, going into details such as combat setup, special props and enemy types. The levels would then be created in the game environment.[18] The game is visually an improvement over The Two Towers. "We are pushing 2x the number of polys & 2x the texture density this year,"[3] said executive producer Neil Young. Enemy AI was also improved.[3]

Executive producer Glen Schofield stated that the biggest challenge the developers were facing was "just trying to match the breathtaking look and feel of the movies".[19] EA Redwood Shores worked closely with New Line Cinema to make the games as authentic as possible, using the actual reference photos, drawings, models, props, lighting studies and motion-capture data. "We even hired the same stunt doubles from the movie to help us render the most realistic movements in the game," noted Schofield.[19] Partner Relations Director Nina Dobner said that "we want the game to not just look like the films but to be exactly like the films."[20] No details in the game are made up, she commented. "When we were reproducing Minas Tirith... we felt the team would benefit from being able to see and feel a piece of the actual movie set. Unfortunately, the set had already been dismantled. So, while in New Zealand, I searched the various warehouses to find remnants of the dismantled set. After much work, I returned to San Francisco proudly bearing four bricks from the Minas Tirith set."[20]

The Return of the King went gold on all platforms on October 10, 2003.[21] The game went on sale in North America on November 6,[22] more than a month before the film was released in cinemas on December 16.[23]

Reception[edit]

Reception
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings (PS2) 84.78%[24]
(Xbox) 84.34%[25]
(GC) 83.85%[26]
(GBA) 78.69%[27]
(PC) 78.52%[28]
Metacritic (PS2) 85/100[29]
(Xbox) 84/100[30]
(GC) 84/100[31]
(PC) 78/100[32]
(GBA) 77/100[33]
Review scores
Publication Score
Electronic Gaming Monthly 8.33/10[8]
(GBA) 6.83/10[34]
Eurogamer 7/10[35]
Famitsu 30/40
(GBA) 27/40[36]
Game Informer 8.25/10[37][38][39]
(GBA) 8/10[40]
GamePro 4.5/5 stars[41]
Game Revolution B+[42]
GameSpot 8/10[2]
(GBA) 7.5/10[43]
GameSpy (Xbox) 5/5 stars[44]
4.5/5 stars[45][46]
(PC) 4/5 stars[47]
(GBA) 3/5 stars[48]
GameZone (PS2) 9.1/10[49]
9/10[50][51]
(GBA) 8.3/10[52]
(PC) 7.7/10[53]
IGN (PS2) 8.9/10[6]
8.7/10[54]
(GBA) 8/10[55]
Nintendo Power (GC) 4.5/5[56]
(GBA) 4.1/5[57]
Official PlayStation Magazine (US) 5/5 stars[58]
Official Xbox Magazine 8.1/10[59]
PC Gamer US 58%[60]
Entertainment Weekly B+[61]
The Village Voice 7/10[62]

The Return of the King was critically well received.[24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33] It won in two categories at the DICE 2004 awards: Outstanding achievement in character performance (for Elijah Wood's voice role as Frodo) and Outstanding achievement in sound design.[63] As an adaptation, the game was praised by Michael Knutson of GameZone as "the best movie to game conversion that has come out in a long time"[49] and by Raymond Padilla of GameSpy as "[setting] a new standard for video game adaptations of movies."[44]

The graphics and THX-certified[6] audio were lauded by critics. The game's animations,[44][49] scenery,[2][38] player models,[6][49] cut scenes,[6][49] music[6][44][49] and voice-overs[6][49] were particularly well received. "Sound effects used in the game will also blow you away," Knutson said, "Everything from the explosions, swords clashing, hundreds of incoming enemies storming your way, all sounds like it came directly from the movie!"[49] Greg Kasavin of GameSpot noted that "Frame rate issues do affect each version of the game, to varying degrees, and none of the character models for the main characters look all that remarkable, either," but conceded that "All other aspects of The Return of the King's graphics are outstanding... The game's audio is even more effective than the graphics at conveying the intensity of the action."[2] Ian McKellen's narration of the game as Gandalf was also praised.[2][38]

The game's combat was praised by most critics. Crispin Boyer of Electronic Gaming Monthly described the game as "a thrill ride. And not just 'cause Return of the King unleashes larger hordes of foes than last year's equally slick Two Towers prequel. Many of Return of the King's levels actually force you to multitask while you hack and slash."[8] Tony Ellis of PC Gamer UK gave it 85% and commended the combat: "Combat in RotK is superbly satisfying. Your blows connect with a solid, visceral thud you can almost feel."[5] Ellis also noted the variation between levels.[5] In contrast, Matthew Kato of Game Informer found the gameplay to be "repetitious": "Sometimes I got the feeling that I was working harder only to have less fun than in Two Towers."[38]

The Return of the King was criticized for its poor camera control. "What's the use of a new graphics engine and character models when the view is from so far away?" asked Kato.[38] The game's save function was also criticized. Ellis commented that "You can only save after completing a level... which is not so good when you're forced to slog through the same sequences over and over again."[5] Critics complained about the unskippable cut scenes,[62] occasionally unclear objectives[8] and relatively short length.[2]

Despite the game's critical acclaim and strong sales, Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, stated that the video game tie-in for his next film, King Kong, would not be developed by EA but by Ubisoft. Jackson claimed that EA were not interested in his input to the game and, having played Beyond Good & Evil, he wanted to work with producer Michel Ancel.[64]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]