Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest
Developer: Headstrong Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platform: Wii (PlayStation Move, PlayStation 2, DS)
Released: 29 October
Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest sees you revisit the land of Middle Earth made popular in the trilogy of films by Peter Jackson. Set after the events of the films, you play as Frodo in times of peace and tranquillity. But this isn’t the Frodo you were thinking of. No, not Frodo Baggins but Frodo Gamgee, Sam Wise Gamgee’s youngest son whom he has named after his dear friend. As you will remember if you watched Return of the King, Frodo Baggins embarks on a one-way trip with Gandalf, Bilbo and a number of others to a mystical world of eternal peace, whereas Sam remains at the Shire and has the family he’d always dreamed of. This part of the movie was open to artistic interpretation, so the developers’ reading of the ending forms the basis of the game.
As it is Aragorn’s Quest, the focus of the game is still Aragorn therefore the majority of the gameplay is spent in control of the heir to Isildor himself, but this use of Frodo Gamgee and the central hub world of the Shire adds some relevance to the repeated tour of the war for Middle Earth. Time spent at the Shire is utilised by teaching you new skills which can then be used as Aragorn in the actual levels, earning extra coins to buy upgrades (known as Artefacts), and generally just having a good time fulfilling challenges set by other village-folk and exploring the map. The developers cleverly link the Shire to the quests through your father acting as story-teller until you are eventually engulfed in the tale and become Aragorn, with Sam Wise Gamgee still providing narrative in real-time while you carry out the mission. Other small additions echo well thought-out game design, trying to stay loyal to the Lord of the Rings franchise, whilst giving an active experience at the same time. For instance, although the legions of Sauron have been destroyed and the war is over, enemies still populate parts of the Shire through Frodo Gamgee’s wild imagination and are intelligently indicated as such by ghost-like blue form.
Primarily, the title is built up of missions played in control Aragorn, completing main quests crucial to the progression of the story which follows that of the films, as well as the occasional side quests and the hoarding of a number of collectables and bonuses. A gold star of the Dúnedain denotes a main quest, on the other hand a silver star of Dúnedain signifies a side quest. In total there are 10 stages, though this is including the brief prologue level which only purpose is to add some background to the plot and lead on to the brilliant, lengthy beginning cutscene. This total also includes the hub-world of the Shire, which may not be regarded as a full level by some.
All in all, the campaign can be sped through fairly briskly, unsurprising considering the title’s target audience and aims of being family-friendly. But when you take into account the huge number of collectables and secrets to be found, the game actually offers a more than sufficient amount of play time, especially for completionists who are willing to traipse through each level completing every last side quest and collecting every last item. There is even a wealth of Lord of the Rings trivia-style knowledge available, with obscure yet intriguing facts about the character backgrounds or the history of Middle Earth revealed when you collect the ‘Lore items’. There is no way you could have known some of this information just by watching the films, giving it real appeal amongst fans of the Lord of the Rings.
Having the license of the Lord of the Rings movies works wonders for this game. Cutscenes are sublime with sound clips from the films used for the most part, and seeing famous scenes fully-realised in the slightly cartoony graphical style will envoke feelings of nostalgia in fans of the franchise. The voice of Sam Wise Gamgee even features with all new dialogue, fronting a running commentary of the story. Unfortunately, when the story unfolds in-game it’s a little less spectacular, with the character animation not on the same level as the speech, By this I mean that despite talking, the characters’ mouths don’t move which, if anything, looks a bit creepy. The music is up to the same high-standards of the cutscenes, with emotive and instantly recognisable melodies from the cinema transferred with the same resounding emotional effects, as well as new pieces of music which also prove successful; not only has it been stylised to the different regions of Middle Earth, but it possesses similar excellence at creating mood and atmosphere.
The controls are also very well-done in Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest. Gameplay in hack ‘n’ slash adventurers such as this can often be tedious affairs when it comes to combat, but Aragorn’s Quest ensures this is not the case with intuitive elements of motion control present. Flicks of the Wii remote control sword strokes, and the Nunchuk also plays its part. One section of the controls which I was particularly impressed with was the archery. It makes great use of the Wii pointer instead of opting for a lock-on mechanism, resulting in an extremely satisfying bow and arrow experience. In addition, the levels on horseback offer a refreshing change of pace from the monogamy of fighting and travelling on-foot. Battling atop a horse is exhilarating and provides a break from the on-foot sections, meaning when you return to walking, your enthusiasm will be well and truly revitalised thanks to the inclusion of this variation in level structure.
Couple this with a nicely crafted drop-in, drop-out two player co-op system and you’re looking at a decent title. There are some extras only achievable through the use of a second player, and in general the game, like most, is just a lot more fun when played multiplayer. One limitation of the co-op mode is that you are both forced to stay together by fitting on the same screen, although this only puts an emphasis on teamwork, rather than having both players running off separately, completing different quests individually.
On the whole, Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest is a solid adventure allowing you to enter the realms of Middle Earth once more, only this time with the added bonus of exploring it in the alternative art-style. While people who buy it on the PlayStation 3 would be understandably disgruntled at the graphics when contrasted with other titles on the system, considering the Nintendo Wii’s capabilities it is, in fact, a fairly good-looking game. Well-thought out controls and a simple easy-to-use co-op system make gameplay a joy to play, even if the hack ‘n’ slash nature of the game does mean it can become repetitive. Fans will not only appreciate roaming the levels indulging in the quirky visual style, but also seeing their favourite moments from the films fully-realised in virtual form. Combine this with the music we know and love and you’ve got a winning formula where fans are concerned. Some more dedicated fans may not appreciate some inaccuracies, but they are only included to make the game more engaging, and to be quite honest, detract from the adventure very little. It is aimed at being a more family-friendly take on the Lord of the Rings, and although there is the option to change difficulty settings at any time from the menu screen, the game won’t present too much of a challenge for veteran gamers.
- Fully-realised scenes from the films will appeal to fans
- Well-crafted control scheme
- Sound and music we know and love
- Drop-in, drop-out co-op action
- Poor in-game character animation and dialogue
- Hack ‘n’ slash gameplay can become tedious
- Lacks a significant challenge for more experienced players