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LOTR: The Third Age

In their own, beards are harmless - but combine them with an axe and an angry goblin and you're treading on rocky ground. No one likes to admit it, but the sweeping fantasy of the Lord of the Rings films is entertaining, and you can't help but be impressed by the vastness of former jam maker J. R. Hartley's vision. EA's latest Rings title, The Third Age, is, oddly enough, the first licensed RPG to take place in the ethereal land of Middle Earth. Cor.

Despite the developers' head-shaking, the game is a clean-cut copy of Final Fantasy. The exploration sequences, wherein you mull around places like Helm's Deep and Rivendell, have a radar showing the layout of the immediate area in the top right corner and chests are located in flashing chests. See?

Then, of course, there's the battle system. The familiar turn-based combat has a menu and screen furniture layout that's identical to the Final Fantasy games in every perceivable way. And random battles that begin with a 'swoooosh' sound? Basically, it's Final Fantasy with facial hair.

The game's environments were lifted from visual effects masters WETA, the guys responsible for the films so every location you visit matches the film perfectly. From the walled-in fortress of Helm's Deep to the dusty tomb of Balin (where the Fellowship fought the troll in the first film), the scale and attention to detail is impressive. Fans will get a kick from arsing around their favourite scenes from the films, and it forms an impressive backdrop for the exploration sequences.

You control three entirely original characters who are on the tail of the Fellowship, meaning you'll witness the aftermath of scenes from the film. Entering Balin's Tomb, you see the troll, freshly slaughtered by Legolas' bow and deeper into the mines of Moria, you catch Gandalf tussling with the Balrog moments before he's slung into the pit below. Every actor from the films has done voiceovers, making the whole thing feel like an extension of the movie in the same way that Enter The Matrix did last year. The relentless action of the first two Lord of the Rings games has been kicked out in favour of tactical turn-based battling, character customization and exploration. Brave.

Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is out in November

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