The Third Age: Hands-on
Lord of the Rings: The Third Age was shown to the attendees as two demos. One 'full' demo that brought us through a chunk of the game and a recent preview build, which although less stable, showed far more of the game.
We were first dropped into the shoes of Berethor the shield bearer as he fell under attack of ring-wraiths. It may have simply been the demo set to an easier difficulty, but it was nigh impossible to lose to the Wraiths. Even so, at the end of the battle, Berethor was saved by Idrial, the elf maiden. After battling though hordes of orcs, Berethor and Idrial fell upon a ranger who joined our party and continued our slaugher. The party then came to a castle and found some gear and continued on to find a specific party of orcs. Due to a problem with textures, the leaders of the orcs were all bright pink. It won't be in the final version of the game, but it was very, very funny.
After defeating the orc hordes, the game shifted to the Mines of Moria, where the game's battle system, very similar to that of Final Fantasy X, showed its differences. Surrounded by a group of enemies, the three party members circled and each of them faced off against two orcs individually. After a character had faced off against their orcs, they were unable to fight the others'. EA has promised that this will be fixed in the final version. At this point we were also able to glimpse the experience system in the game. Using a Skill Point system, users choose the skill they wish to start learning in the menu and earn SP through battle. Hit Points and Ability Points - remember, none of the characters can use 'Magic', but have special abilities - are gained through standard levelling.
Characters are also able to equip many different types of equipment, from all three ages. If a character equips a complete set of gear (Arms, Legs, Body, and Helm) that goes together, they receive a bonus to armor. Each piece of armor has a unique look on characters, so there are literally tens of thousands of combinations with all six characters. After fiddling with equipment, we returned to the Battle of Helm's Deep, where Berethor had to find Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn to find what they were doing, and continued on to battle. Although the demo went from place to place without any transition, the final game will feature no overworld map, but a seamless world similar to Star Ocean 3 or Final Fantasy X. At this point, the demos ended, and we conversed with the staff about what was good and bad about the game.
The game also features many things that are taken for granted. Elemental attacks being one of them. However, the last, and possibly most important option, is the ability to play through completed portions of the game as the bad guys. By completing these side quests, characters gain items in the 'good' side of the game. At this point, EA had shown us everything they had planned to about the game and ushered us out to take our planes home. Although work still needs to be done on the game, release is still two months away and EA has plenty of time for tweaks.
We here at RPGFan would like to thank Electronic Arts for inviting us to their campus and hope to see them develop more games in our favorite genre for a long time to come.