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The Lord of the Rings Return of the King

The PS2 box art for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for the PS2, among the more epic games I own.

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is a game developed and published by EA in 2003, based partly off of The Two Towers in theme, but mainly off of the contemporary film of the same name. The game follows the same plot as the movie (I'm just gonna give you the entire plot here and put a nutshell version here). Essentially, it's the last installment in the Lord of the Rings series, where Frodo and Sam finally reach Mount Doom, destroy the Ring, and barely make it out alive. Alongside them travel Merry and Pippin, each with other members of the resistance against Sauron; Gandalf is helping the men of Gondor against the Nazgul, and the fames three-man party of Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas is helping out the men of Rohan. Everything culminates in the final battle of the Black Gate, where the rest of the fellowship fights the Mordor forces to buy Frodo time.

First of all, I got this game at about 6-8 years old, because I already had The Two Towers, and when I heard a sequel was coming out, I prioritized that as the next game to ask for. Ever since I got it, whenever I got home from my first-grade class, I would sit down and play a couple levels to unwind (I was very mature for my age in the realm of gaming, weird as that may be...).

There is just no other word in history to describe this game aside from "EPIC." This game rocked...my...head. I know it may seem primitive to you all now, with the 2003 graphics, but this game was just so ahead of its time. let me tell you the reasons why this game is so completely awesome.

First of all, the levels aren't just true to the movie, but they're exciting as heck. There are some, like the Southern Gate (my personal favorite) where you just have to hack through enemies and destroy certain things to get through, while others require you to defend something (Minas Tirith) or someone (the Black Gate) for a certain amount of time. The harder the levels were, the more riveting. Minas Tirith still gives me a rush like you wouldn't even believe.

Even aside from that, the very nature of the levels themselves makes them completely thrilling. I mean, the best of the best with Lord of the Rings video games as far as levels go (in my opinion) is when flaming projectiles are flailing all around you and you have to fight off enemy after enemy with the righteous power of light (Courtyard level, FTW). Still, there are just some levels that require you to use your environment, plan out your strategy, or just plain hack your way through tons of enemies until you get to the end. There's just no end to the variety (in fact, they even feature palantirs as bonus levels, where you battle 20 waves of opponents, as in the last game), and despite the rather small amount of levels in the game compared to newer ones, you will be occupied by playing levels over and over again to see how well you do.

Now onto my next favorite part about this game: I love the fact that in this game, you have more options with regard to upgrading your characters. For every character unlocked, you can play as a given character to earn XP, and then you can use a menu after each level to upgrade your character in different areas, by doing anything from upgrading special moves, attacks, or getting new combo attacks.

Leading along to my next favorite feature: in this game, the moves are fantastically done, and multiply more diverse than in The Two Towers; what's more is that for the different types of characters, you get different effects from and same combo, so you can choose differently based on what style of fighting is your favorite. For example, I like like the smoothness of Legolas's attacks, so I like to play as him.

Again, leading to the next fantastic point about this game: the characters. There's a huge diversity in characters in this title, and oncce you win the game, you can play as all the other characters in any level. In the last game, you only had three playable characters as well as Isildur, who's just a slightly more powerful Aragorn clone. In this game, you have the entire fellowship except for Boromir (as he died in the last game), who is replaced with Faramir instead. Again, he's an Aragorn clone, but really cool to play as; plus, the clones are quite acceptable in this game due to the fact that two players can play with the same type of moveset.

Guess what? That leads me to another favorite feature of this game, one that almost dwarfs (no pun intended) the others. In this game, you have the ability to play a second game with two players. This gives you freebie access to some unlockable characters early on, like Merry and Pippin, because you have to have more players for normally single-player missions. Even after we'd finished, my folks and I would go back through the levels in co-op just to have the fun of fighting alongside each other. It was enormously fun, especially considering the fact that some of us were Gauntlet fans.

As you can plainly see, the good points of this game just lead to other good points. Aside from like, two occasional tedious sections and a couple glitches that can be expected for the time period, there is nothing wrong with this game, especially for you Lord of the Rings fans out there. If you can possibly get this game (perhaps as a backwards compatible game with newer systems), then try it, especially if you like hack and slash. This game will blow your mind even today, and it's one of my long-time favorites (which is why it's my 65th review!).

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