Revisiting the Weird Legacy of Lord of the Rings: The Third Age

The Lord of the Rings movies were released at the height of tie-ins for video games. The series featured everything, from strategy games to traditional hack-and-slash action titles. But 2004's The Third Age was the most bizarre and interesting. It was a mix of Final Fantasy knockoff and movie retelling. The series asked a strange question: How can you tell the story of the Fellowship of the Ring without the Fellowship being there?


Answer: You make your own Fellowship and keep the serial numbers.

There are no Hobbits in The Third Ages, but the motley group follows the Fellowship in Lord of the Rings almost from the beginning with a comical closeness. Two Gondorians are present, a Knight named Berethor, and a Ranger called Elegost. There are also two Rohirrim and members of Theodens guard (oaden), a villager and Morwen, an Elf and a Dwarf and Hadhod. Berethor is ambushed while on his way to Rivendell to join Bormirs party at the council of Elrond, Fellowship of the Ring. It's a 30-hour reimagining of the Lord of the Rings movies, with RPG mechanics that can only diplomatically be described as being stolen from a truck called The Kids Like That Final Fantasy X.

It is funny how close the regular Fellowshipa thing can be to what you would get if you gather a few people around. Instead of being a formal title such as the one Elond grants Frodo, and his retinueis, it becomes a kind of informal title that can be used throughout The Third Age. Gandalfin guided him by psychic communication in the form of unlockable clips from the films and new Sir Ian McKellen narration. Why didn't he think to do that with Frodo when the Fellowship split? He still talks to Berethor despite his death and rebirth! )Berethor, his friends, race from Rivendell to Moria. From there, it was on to the villages Rohan and Helms Deep. Finally, Osgiliath and Minas Tirith were reached.

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Except for rare occasions, the party is often with main LotR characters. Helping Gandalf defeat the Balrog at Moria or the Witch King At Minas Tirith or helping Aragorn and Legolas hold Helms Deeptheyre clearly in the primary Fellowships shadow, just behind them or just off-screen. Your party gets to see the Dwarven skeleton Pippin, which flies through the ceiling and lands right in front of them at one point in Moria. Another is when you climb Minas Tiriths' levels during the siege for Gandalf. You literally reach the top and Denethor runs screaming past, igniting his death.


The strangest part of The Third Age is the moment it steps away from the original premise of the films, despite the fact that the LotR game plays so closely to the characters and events in the films. Gandalf's film-reel communication with Berethor reveals that the wizard has asked you to perform some great feats that Berethor can't remember. (I presume it is best that you poke Saurons eye with your stick for 40 hours while Frodo does all the actual work). Berethor doesn't remember much at all at the beginning of the game. Other than the fact that a) he abandoned the battle for Osgiliath under the Gondorian forces of Boromir, Faramirs command, and Saurons Orcs and b) that he was meant to catch up at the Council of Elrond with Boromirs party. Yet, Berethor has visions throughout The Third Age. These visions include the warnings from Gandalf, and then darker threats from Saruman (a resurgent Christopher Lee).

It was eventually discovered that Berethor is the most abused human in Middle-Earth. Before the game began, he was secretly ensorcelled at the Council of Elrond by Saruman. He believed Boromir would surrender to the Rings power and take it for Gondor (or wrest the ring from Frodo). He would become The Gondorian Candidate, and be a Sarumans unknowing accomplice in the meeting. He didn't. Berethor was fine because...reasons. Because he was right next to Aragorn at Helms Deep. Its left unclear. It's not the only thing! But that's not all! It was also revealed that Berethor fled after being stabbed with the Witch Kings Morgul knife during the second battle for Osgiliath. This did not slowly poison Berethor or turn him into a Wraith like Frodo. It just...did nothing. He had to pull the tip of the Morgul blades out of his chest in mid-fight to do any harm to the Ringwraith.


Its... bananas. This absurdist Middle-Earth fanfic wraps around a superficial knockoff of Final Fantasy X's combat mechanics. It is all made even more bizarre by the fact that it is wrapped around a ridiculously absurdist Middle-Earth fanfic. This makes it feel like revisiting The Third Age is like playing a mix of turn-based Fantasy RPGs in between Ian McKellen's lore-dumping Lord of the Rings. It has a charm that few other LotR games can match. There have been many better games, like Shadow of Mordor/Shadow of War. But none of them have captured the core themes of the movies or J.R.R. Tolkiens novels. It's all there in its own strange way. The idea of perseverance even in darkness, that even the most unlikely of us can rise to the occasion, and become heroes. That destiny can be challenged and taken in your own hands. It just happens that it throws one helluva Middle-Earth-shaped kitchen faucet at you in the middle of all this.


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