|Frodo gets ready to embark on his journey again.|
I know how much I like a game by how attractive the "new game" button looks every time I fire it up. If I'm having fun, but I haven't exhausted myself with it yet, the button is full of promise: a fresh experience in a familiar place, rendered all the more attractive through the conviction that, now that I understand the game, I can do everything right.
"Understanding the game" can include a lot of things, such as what skills are useful and which are not, what to look for when exploring areas, how to fight certain enemies, and just overall familiarity with the interface. For instance, a few months ago I decided to check out Fallout 3, but I was hours into the game before I understood how the VATS system worked, how to turn on my flashlight, which items were worth collecting, and that I needed to especially watch out for skill books and those little bobbleheads. It was enormously satisfying to start over and fully explore those areas I bumbled through the first time.
(To stave off the inevitable questions: I think it's a fun game--my first first-person shooter/RPG combo--love the skill system, wouldn't mind if some of the buildings were a little smaller, wouldn't mind if ammo was a bit more scarce, don't understand why the main quest uses so little of the map, will review it when I reach that year in my blog.)
|The CD version provides an animated cut-scene at a crucial moment.|
I wouldn't say I particularly love Lord of the Rings, but I didn't mind starting over. There are a number of things I know now that I didn't know when I started, including the importance of using "perception" in just about every room, the need to walk around and make sure to get close to things in the environment so you get the message that something valuable is there, the need to buy lots of rations while still in Hobbiton, and the fact that the day/night cycle does mean something for some encounters. Of course, it didn't hurt that I'd missed or bollixed some encounters and I wanted to try those again.
|The 1993 CD version has on-screen text instead of journal entry references. I suppose a drawback of this is I can't look them up again later.|
Finally, I thought I'd use the experience to check out the other version--the one that came on CD in 1993. As I covered in my first post, the major difference is that this version includes scenes from the 1978 Ralph Baskshi animated film instead of static screens drawn specifically for the game (frankly, I like the latter better). It has a significantly improved interface, offering a "show" command for the inventory and allowing rapid scrolling between characters on most menus rather than having to return to the root menu to choose a different characters. The party is now capable of diagonal movement. You can turn off the music permanently. The graphics are unchanged but the sound is significantly improved. Commands execute when you hit their associated letters without having to hit SPACE to bring up the command bar first. Text appears on screen--no more having to open the PDF journal constantly. Perhaps most important, it offers an automap that greatly facilitates exploration.
|I like doing my own mapping in tile-based games, but in continuous-movement games, the lack of an automap ought to be a crime.|
As an aside, by accident I originally wrote "1978 Rankin/Bass film" above. Wouldn't that be awesome? A stop-motion Lord of the Rings film in the style of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? If someone wants to Kickstart that, I'll contribute.
Anyway, never fear that you'll have to read about the same areas twice. I've already played through both the Shire and the Old Forest, so I'll pick up with Bree anon. I did have a few new encounters this time through:
- I successfully used "sneak" to enter the mill that Lotho and his human allies had set up in the Shire and destroyed the machinery. There was no reward for this but experience.
- In a cave where I saved one of the lost children from a spider, I found this scroll that I missed before.
|Is that supposed to be some kind of threat?|
- Near the location of the lost children, I had completely missed a healer who wanted "athelas." I had to wander around the woods, checking every tree, fighting wolves, before I found some, and when I returned it to the healer, he healed my wounds.
|"Kingsfoil--aye, it's a weed!"|
- I still couldn't save Hawkeye. Literally two seconds after he joined me, an orc attacked, we defeated it, he hustled me to a cave, and he left the party as two Nazgul appeared and attacked. I reloaded a few times, but each time they got the first attack and killed two characters without flinching. I don't understand how winning this is possible at all. I also still only found ELBERETH once, but this time I held on to it.
- There was an encounter I solved "correctly" the first time, involving a sick boy whose father, Farmer Maggot, needed me to fetch the healer for him. The kid was surrounded by protective dogs that I didn't disturb last time. This time, I wandered into his room before fetching the healer to see what would happen. The dogs attacked. Once I killed them . . .
|I'm not too proud to say I reloaded here.|
- In a building I didn't visit the first time, Rose Cotton said goodbye to Sam and gave him a token. No idea what it does.
- I met an elf NPC named Cirband that I had previously missed. He had some things to say about ELBERETH and the Old Forest.
- When I got to the Old Forest, I started to explore the non-secret path but I kept getting damaged by falling branches and attacked by wolves. It was easier just to take the secret exit.
- This time, I visited Tom Bombadil's house first. I got the token from Goldberry. When I showed it to Withywindle, she asked for the Springstone to restore spring to the riverbanks so lilies could grow. I gave it to her and she gave me lilies in return. When I gave the lilies to Goldberry, she gave me a blessing that increased everyone's statistics a few points, so the exercise was worth it.
- I still couldn't figure out the deal with the "ruddy oak" tree. From a comment I got last time, I gather he's supposed to join the party. I think I was supposed to give him an acorn, but this time when I found the tree that had the acorns, I couldn't get any for some reason. Anyway, apparently he was only necessary to find the Springstone, which I found through other means (a book in Brandy Hall had told me where to look for it).
- Because I visited Tom Bombadil's house before Sharkey's Shipping, the traitorous Athelwyn was still with me and could theoretically use "countermagic" to pass through a wall of ice in Withywindle's caverns. I say "theoretically" because every time I tried it, my party would briefly appear on the other side and I'd get a message that it sealed itself shut behind me, but then the party would abruptly return to the original side. Is whatever's on the other side anything I should go back for?
The rest of the map, including the barrows and Sharkey's Shipping, played out much as before. I still couldn't figure out how to get into the barrow with the swan and crown. Owing to a slight difference in exploration pattern, Athelwyn revealed herself and abandoned me in a slightly different location, but otherwise I was soon on to Bree.
|Did the Witch of Cardolan survive the centuries by attacking a party of six people and a horse while unarmed?|
Arriving on the third map, I had Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, a pony, Druin the dwarf, and another hobbit named Nob Appledore, who I rescued from a cell in Sharkey's Shipping and seems to only exist for this game. We were all in pretty bad shape, so it didn't help that I was immediately set upon by wargs (who, in this game, look just like wolves). Everywhere I went, I was killed by packs of them, and it took a while before I found a way to thread past them and on to the city.
The day/night cycle mattered more in Bree than elsewhere, with certain shops only open during the day and many houses locked up at night. There were a couple places where I was attacked by Nazguls at night. I was surprised to find hobbit holes in the city--are they in the book?--but none of the occupants were very helpful.
Various NPCs had more rumors about Black Riders searching for me, Rangers fighting them, and bandits stealing horses. We wandered into Nob Appledore's house and he left me, but not before giving me something called "Durin's Pick," which I assume replaces the regular pick I already had.
At long last, I found a blacksmith where I could spend some of the hundreds of silver pieces I'd amassed. I bought chain mail and shields for both Frodo and Sam, who end up doing a lot of melee combat (Merry and Pippin have bows). But I was annoyed that the blacksmith wouldn't buy any of the extra daggers, gems, and other items I've been hauling around. I compounded the inventory problem by purchasing a "spiritcharm" and a gold ring just because they both sounded like things that will be useful.
The centerpiece of the city was, of course, the Prancing Pony, where I gave the name "Underhill" upon entering (unlike certain hobbits, I didn't say "B . . . Underhill. My name's Underhill" so unconvincingly it would have fooled no one). Aragorn, of course calling himself "Strider" at the moment, was hanging out in a corner. He told me to meet him in another room, and when I did, there was a little cut scene from the film and Aragorn joined my party, waving a broken blade around and spouting something about it being forged anew. I assume this is from the book.
Shortly after Aragorn joined, I ended my session. I think I've fully explored the city, but I want to make another pass at the NPCs, because there was a hint of a side quest I never fully got a bead on. Something to do with a resident named Bill Ferny stealing horses. I heard about him from some townsfolk, and when I entered the stables next to the Prancing Pony, I got a message that all the horses were gone. I suspect my horse was supposed to be among them, because when I entered the inn, the innkeeper said something about taking and stabling him, but for whatever reason the pony never left my side. I also never heard anything about Gandalf, so I want to ask all the residents about him as a keyword. Finally, there's a hobbit hole with a guy asking for a password, and I want to see if I can figure out what's going on with him.
After that, I still have the exterior of Bree to explore--perhaps I'll take another crack at those wargs, now that I have Aragorn--before moving on to, presumably, Weathertop or Rivendell.
The CD version of the game seems worth it for the interface improvements, and equally so for the sound. The original 1990 version had fairly primitive sound effects, but this one has some nice recorded effects, especially for combats, with daggers and swords swishing through the air, arrows finding their targets with a "thwack," wolves growling and yelping convincingly, barrow wights making a ghastly scream when they die, and so on. On the other hand, the video doesn't enhance the experience at all, especially since the characters in the animated film look nothing like the portraits in the game. Aragorn looks particularly awful in the movie, though perhaps I'm overly influenced by the Jackson films as to what he should look like.
I know I was a little down on the game in my last post, but I'm liking it more now that I feel more confident in the controls and gameplay mechanics. I look forward to what awaits the Fellowship next.