Aragorn’s Quest is the tale of…J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. This is essentially a game that was developed for the Wii by Headstrong Games and then ported to the PS3 with Move support. Since I don’t have PlayStation Move yet, I played the game for this review using the standard controller.
The story is narrated by the mayor of Hobbitown, Samwise Gamgee. Aragorn, king of Gondor, is slated to visit Hobbitown, for which the Hobbits are readying a grand party. In charge of the party is Samwise and he is being helped by his son, Frodo Gamgee. Between overseeing the preparations, he also tells the whole The Lord of the Rings saga to his four children, focusing mainly on Aragorn. Of course, the story stays true only superficially. It is filled with all sorts of elements that even Tolkien never would’ve dreamt of. Your quest begins when the Hobbits, fleeing the Nazgul, first met Aragorn, who was then known as Strider, one of the Rangers patrolling the area. The story then continues to Rivendell and beyond, skipping the parts not containing Aragorn as the primary character, which also leads me to wonder why some very exciting pieces of the story involving Aragorn were skipped.
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In a Zelda-like combat setting, you get a sword and a shield, with the standard sideways, upwards and downwards slash. You can block with the shield or hammer enemies to break past their guard. You also get a strength bar, which looks exactly like the magic bar in Zelda, used to execute special attacks. You also get your standard bows and arrows. Later in the game, you will be given your mount, which will not only help you travel faster, but also enable you to switch to a joust-like mode. Now, I know for certain Aragorn never used lances, but I think the developers threw in a little bit of King Arthur and his funny men just for variety.
The focus will always shift to young Frodo as he helps his dad test various stalls, which is how you learn the basics of gameplay. Soon after, you switch to the story and take charge of Aragorn. Now, the whole sword fighting style may look like Zelda, but it is nowhere as smooth. The combat feels clunky throughout the game. The worst part is when you want to dodge. Cutting and dodging apparently is frowned upon by the developers, because I found it impossible to pull off a dodge after a string of slashes. A successful dodge always required a small gap after my last action. This makes life hell during boss battles.
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Fighting from atop a horse is a horrible experience too. A few seconds into it, you will dismount to fight on foot. Shooting arrows also turns out to be a pain. You can’t aim and fire quickly. The mechanics instead force you to wait for a couple of seconds till a red circle flashes around the intended target. Only then are you guaranteed a hit. Imagine trying to shoot down a few goblin archers when your party is besieged by orcs. There is no camera control either. You will have to turn in the direction you want to see and the camera will slowly follow you. The lack of a mini map could have turned out to be a major irritant, but you get something slightly better. Standing still and pressing ‘X’ will light up the correct path like an airport runway. Of course, this works only for the main quests.
The game does throw up a few interesting things though. Remember the strength bar I talked about? Once it is full, you can use it to rally your troops in different ways to boost their attack or defence. A king’s hands are a healer’s hands, which is why you can heal fallen members of your party. There are tokens lying around the world, which will boost the attack or defence of a party member depending upon the token found. The sad part is that some of the artefacts are locked in a magical barrier and the only way around this barrier is by having a second person play as Gandalf.
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Also scattered around are lore items, symbolised by floating feathered quills. Finding them will unlock extra information related to the quest or Aragorn himself. There are plenty of side quests here, which is a good idea since the main campaign is very short. Finishing these quests will earn you items which will boost various stats. Unfortunately, some of the side quests require you to have a second player along with you, which is a problem if you are an unsocial bachelor like me. The other problem is that to even know where these quests lie, you will have to constantly switch to your map and back. The quest givers are marked with a silver star, but this helps only if you are within visual range. Else, you will have to scour your map for that star.
Beyond the side quests, there is nothing even remotely challenging about the game. While dungeon crawling in certain areas resembles Zelda, the puzzles are missing. The game is about as linear as it gets. Even the bosses you face don’t require any strategy. All you do is hack away. It helps in most cases that you are accompanied by the Fellowship, the riders of Rohan, or the soldiers of Minas Tirith. Most of the time, I could just rally the troops and step back, leaving the others to finish off the enemies.
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The characters resemble their movie counterparts and sound like them too. Unfortunately, the character models are disproportionate. Aragorn’s hands looked like he had borrowed them from a giant ogre, horses look like obese mules, and the Nazgul, the most fearsome creatures in the story, look like doddering grandmothers on Halloween night. There are times when the screen is packed with so many characters that all you can do is swing away and pray that you are hitting something. To make matters worse, there is screen tearing all over the place.