Have You Played… The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King?

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

Hurry! Everything collapses!

If you’ve played the surprisingly good hack and slash Return of the King game, I bet you’ll remember that line. It’s at the start of an infuriatingly difficult section where you have to escape from a crumbling tomb, and I’ve heard it so many times that the words “everything collapses!” still spring to mind at the slightest sign of structural instability.

This is one of those games from my childhood that I’ve returned to every now and then just to check if it’s actually great, or if the critical faculties of my 10 year old brain didn’t realise I was merely playing a solid 7/10 movie cash in.

It’s been a few years since I last booted it up, but I’m now convinced it’s more than that. The combat system is smart, weighty and precise, with combo attacks and parries that rewards skill over button mashing. Your multiplier goes up as you chain together attacks without being hit, which earns you xp that can be spent on new combos at the end of each level.

Even in fantastic brawlers like Devil May Cry, I often feel like I’m learning a new combo for the sake of variety and style rather than because it’ll make me better at the game. In RotK, most combos feel like they have specific use: this one knocks over and instakills an individual enemy, this one breaks shields, this one’s good for small enemies – and so on.

It’s obvious now, but back when I first played it I simply couldn’t work out why the co-op option was greyed out on the main menu. This was before the internet became my port of call for solving such problems, and so I phoned up the game’s help hotline. Bizarrely, the man I spoke to told me I needed to complete the entire game as Gandalf in order to unlock it.

That must have taken me about a dozen hours, and it turns out all I needed to do was plug in a controller.

32 Comments

  1. Sartharina says:

    One of the best movie-based games I’ve played. Fun to play with friends (Can’t remember how many players it allowed), but beating the game and then being able to play any mission as any character was great.

    • RachelLynch says:

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  2. Zorgulon says:

    Good memories of this one. I also got stuck for a long, frustrating time on that tomb collapse at the beginning.

  3. Solidstate89 says:

    Playing as Gandalf in this game was a god damn treat.

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      sylmarien says:

      It also was the “easy mode” if my memory serves me right.

  4. Slazer says:

    I think I was always stuck at the tomb king each time and re-installed the game, and the solution was to level up your chars in the multiplayer mode as you could not play a single-player level twice with one character.
    That meant I was controlling the 2nd player’s movement with my feet while I had to work really hard keeping him alive with my main.
    Anyway, the game was amazing and Legolas is the best (along with Gandalf, who didn’t work in multiplayer). They also had additional unlockable characters like Faramir, Merry and Pippin once you completed the game

  5. Menthalion says:

    Bounced off so hard at the unskippable intro and general instability on more modern PCs that I never played it for long.

    Did play The Lord of the Rings: War in the North to completion three times thanks to the superior online coop and despite the dwarven crossbow AoE skill(PC)/ goblin shaman Fireball(NPC) attacks being 10x the intended damage.

    • Slazer says:

      Played War in the North with a friend, hoping it would come close to this game.

      It didn’t

      • Menthalion says:

        Wish I could have done the same, but I never had the patience to sit through 5 minutes of intro after crashing within 5 minutes of gameplay. Made even more fun by the game having a single save point at the end of every level.

        I consider WotN also one of these 7/10 games so there couldn’t be that big a difference.

  6. woodsey says:

    I remember having to replay Aragorn’s opening couple of levels over and over, hoping I could accrue enough XP to get to level 4 before facing the King of the Dead, because I sure as shit couldn’t beat him at level 3.

    I also remember how strangely excited I was to unlock Faramir as a player-character. Faramir.

  7. Eightball says:

    I thought the Two Towers one was better on the whole, especially Helms Deep.

  8. Lawlcopt0r says:

    I recently rediscovered this game but it won’t install on Windows 7 :/ Anyone have a workaround? I think I was too bad at it to apprechiate it as a child, but looking back the combat system was definitely above average, especially for the time

  9. welverin says:

    “This is one of those games from my childhood”

    God damn kids.

  10. davebo says:

    I played this co-op on PS2 and one thing I remember is it having great sound. Really engineered for Dolby ProLogic to mix the stereo sound to 5.1 channels, it was excellent for its time.

  11. JakeOfRavenclaw says:

    One of my favorite games of all time, no kidding. I remember spending ages grinding out The Southern Gate to level everybody up (to my delight, it was in fact possible to kill all of the seemingly endless orcs on that level). I never did beat the Palantir levels (Horde Mode, essentially), which seemed utterly impossible at the age I was then. Such a fun game.

    I do wonder what people who first played this as adults would have thought of it–if it came out today I suspect it would be trashed for a lack of content, but at the time it was exactly the game I wanted. Battle for Middle-Earth was fun, Lego Lord of the Rings was charming, but this is *the* definitive Lord of the Rings video game for me.

  12. oWn4g3 says:

    I remember how we didn’t manage to finish the level shown in the header image. After slaying everything with Aragorn and Legolas, playing the Hobbits was too hard for us younglings.

    Still one of the best local coop games I have ever played.

  13. Papageno says:

    I played the heck out of this on PC when it came out. It definitely needs an updated version with some tweaks (that stupid “escape the collapsing caves level” especially).
    Is it available on GOG or the like?

  14. awrc says:

    This might be the nostalgia talking, but I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a co-op game more!

  15. Seyda Neen says:

    Great game. The Shelob’s Lair level can go jump in a lake, though.

  16. Matys says:

    The game is an absolute gem, but I’ll echo another user’s comment and say that I found two towers to be far superior. I feel like RoTk as a game tries to do too much and starts feeling a bit clownish sometimes. Two towers really felt like you were there, wish there was a PC port.

  17. WingcommanderIV says:

    I remember my mom buying me both Two Towers and Return of the King. I loved both games. I agree that Two Towers might have been better because of the battle at helms deep. I also remember having a really hard time with that. It took me a long time of non-stop effort to beat it, but I did. In fact, I beat the entire game in a day!

  18. Gomer_Pyle says:

    I played this with my brother, he Gandalf with the super shield, I Legolas with the double purple laser arrows. It was a great game, though I remember we had difficulty with the Black Gate level, where you had to defend the other stupid AI heroes. I replayed the game a few years ago, and breezed through the whole thing, including that level.

  19. baud001 says:

    I played it too. I played with my two brothers and since we couldn’t play co-op, we each played one of the three storylines. I remember being the one to finish the last level and then starting again with a high level character. Ah good times.

  20. michelangelo says:

    I remember playing it with my friend (at the time, since he seems to grow up in extreme right neo-nazi psycho) on his (much more powerful than mine) computer. He was mouse/keyboard and I was playing with the joystick. Somehow. Anyway, coop race for a better score I remember being great (!) fun. Question is, where can I but this game nowadays?

    • tnzk says:

      Is your former friend a proper extreme right wing neo-nazi psycho that’s writing Mein Kampf II, or just a relatively normal guy who posts pro-Trump, anti-immigration memes on Facebook?

      Because I’m starting to get really annoyed at the ubiquitous mudslinging. Delegitimizing another’s personal beliefs without logic or reason is a stepping stone toward removing the rights of another group, which in turn is a catalyst for a violent revolution.

      • michelangelo says:

        I’d rather read here, where I can buy The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on PC, but since this seems to interest you more than the game, well… I have no clue how his Facebook looks like. I just heard stories from my hometown, that he gathers with his gym friends and beating up people who dare to think that holocaust actually happened. Is Trump his favorite politic? I don’t know, and you can bet that I am not going to ask him.

      • pekingduckman says:

        Oh look, liberals like you are always keen to defend the “free speech” rights of Nazis and other extremists, but never those of minorities who are often marginalized by the government and be victims of extremist groups. Being Nazi is a choice, and the last time Nazis were given free speech, they sent entire races of people to the concentration camps.