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

More than a cash in

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.

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