The darkening skies are the harbingers of doom. With each passing day, the forces of evil grow stronger. Massive armies are waiting to descend upon the people of Middle Earth. The fellowship is torn apart. The companions are separated. Yet even in this darkest hour, there are some who continue to struggle. And hope is waiting to be found in the most unlikely places.
The Two Towers is the second chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Continuing and expanding the storyline from The Fellowship of The Ring, The Two Towers is a captivating novel for any fantasy fan. The original novel and the movie adaptation provide more than enough material a variety of video games. There are intense battles, engaging fights, fascinating environments, interesting characters, and of course a gripping storyline with a great atmosphere. Especially considering the tremendous success of the novels and the great anticipation for the movie, it was inevitable that a video game would be released based on The Two Towers.
Unfortunately, video games based on novels or movies rarely seem to truly capture the essence of the original material. Especially the games based on movies all too often feel rushed and lacking in polish, perhaps the result of an effort to get the game into the stores right before the release of the movie. The action title based on The Two Towers movie is by no means an excellent title. However, it still manages to break away from the mold and deliver an entertaining experience in several ways.
The original novel and The Two Towers movie weave a complex storyline with multiple threads. Picking up right where The Fellowship of the Ring left off, the movie depicts the second leg of Frodo and Sam’s perilous journey. In the meantime, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli set out on a quest of their own. Events escalate through the course of the movie and the desperate nature of the battle against evil becomes clear.
Instead of trying to capture the entire storyline of the movie or the novel, the video game focuses on Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. The game opens with a tutorial level that takes players all the way back to the beginning of the saga. Scenes from the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring are used to set the tone of the game and familiarize players with the storyline. The early levels of the game are also based on events that take place in the first movie. But the game eventually moves into the storyline of The Two Towers, pitting the three heroes against armies of orcs and goblins. From Rohan to Helm’s Deep, players get a chance to relive key moments of the movie by participating in the action.
The Two Towers is a pure action game played from a third-person perspective. During the tutorial level and the first regular level, players do not have the option to choose which character they control. However, in each of the remaining levels, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are available as playable characters. The pure hack and slash game play pits players against hordes of monsters across a variety of locations. In a number of the levels, other characters will join you to help you out in combat. However, you will have to face the majority of the encounters alone.
There are a few differences between the playable characters that bring some diversity to game play. Each character comes equipped with a melee weapon and a ranged weapon. Not surprisingly, the fastest character is the graceful elven archer Legolas. He is deadly with his twin daggers and unfaltering bow. He is also able to carry significantly more ammunition for his ranged weapon than Aragorn or Gimli. The stalwart dwarven warrior Gimli on the other hand is the master of the battleaxe. Even though he is noticeably slower than Legolas, Gimli can withstand a more damage. His attacks also deliver the most damage. The skillful swordsman and brave ranger Aragorn is somewhere in between the other two characters. While he does not match Legolas’s quickness or Gimli’s raw strength, as the well-rounded character, Aragorn is highly effective in just about any situation.
The game has a simple control schema that makes it very easy to fight your opponents. Each character has a speed attack that is effective against enemies that do not carry shields. With a series of speed attacks it is possible to mow down weaker troops with an almost disturbing efficiency. The fierce attack on the other hand works well against tougher opponents or enemies carrying shields. The powerful strikes are effective in knocking the monsters back or destroying their protective gear. The characters are also equipped with an attack that knocks back opponents. Finally, an extremely useful move is available for quickly finishing off opponents who have fallen on the ground before they can get up and continue fighting.
Rather than providing a defense button players can hold down to block enemy attacks, The Two Towers requires more involvement on the part of the player to fend off enemy attacks. Each character can attempt to parry enemy attacks. A well-timed tap on the parry button can deflect a blow that is about to land on your character. Players can also make their characters jump backwards as a form of defense.
Continually hitting enemies without sustaining damage fills up your character’s skill meter. Depending on how full the skill meter is, your character gets a rank for each enemy killed. If you have only landed a couple of successful consecutive blows, you will get a ‘fair’ or ‘good’ ranking. If you manage to charge up the skill bar further, you can achieve an ‘excellent’ ranking. When the skill meter is completely filled, your character’s weapon will begin to glow. For a few seconds, your attacks will deliver extra damage and each kill will get you a ‘perfect’ ranking. The rank you get with each kill determines the amount of experience points you receive for defeating the enemy. Higher rankings give players more experience points. Racking up experience points will increase the level of your characters and give you access to the various upgrades available.
At the end of each level, players are given a chance to spend the points earned by defeating monsters to buy upgrades. The bulk of the upgrades give players access to various combo moves. The relatively simple combos require players to press the various attack buttons in a predetermined sequence. The resulting attacks can be extremely devastating and rapidly fill up your skill meter.
Each character has a different set of upgrade options. For instance, Gimli has several upgrades to increase his maximum health, making him able to withstand greater amounts of damage. Legolas on the other hand has the most available upgrades to increase the damage done by his arrows. Thus, as you proceed through the game and power up each character, the differences between them should be further accentuated.
Including the tutorial and the secret mission that can be unlocked, The Two Towers features a total of twelve levels. While the levels provide players an opportunity to experience some of the key moments of the movie, each of them are fairly short. There are typically very simple key objectives such as protecting a gate, finding your path through an area, or just repelling waves of attacks until the game decides it is time for another cut scene.
Even though the levels are relatively small and do not last for too long, some of them are quite challenging. Especially towards the end of the game, when players have to defend areas against enemy attacks, hordes of monsters can easily overwhelm you. Some levels are divided into smaller sections. If your character dies or if you fail to complete an objective, you are taken back to the last checkpoint and you do not have to play through the entire level again. However, especially in some of the later levels, checkpoints are not available. As such, if something goes wrong, you will have to start the mission from scratch.
The strength of The Two Towers is in its action mechanics. The developers have successfully managed to provide a simple control structure while still delivering an engaging combat system. Defeating various enemy types will require you utilize different tactics. You will also feel the heat of the battle in some of the game’s levels as you and a handful of allies try to stand against a tremendous enemy force. Unfortunately, The Two Towers is not without its problems.
The biggest problem that hurts the overall game play experience is a remarkable lack of coherence. When the game starts with scenes from the first movie and throws you in the heat of the battle for the first time, it seems as though you are about to experience a complete retelling of the story. However, all you will really get is a series of disjoint moments from the first and the second movie. The cut scenes that are supposed to tie together different parts of the game do not give you any kind of sufficiently detailed explanation of the plot. Players are simply expected to jump from one level to the next with hardly any effort to communicate the underlying story.
Of course it should be noted that the developers simply intended to provide gamers an opportunity to relive certain moments of the movies. As such, their efforts seem to have been centered on recreating a number of locations with a great deal of detail rather than tying everything together coherently. Unfortunately, the end result is a game that can only be enjoyed by players who have seen and liked The Lord of the Rings movies. While there is plenty of strong source material to tell a solid story, it seems a shame that more of an effort was not put forth to communicate it in the video game adaptation of The Two Towers.
The game is also a bit too short. Getting through the entire game with one character should take about six hours. It is possible to go back to previously completed levels and play them with different characters. As an added bonus, reaching level five with each character unlocks an interview with the actor that plays him in the movie. Once you complete all of the regular missions and gain ten levels with one of the characters, you can also access the secret level. Finally, it is possible to unlock a secret fourth character. However, once you play through each level for the first time, it is doubtful that you will want to go back and play them again with a different character. While they are entertaining the first time around, the levels are just not engaging enough to be played over and over again. The attempts at adding replay value simply does not make up for lack of solid game play time.
The video game implementation of The Two Towers delivers very well on certain elements. The action is solid and the combat is indeed quite engaging. Some of the environments have been recreated with obvious care. The game occasionally succeeds in capturing the chaotic nature of the battlefield and makes players feel like they are in the middle of a war. Unfortunately, the feeling is quickly lost due to a lack of coherence between the individual levels. The excellent storyline of the movies and the novels is portrayed very poorly in the game. Some of the levels span over too small an area. Especially the part of the game that takes place within the mines of Moria should have included more of the tunnels than the single room where the companions fight against the cave troll. In general, players will most likely not be satisfied with the amount of game play time available. In the end, The Two Towers is a game that is made for fans of the movie. It offers good action mechanics and an opportunity to actively participate in some key moments of the movie. In that regard, The Two Towers is better than the average sloppy movie adaptation. However, in terms of delivering a complete game, The Two Towers falls short of the mark.