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Video Game / The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

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"We must hold his gaze long enough for the unthinkable to become real. For hope to conquer all."

All spoilers for the films are unmarked. Read on at your own discretion.

The Return of the King is an action game made by Electronic Arts, based on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The gameplay is mixed with introductory and ending scenes from the films themselves.

The game starts with Gandalf, after joining the battle at Helm's Deep. The action is then divided in three paths: the path of the wizard, the path of the king, and the path of the Hobbits.

In the Path of the Wizard, Gandalf kills the remaining orcs and Uruk-hai at Fangorn forest, and helps Barbol to release the river. Then he is off to Minas Tirith, first helping to keep the orcs from the ramparts, and then helping people to escape to the inner walls.

In the Path of the King, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli (the player can play any of the 3) roam into the haunted mountain to recruit the help of the dead, and then join the final battle at Pelennor Fields.

In the Path of the Hobbits, Sam, Frodo and Gollum (non-playable) escape from Osgiliath. In the next two ones, Sam is alone, first in Shelob's lair, and then in Cirith Ungol.

The Wizard and the King join forces and face Sauron's armies at the Black Gate, and Frodo fights Gollum at Mount Doom. And you know what happens then, don't you?


  • Adaptational Badass:
    • All four Fellowship Hobbits (even Frodo) are playable in this game, with Sam being the only one available from the start. To drive the point further, Frodo can even play through the levels where he's supposedly the one in distress, while Merry and Pippin can respectively be played as in Pelennor Fields and Minas Tirith.
    • Gollum at Mount Doom. You have to defeat him while he's equipped with the One Ring, and he's not quite the easiest boss.
    • The Mouth Of Sauron actually serves a boss instead of just getting his head cut off in one swing.
    • The king of the dead doesn't yield to Aragorn without a fight, and must be defeated in a boss battle to finally submit.
  • Adaptational Villainy: The spirits of the dead take quite a bit longer in being convinced to fight for the fellowship, spanning quite a few levels in the process with them acting as Mooks for the time being.
  • Adaptational Wimp: The Witch King is killed by Eowyn in a cutscene rather easily, contrasting with how he almost killed her in the movie and she only survived with Merry's intervention.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: The Mouth of Sauron shows Frodo's mithril vest, and Gimli fears that he's dead. Aragorn has no time to say he does not believe it, as in the film. Then, Gandalf keeps his motivation rant about giving time to Frodo, completely ignoring the vest as if it was never there.
  • Armor Is Useless: Played with. The armor an enemy wears doesn't have any factor in how much abuse they take, but some Champion enemies do wear armor that you need break before actually hurting them.
  • Ascended Meme: You know what would be great? To select some of the best scenes of the game, and make a video with them, with the "Requiem For a Dream" song in the background! Oh wait, EA already did it. Yay!
  • Attack Its Weak Point: The mook spiders in Shelob's Lair are absolute damage sponges... until you figure out how to flip them over with a strong or push attack and finish them with a ground stab.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Gandalf and Aragorn, in the cover image.
  • Badass in Distress: Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli must save Eowyn and Merry from both the Mumakil and the Witch King during the Battle of Pelennor Fields.
  • Bag of Spilling: The Hobbit path has you fight as Samwise through Osgiliath, Shelob's Lair, and Cirith Ungol, and you can rack up a fair amount of levels from just those three. Then the final level puts you as Frodo... who is counted as a separate character and back down to level 1 unless you've inputted a cheat code that allows him to be used during the other three levels.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: The spirits of the dead. Aragorn proposed to free them from their oath if they fight for him, and they would have peace and depart.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Due to being a T-rated game, there is lots of hack and slash, but no blood.
  • Boss-Only Level:
    • One level is dedicated exclusively to fighting the king of the dead so he finally yields to Aragorn.
    • The final stage of the game consists of only one enemy that the player must dispatch: Gollum.
  • Bow and Sword in Accord: Aragorn, Legolas and Faramir have these sets of weapons as playable characters.
  • Brutal Bonus Level: Two.
    • One is the Palantir of Saruman. It's like the bonus level of the last game, where the player has to fight their way through level after level enemies. It is much harder than the main game, with large groups of archers being encountered along with melee, sometimes shielded enemies, meaning that the player can take a lot of damage from either of them while trying to deal with the other. Later the player starts encountering groups of Champion enemies at the same time.
    • The Palantir of Sauron is the same thing, but even worse. The groups of enemies are even larger, which is especially bad with the archers, and it more frequently throws in the stronger enemy types.
  • But Now I Must Go: Gandalf must leave Middle Earth once Sauron has been defeated.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": An oliphaunt is "a foul creature of the south."
  • Call-Back: One that the films could have used, but missed. After several cut scenes of the battle at Helm's Deep, Aragorn looks a window and remembers Gandalf's departure: "Look to my coming, at first light, on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the East." And, while Gandalf shows up with The Cavalry at the top of the mountain, he uses his first phrase in the film series: "For a wizard is never late, nor is he early: he arrives precisely when he means to."
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: The first missions are sneaky and you face two or three enemies at the same time at most. In the later ones, this trope is in full effect, with the player cutting furrows through entire ranks of enemy units. The level-up system and its new combos and upgrades helps.
  • Corridor Cubbyhole Run: A variant in Osgiliath. If the player spends too much time in the open, Frodo succumbs to the Nazgul and gives up the One Ring. Success depends on making quick work of enemies and getting from cover to cover; locations with ceilings, no matter how flimsy, work as rest stops.note 
  • Deadly Euphemism
    King of the Dead: The Dead shall fight, when your people are closest to us.
  • Defeat Equals Explosion: The guaranteed sign of a Mûmak's death is the war tower on its back suddenly exploding when hit by a powerful projectile. After this, the oliphaunt staggers and falls.
  • Defeat Means Respect: In the video game, presenting Anduril to the King of the Dead isn't enough to hold him to his oath. You have to put that pretty sword to work, naturally.
  • Dual Wielding:
    • As in The Two Towers, Gandalf uses both his staff and Glamdring to wreck orc ass. Most of his unlockable combos are variants of "stun enemy with staff, chop enemy with sword" over and over.
    • Legolas dual wields two short swords/long knives.
    • Mordor Orc champions wield a sword and a war hammer, Sauron's Black Uruk champions dual-wield maces, and the Easterling champions dual wield halberds, though they aren't as long the type they were seen carrying in the movie.
  • Elite Mook: Sauron's Black Uruks and the Easterling enemies. They're stronger than regular orc enemies, dead soldiers and Saruman's Uruk-hai faced in the early levels.
  • Enemy Civil War: Fortunately for Sam, there is one going on at Cirith Ungol while he sneaks to free Frodo.
  • Escort Mission:
    • Subverted in Osgiliath. While the player is supposed to keep from Frodo from succumbing to the Nazgul, the gauge showing how close he is to falling to the ring only goes up if Sam is out in the open. Frodo can't actually be damaged and the enemies will focus on Sam, so the player doesn't need to worry about Frodo.
    • A surprisingly benign example occurs in Minas Tirith where Gandalf has to escort a set number of people to safety. The people will be attacked and killed by enemies in the level, but there is no limit to the number of them that spawn. The level is really more of a matter of the player staying alive so they can kill the enemies to allow the set number of civilians can escape.
  • Fat Bastard: The Mordor Orc champion is distinguished from the other ones with his corpulent build.
  • Final Boss: Gollum, at The Crack of Doom.
  • Finishing Move: Characters can gain an easy combo for dispatching enemies who have been knocked to the ground. This is especially effective against the spiders in Shelob's lair, who are otherwise tough as Demonic Spiders.
  • Flaming Sword: One of Aragorn's charged area attacks literally sets Anduril on fire.
  • Forced Tutorial: The campaign starts with Gandalf joining the fight at Helm's Deep. We learn how to use the controls, fire at a distance, go up and down ladders, use machines laying around, etc.
  • Gambit Roulette: Gandalf's narration make it seem as if he had planned and organized everything that took place in the whole film story, even the things that he could not have controlled, or which took place somewhere else. Sam going along with Frodo, after the breaking of the Fellowship? Gandalf's plan. Frodo taking Gollum as guide? Gandalf's plan. Two more hobbits in the mix? Gandalf's plan. Aragorn recruiting the dead spirits? Gandalf's plan. Even the last fight at the Black Gates is described as if planned all along, instead of planned in their context after the end of the battle, as it really was.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration: The Hobbit path has you mostly play and gain levels as Sam, but the final level of the game puts you as Frodo at level 1. This works in two ways: 1) Frodo is weakened by holding the Ring for long enough that it's not as easy as it would be for Sam to fight, and 2) your enemy is Gollum who has to be defeated by wit and knocking him off the platform as your attacks do little to no damage to him anyways.
  • Giant Mook: Trolls. They do a lot of damage and you can't block their attacks. Thankfully there are usually war pikes lying around that you can throw at them to kill them in one hit.
  • The Gloves Come Off: Sauron sent all his armies of orcs to the heroes at the Black Gates, but Conservation of Ninjutsu is on their side. So, he sent the Nazgul instead.
    Nazgul: Lord Sauron has lost patience!
  • Hope Springs Eternal: Gollum guided Frodo into Mordor, but he may yet guide Frodo to his doom at Shelob's lair, dooming all Middle-Earth in his bid to recover the Ring for himself. But always, hope endures...
  • Improvised Weapon: Braziers can be kicked over onto hordes of enemies, which is exceptionally useful in Cirith Ungol. The discarded war pikes littering the battlefields can be picked up and thrown, which is definitely the safest way to deal with trolls.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When the Nazgul join the fight at the Black Gate, Gandalf shouts "You know their weakness! Use it!" Hm? Who else in there other than Aragorn is aware of that scene from the first film? Ah, of course, the player.
  • Made of Explodium: For some reason, the war towers on top of the Mumakil detonate when they're killed.
  • Mighty Glacier:
    • The trolls are slow, but their reach means a player that tries to attack them in melee will often get hit before they can get close enough. As you'd expect, their attacks hurt and can't be blocked.
    • Gimli on the player character's side; he hits harder in melee combat than almost anyone else in the game, but his combos are some of the slowest and take more time to build up. What prevents him from becoming a Glass Cannon is he takes damage at the same rate as any other character, so you're only sacrificing speed for power.
  • Moveset Clone: Unlockable characters include Faramir (for Aragorn), Merry and Pippin (for Sam).
  • Multishot: Legolas can learn this, as well as a skill that allows his arrows to pass through enemies.
  • No Indoor Voice: Be ready! Aragorn is always shouting!
  • Non-Player Character: In the Path of the King you can play as Aragorn, Legolas or Gimli; the two ones that you did not select will tag along as NPCs. Gollum and Frodo are the NPCs in Osgiliath, and Sam is the NPC at Mount Doom. And of course, a lot of Gondor Soldiers here and there.
  • One-Hit Kill: Your character can learn species-specific ripostes that act as this and automatically send your character into Perfect Mode. Contrary to the common trope tendency toward Powerful, but Inaccurate, it's a very helpful way to stay in Perfect Mode while mowing down mooks.
  • One-Man Army: Gandalf, who has strength on par with Aragorn and speed and ranged ability on par with Legolas. It's necessary: you frequently have fewer NPC helpers and thus more stuff to thrash alone in Gandalf's levels, where many of the Three Hunters' levels have at least one as a constant companion and it tends to even out on which side of the melee/ranged continuum you didn't pick. While the lines about Sam are still there in enemy chatter during Cirith Ungol, he mostly has to do things by stealth, getting to use the One Ring earlier (even in Osgiliath) to deliver backstabs.
  • Ring-Out Boss: The fate of Middle Earth is decided in the final level, the Crack of Doom, where Frodo has to push the biggest enemy of them all, to his doom. No it isn't Gollum who is the biggest enemy to the Free People, despite technically being the final boss, but what he is actually carrying: the One Ring.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Aragorn has returned, and he's the new king of Gondor. And his first government action is... lead the surviving armies to the Black Gate, kill the Mouth of Sauron and loads and loads of orcs.
  • RPG Elements: Points can be exchanged for new combos and skills between levels.
  • Schizophrenic Difficulty: Generally you're supposed to play the levels in terms of Gandalf's as the easiest, Aragorn/Legolas/Gimli in the middle, and the Hobbits as the hardest, escalating bottom-to-top and left-to-right. The thing is, after the tutorial level, there's nothing stopping you from picking one path and going straight up it then doing the next path until they all meet at the Cracks of Doom. When playing the game in co-op mode, the game is locked to the middle path first, which upon completion unlocks Gandalf's path, and then finally that of the Hobbits.
  • Sixth Ranger: Faramir becomes an unlockable playable character instead of Boromir, therefore replacing him. According to David Wenham, Faramir would have survived if he had actually gone to Rivendell and joined the Fellowship.
  • Super Mode: Characters who get into a groove of dishing out the hurt without taking damage go into "Perfect Mode", where they start to glow and score more points. There are unlockable abilities that make this easier to attain.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Gandalf gives Saruman a pretty solid one in Fangorn Forest, after Saruman helps himself to telepathically taunting Gandalf about the march of technology. Saruman is somehow ignorant of how much shit has been beaten out of his routing army at this point, so Gandalf telling him to pack it in is extremely welcome.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Troll enemies are much more dangerous than in its predecessor, The Two Towers, thanks to their attacks now consisting of a repeated horizontal swings instead a telegraphed overhead swing. As a result it's typically better to fight them at range than in melee. Thankfully there are usually war pikes whenever a troll appears, allowing the player to kill them in one hit. Fully upgraded ranged attacks by Gandalf and Legolas can also kill them in one hit.
  • Undignified Death: It's possible to kill a Mûmak and then die instantly when it falls on you.
  • The Unfought: The Witch King appears on the level on Pelenor Fields, but the player doesn't actually fight him. They simply shoot down his fell beast so Eowyn can kill him.
  • Unique Enemy:
    • Shelob's children are only encountered in one level in the main game, which is naturally her lair. They reappear in the Palantir of Saruman.
    • Saruman's Uruk-hai berserkers from the last game are only encountered in one level as Champion-type enemies for his Uruk-Hai, and then fought in the Palantir of Sauron.
  • War Elephants: The Mûmakil. They can only be damaged by climbing onto whatever elevated positions are available and using projectiles to break their armor and finally detonate the carriage on top. Melee attacks have no effect.
  • Wrestler in All of Us: In the opening cutscene for the boss battle with Gorbag, the aforementioned Orc dropkicks Shagrat when they come to blows over Frodo's mithril vest.
  • Wolf Pack Boss: The Nazgûl fought at the end of the Black Gate.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: The Trope Namer himself engages in it again, at the Courtyard scene. The main gates have been breached, and loads and loads of terrified citizens flee in terror to the inner walls, while Gandalf and the soldiers keep the orcs, trolls and other monsters at bay.

Alternative Title(s): The Return Of The King