J.R.R. Tolkien’s Riders of Rohan is a nice wargame, made by Japanese videogame giant Konami in 1991.
Its originality in comparison with dozens of other Middle Earth-based titles lies in its structure. It mixes different genres, like strategy, adventure and arcade-action.
Its plot is based on the events that take place in the second book of the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers. Nice, because you know how it starts and how it ends, but can still do whatever you like in the middle of it.
After Boromir’s death, Orcs kidnap the hobbits Merry and Pippin while Frodo and Sam are leaving for Mordor. The remaining members of the Fellowship decide to pursue the Orcs and free their friends, leaving Frodo and Sam on their own. Now you take control of the action.
You’ll find yourself in the Rohan Mark, giving commands to Prince Theodred and his border army, as well as to the group of pursuers, Legolas the Elf, Gimli the Dwarf and, naturally, Aragorn/Strider of Gondor. You can decide to follow the book storyline strictly, or twist it completely. You can prevent Prince Theodred from dying, let Merry and Pippin alone with their doom, and even avoid the Helm’s Deep Siege. It depends on your choices of action and dialogue.
The adventure aspect depends greatly on those choices. At different times in the game you’ll switch to dialogue mode which features very graceful graphics and adds more to atmosphere. Don’t relax though, because those moments are VERY important. A word can more or less completely change your future. Anyone who has read the book or watched the movie will probably take advantage of it. The right words will in fact grant you the help of the amazingly powerful Ents, and even persuade King Theoden himself to take up his sword and shield and fight at your side.
The action component consists of arcade fights, which shows off Konami’s experience in this field. There are one-on-one melee sword/axe fights, which occur when your army’s chief is challenged or when a small group of characters is ambushed. You move your character with the mouse, allowing strikes and parries. Aragorn is the best at this form of combat. When at Helm’s Deep, you’ll eventually be forced to defend the walls from Orc sorties. Time to show Legolas’ bow skills, by shooting oncoming enemies and ducking behind merlons to avoid a quick death. Finally, you’ll have the possibility of commanding Gandalf and his magic powers in a lightning/fireball duel against a Ringwraith. You can best your skills on those combats choosing “Practice” from the main menu.
However, this game is mainly strategic. You move your units through the Rohan map, combine them with others to make more powerful armies, or take shelter in Helm’s Deep. During battle you control your units from above and can choose where to move them and their posture. A nice feature is a pleasant little encyclopedia where you can find weaknesses, strengths and a short description of units and principal characters.
Although a strategy title, the game's major flaws lie in its tactical aspect. Battles can be long and exhausting, and the map movement speed switches from the slow “Fast” (looks like an oxymoron) to the real “Very Fast," lacking something in the middle. The map is quite poor, featuring only four locations (Orthanc Tower, Fangorn Forest, Helm’s Deep and Rohan capital, Edoras).
Overall, a good title, that will be more appreciated by Tolkien’s fans, and a pleasant game experience for all others.
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