From about the time Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring released in theaters in December 2001 until about the time Lord of the Rings: Return of the King had its extended edition DVD release I visited TheOneRing.net at least once a day. Maybe for the latest rumor on the films, maybe for the latest set picture from New Zealand. It didn’t matter. I had to know, and TheOneRing.net was very useful and kept me up to date on the latest Middle-Earth goings-on.
While I’ve kept the site bookmarked, I can’t say I’ve visited with any sort of regularity the past two years. When The Hobbit rumors broke regarding Peter Jackson’s non-involvement, I checked in, but there wasn’t an on-going drama with the story, so I went back to my check-it-every-now-and-then stance.
I checked in today, scrolled down through the headlines, and saw something that caught my eye. And something moved, in the pit of my stomach.
EA Disbands LOTR: The White Council?, the headline read.
Oh, this wasn’t good, I thought.
EA has held the license to produce video and computer games based on the Lord of the Rings films. For a time their competitor, Vivendi Universal, held the license to produce games based on the original books of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but now EA has acquired those rights as well. And despite EA’s proclivity toward producing unexciting, dull games (witness their track record with the sports licenses, James Bond, Superman, etc.), they’ve been quite successful with their Lord of the Rings games. The Two Towers was a straight-forward hack-and-slash in the mold of Gauntlet, but it expanded the story of the film as Aragorn and his party moved across the Plains of Rohan. The Return of the King was like an expanded version of The Two Towers, adding more characters to play as (starting off, Gandalf and Sam in addition to The Two Towers‘ Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, with Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Faramir as unlockable characters). On the PC side they produced two Battle for Middle-Earth games which took the Command and Conquer engine and style of real-time strategy gameplay and remade it into top-notch games pitting the forces of Gondor, Rohan, and the Elvish kingdoms against the armies of Mordor. EA’s only misstep was with The Third Age, the turn-based role-playing game in the style of Final Fantasy: a non-existent story and highly repetitive gameplay took what could have been an interesting concept–a group of heroes following in the wake of the Fellowship who become Gandalf’s “Plan B”–and created thirty hours of frustratingly unexciting gameplay. The Third Age ended with a voice-over by Gandalf saying that the story wasn’t over, and that new adventures were about to begin. In the two years since The Third Age released, I wondered what the next chapter in EA’s Lord of the Rings tales would be and when we would see it, when we could play it.
And then, last July, EA announced Lord of the Rings: The White Council. Details were scarce. It was some sort of role-playing game, perhaps something nearly open-ended like Morrowind or Oblivion. It would be for the next-generation consoles, the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3. The first desktop wallpaper they released was an intriguing image of a tower that looked much like Cirith Ungol. Beyond that, just guesses.
On a website devoted to Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, of all places, I found a little more information on The White Council:
Previously titled “Project Gray Company”, The Lord of the Rings: The White Council is EA Redwood Shores’ second go at a Lord of the Rings RPG. TWC was officially unveiled on July 13, 2006 as the next great Middle-Earth adventure set for release on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC in late 2007.
The Lord of the Rings: The White Council takes players out of the conventional RPG style and allows them freedom of exploration across Middle-Earth. Players will be able to play across the world as a Man, an Elf, a Dwarf or a Hobbit; Your quest: to gain The White Council’s respect. This won’t be easy though, as the Council itself consists of Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman.
Though there is no official confirmation, we can assume that Middle-Earth will be much like those found in the films and, finally, the books. EA Games recently gained the rights to the books’ world for videogame creation, allowing players to travel to areas that you might have missed in Peter Jackson’s films.
I checked back at EA’s website for The White Council from time to time. AOL Instant Messenger buddy icons were released. Additional desktop wallpapers and concept art were made available. The gameplay, the storyline–I didn’t know what these would be, but just based on the concept art this game would rock graphically. If EA wanted to make a Lord of the Rings game to compete with Morrowind or Oblivion, they were certainly putting the right pieces out there.
Which makes the rumor reported on TheOneRing.net all the more frustrating.
TheOneRing.net’s article wasn’t much, just a paragraph. To get the meat of the story, one must go to 1Up’s website for an article entitled “EA Disbands LOTR: The White Council?:
Under the condition of anonymity a source revealed to 1UP that the ambitious, licensed, RPG that was to be Lord of the Rings: The White Council is no more.
The RPG, a game that was titled Project Gray Company before the Lord of the Rings‘ veil was lifted in July, was to be a game where players participated in the battle for Middle Earth, but not as one of the Tolkien-series’ main characters.
As information goes, this is nothing. An anonymous, unsourced rumor. Governments have fallen on less.
I hope it’s not true. I hope that, come fall, I’ll be playing The White Council on my XBox 360. I hope it’s as fantastic as I dream it will be.
But that faint hope didn’t stop me from spending the afternoon saving all the concept art, wallpapers, and buddy icons EA has available on their webpage. If the game comes to naught, at least I can say I have a copy of the concept art of the unfinished Northern Argonath representing Gil-Galad and Elendil the Tall, the buddy icons of Gil-Galad and the Took family coat of arms, and a wallpaper showing a very creepy looking Dol Gulder, among other treasures.
I’ll be checking back at TheOneRing.net the next week or so, to see if there are any new developments on the tale of The White Council. Let’s hope this story has a happy ending.