Name: Lord of the Rings: Conquest
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Combining the frenetic gameplay of the Star Wars: Battlefront series with the characters, weapons and locations from the Lord of the Rings universe sounds like a perfect fit. Capturing spawn points, defending strategic locations and utilizing on-foot and vehicular combat against countless enemy hordes should be a thrill for fans of the mythology as well as action gamers in general. So what happened to Lord of the Rings Conquest?
Check out the video review
Structured similarly to EA’s Battlefront series, and, more recently, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Conquest pits two teams, comprised of four soldier types, against each other in a bid to capture control points and wipe out each other’s reinforcements. In campaign mode, the player is given a certain amount of lives, which increases as checkpoints are reached. Once a player’s health is reduced to zero, they immediately respawn as their choice of four classes; the warrior, a strong melee type, the scout, who relies on speed and stealth, the wizard, with lightning attacks, healing and other magical abilities, or the archer, a self-explanatory ranged class. At the end of each level, a hero character is made available. These characters also fall into one of the four classes, such as Gandalf the wizard, Frodo the scout, Faramir the warrior, and Legolas the archer, so controlling them is pretty much the same as controlling a normal soldier.
Campaign mode can be played solo, with a partner in split-screen, or online, and is split into two parts. The War of the Ring lets you fight as the armies of men as they hold off the forces of Sauron through eight familiar levels, from Helm’s Deep to the Black Gate. Once the first campaign is completed, the Rise of Sauron is unlocked, allowing players to command the forces of evil as they leave a path of destruction over seven levels, from Mount Doom to the Shire. Both teams have the same four unit types, meaning players won’t need to re-learn control schemes for the second campaign.
Unfortunately, the control schemes for all four character types are hampered by an awful camera, imprecise, erratic controls and a lack of any sort of lock-on feature. Most enemies are relatively weak, taking only a couple sword strikes to defeat, but lining them up for those strikes can be extremely frustrating, as your soldier swings wildly in whatever direction he feels like. Suspect collision detection compounds the issue, making the warrior and scout classes something of a chore to play. Archers and wizards fare slightly better than the two melee classes, and picking off enemies from a distance is fun, but moving around the battlefield still feels stiff and slow, and despite the more precise combat controls, the whole affair still feels very “arcadey.” Overall, combat feels similar to what’s found in the Dynasty Warriors series, except, shockingly, with less finesse and polish. Since the only thing to do in the game is fight, this is obviously a major problem. Defensively, the game is even more of an exercise in frustration. Blocking seems to do little against most enemies, and once you are knocked down, it becomes very difficult to get back up without being butchered while on the ground. Cheap deaths are frequent as well, and there are few things more frustrating than fighting your way through dozens of soldiers, conserving the last few drops of health you have left, only to be struck down by an archer’s arrow that you never saw coming. Other cheap moments, like an escort mission being suddenly ended by a Fell Beast randomly picking up Frodo and dropping him to his death, are even more frustrating because you have literally no defense against them.
Many of the breathtaking set pieces and vistas found in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy are represented in Conquest. While none of the levels will blow anyone away, they do a decent job of re-creating such familiar Middle Earth landmarks as Minas Tirith, the Mines of Moria, and Osgilliath. There are, however, many low-quality, muddy textures and an unimpressive draw distance which mar the look of the game’s overall look. Character models are appropriate for this console generation, but are by no means impressive. Also disappointing is the number of units that appear on-screen at once. 20-30 soldiers may sound okay, but in practice, the battles feel somewhat empty. Some levels supplement the real soldier count by filling the unreachable backgrounds with cardboard cut-outs of enemies, but they aren’t targetable, and don’t add to the game in any way. Some of the giant creatures, like Trolls and the Balrog, come across better on-screen, but nothing in the game could be considered a graphical standout.
Multiplayer mode is probably the game’s best feature, partially because all the participants are subject to the same awkward controls, and the campaign mode’s utterly witless bot AI is nowhere to be found. There is very little strategy to implement in Team Deathmatch mode, reducing these battles to chaotic, mindless hack. Of the four multiplayer modes, Conquest seems to have the most going for it, as the game’s chaotic pace is relatively well-suited for a back and forth game of field position. Capture the Ring is significantly less fun, and Hero Team Deathmatch is little more than a silly distraction. On the plus side, the game runs smoothly online with the full complement of 16 players on-screen at once.
To call Lord of the Rings Conquest a failure to the franchise would be overstatement. Despite its many flaws, there is some fun to be had. Poor design choices, sloppy controls and a lack of any soul or polish keep it from being anything but a brief distraction, but hacking your way through the armies of Sauron to the tune of Howard Shore’s epic soundtrack is enjoyable up to a point. Eventually, though, the game’s many problems catch up with it, dragging it down into the realm of the sub-par. A disappointing effort for a concept that should have been a sure thing.