Lord of the Rings: Conquest Review - February 12th 2009

The superb Star Wars: Battlefront formula arrives at Middle-Earth, but does the transition to melee combat prove a worthy decision?

Pandemic Studios have worked tremendously hard to convert the Lord of The Ring’s experience onto consoles this year, with Conquest. It promises Good and Evil campaigns, each squeezing the story into the key battles of Tolkien’s Third Age. It also structures multiplayer into the fray, for wars with your mates and strangers online. It uses the exact same template that Star Wars: Battlefront used, with the obvious differences of it being a more melee focused affair. Unfortunately, when you mix an award winning film and book trilogy with arguably the best movie licensed videogame ever, the product is something that isn’t quite as good as either.

For people familiar with the Lord of The Rings, you’ll understand the story of Frodo being sent to destroy the one ring that rules them all. Unfortunately, if you lack the knowledge of how the Fellowship of the Ring attempted to save Middle Earth from Sauron, this game offers no help. Instead, you’re thrown into countless, and seemingly random fights between orcs and elves, wring wraiths and hobbits. The only story that is told is from small in-game cut scenes throughout the campaigns that only tell you what to do (like clear a bridge for a catapult) and never really explain any of the plot.

Don't be fooled, it's not a polished experience.

The campaigns are split in two, the first being a simple run through of each of the films/books' significant battles, and the second being a parallel to what may of happened, had Sauron claimed the ring for himself and how he and his army of orcs conquer Middle Earth for themselves. The second campaign is much more interesting, as it actually explains each of the actions. This still has a problem of being a basic team deathmatch that you can do online or in instant action (offline play) with very few unique set pieces that really show the lack of innovation with this particular title. It is also incredibly easy, with you starting each mission with anything between 3 and 5 respawns, and you gaining more from reaching certain checkpoints, which means as soon as you die, you jump straight back into the action where you left off with no hassle.

The game plays very similarly to Battlefront. You choose a class (Scout, Warrior, Mage or Archer) and then jump into battle. Each class has a distinct advantage and disadvantage. For instance, an Archer can instantly kill any player by popping an arrow in the skull of an unlucky foe, but is rubbish compared to the other classes at close-combat. The warrior is the exact opposite in being able to pummel nearby enemies, but only having a couple of throwing axes to deal with long-range baddies. The game controls very much like Battlefront as well, with the left analogue stick controlling movement, the right stick for aiming, and the shoulder buttons for basic attacks. The controls vary dramatically for each class, which can confuse class-switching noobies, but it’s all about finding the class that fits you, and sticking with it. The warrior focuses very much on face buttons for heavy (circle), normal (triangle) and light (square) attacks. The shoulder buttons are the main attacks for mages and archers, with L2 being able to zoom/shield and R2 being fire arrows/shoot lightning. The Scout is probably the most unique out of the classes, with him being the stealthy attacker who can turn invisible at the tap of a button (L1) and then instantly kill any player with a stealth attack (R1 from behind). This is definitely the most favoured class online, with the majority of players using this character, but this really makes the teams uneven, and the better teams have a more balanced line-up. All characters have special abilities, which are conjured when pressing the correct shoulder button. This ranges from turning your regular sword into a blade of fire, to poisoning your arrows for longer and more enduring damage.

Even fans of the films and books will struggle to find much here.

Of course, it wouldn’t be like Battlefront without vehicles, and whilst you shouldn’t expect AT-AT’s or Cloud Cars, Ents (the massive tree-thingy’s!), Trolls, horses, Wargs (dog-like creatures that orcs ride) and even catapults can all be manipulated! Whilst you ride horses and Wargs, you can attack to the left and right (square/circle) and charge faster with a few presses of X. Trolls and Ents are controlled the same as a warrior, with attacking/healing being the face buttons. These beasts may be slightly overwhelming but they go down surprisingly easy. A press of R1 behind one of these behemoths as a melee class (warrior or scout) will have you climb up and stab him in the neck and kill him. The infamous Oliphants are also available and control like the Trolls and Ents, but to bring one down, you need to go in close, hitch a ride and press a corresponding face button pattern that appears on screen. It sure looks cool, but you can never stop thinking about how much more rewarding it would be if it was more complex and interactive (six axis anyone?).

1 - 2 - Next