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Lord of the Rings: Conquest Review

19 January 2009

Who can forget the moment when thousands of Saruman's Uruk-Hai swarmed toward the Rohirrim’s stronghold at Helm’s Deep and the mighty Gandalf led the charge downhill on his white steed full pelt into the black Orc masses? The Battle of Helm’s Deep from The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers was an epic big-screen moment that will long be remembered amongst Tolkien fans.

Admittedly, it’s an unenviable, verging on impossible task for any developer to try and emulate such an powerful scene as The Battle of Helm’s Deep, but anyone who does have the nerve to take on such a legendary fight, and indeed create a game using the much cherished Lord of the Rings license, should at least try and do Tolkien’s world some justice. Unfortunately, in Lord of the Rings: Conquest, the latest action game to be born from the famous brand, Pandemic Studios just hasn’t tried hard enough.

What Pandemic has done is take its existing Star Wars Battlefront series’ class-based system and thrown it half-heartedly into a Lord of the Rings setting, barely improving on its past formula. Lord of The Rings: Conquest is Dynasty Warriors meets Star Wars Battlefront meets a clumsy interpretation of the Lord of The Rings franchise. It’s a lackluster and mediocre attempt at recreating some of the most famous battle scenes from Tolkien’s universe and, much to our disappointment, it just hasn’t worked out that well.

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LOTR: Conquest gives you the choice to play on the side of good or evil, offering two campaigns with alternative endings, but almost identical gameplay. Side with the good guys, the likes of which include Gandalf, Rohirrim and Aragon, and you’ll fight in the War of The Ring against the forces of evil as you partake in classic battles, such as Minas Tirith and Pelennor Fields. Side with the bad guys, however, and you’ll get the opportunity to slay elves and Hobbits in the guise of Sauron and his minions. On paper it seems like an exciting premise, but one should never judge a game by its design doc.

Knocking the living daylights out of Hobbits whilst in the guise of a troll or a giant Balrog certainly appealed to us more than playing as Gandalf, Aragorn or the barely menacing Ents (humanoid trees). So, we were disappointed to discover that we first had to play the campaign as the good guys before unlocking the evil crusade. Nevertheless, it was an incentive for us to mash our way through eight repetitive, unexciting and uninspiring levels in order to see what the dark side offered. Without that incentive, we would have happily given up within the first half an hour. Sadly, we discovered that it doesn’t matter which side you choose to play as because the majority of both campaigns see you pitted as one of four nameless classes as you partake in plenty of monotonous "kill whoever crosses your path" objectives.

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The campaign revolves mainly around capturing points on the map and then defending them from the attacking hordes. It’s kill or be killed, as simple as that. You head toward a territory, indicated by a flag, and then you mash your buttons and rack up combos in order to kill the enemy and gain the plot of circular land. There’s a brief respite in the action before enemies lunge toward you once again as you're tasked with fending them off for a certain period of time, keeping them away and out of your circle until the status bar at the bottom of the screen changes color, indicating that you’ve been successful. The fights lack intensity. The backdrops are simplistically and sparsely designed, lacking the polish of many current-gen games, whilst the scale of the battles are meager when you compare them to the Peter Jackson's movies, with dozens of enemies on screen rather than hundreds. It just lacks the overall epic feel that we expected from the LOTR license, whereas the relatively small battlefields and twitchy combat make battles feel more like playground brawls than the intense, meaningful trade of blows we hungered for.

The basic class-based system doesn’t particularly make things any more interesting. Each of the four classes: Warrior, Mage, Archer, and Scout, has distinctive abilities and range of moves that are specific to them, which require a combination of button presses in order to achieve the more advanced attacks. The Warrior uses sheer brute strength and the might of his sword to win the battle. The Mage comes equipped with a staff and magical abilities that allow him to stand back and cast spells on upcoming foes from a safe distance. The Scout can turn invisible and sneak up on enemies and stab them in the back. Finally, the Archer can fire arrows from a distance. The latter is one of the most boring fighters that we’ve ever encountered in a videogame, hampered by a poor zoom function which makes it difficult to try and stay focused on an enemy whenever they move around. Multi-shot attacks and fire-emblazoned arrows are little solace when you get killed so easily, whereas the lack of an auto-lock on function makes it extremely frustrating, especially online, where enemies easily dodge your arrows and then can take you out immediately with a simple combo attack.

The special abilities, which include the Mage’s ‘shockwave’, where he can pummel the ground sending foes crashing to the floor, or the ‘crowd breaker’, which knocks down any foes surrounding you and send them sprawling backwards, certainly add some visual flair to proceedings, but you’ll do equally well by banging on the buttons as fast as you can. The occasional boss battle, which includes Gandalf vs. Sauron and Aragorn vs. Saruman, provides some much needed, albeit brief excitement, but essentially we got the impression that the heroes are just more powerful versions of the four classes rather than being individually tailored fighting machines.

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Online, Lord of the Rings: Conquest does provide a bit more excitement and entertainment value - and at least you have real, intelligent people on your side rather than having to rely on the questionable A.I. from the single player campaign. The Team Deathmatch, Conquest, and Capture the Ring modes are nothing new, but there’s a nice variety of battlefields to fight across, accommodating eight on eight matches. We got a nice feeling of camaraderie when we managed to get into a good server with like-minded people.

Still, the classes feel slightly unbalanced and unless everyone does play as a team, which you're unlikely to find unless you create your own room and invite friends only. Most of our the time (particularly in Conquest mode) was spent getting killed every 30 seconds or so, and then having to wait for the respawn and make the trip back again to the same area only to be killed in one fell swoop by a Scout's invisible backstabbing tactic, or some equally irritating death. It's just not that much fun, most of the time.

The Mage also feels more powerful than the other classes. Despite its long recovery time, his devastating lighting bolt spell possesses a power that other classes don't appear to be able match. The fact that the Mage is the only class that can heal itself also meant that we were able to last much longer without dying in comparison to other classes. No wonder there's so many Mages roaming around the online arena!

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The inclusion of mounts does make things a bit more exciting. Though jumping on the back of the horse or Warg (wolf) is only really useful for getting to an area quickly, you can also play as the likes of an Ent or a Balrog and cause some decent damage. You'll always see a rush for the bigger, better mounts at the beginning of each game; despite the fact that they move much slower and are clumsier than the standard mounts, they're much harder to kill, so at least you survive a bit longer and can cause some carnage along the way.

Ultimately though, Lord of the Rings: Conquest doesn’t deliver. We grudgingly played through the entire single-player mode because we expected something great to happen. It didn't. Lord of the Rings lovers may be drawn in by the fact that they can play as the likes of Frodo or Gandalf, Sauron or Saruman, but we reckon even the most hardened fan will be disappointed at the game's general lack of excitement and repetitive gameplay. The online arena will be where people will hang around for the time being, but not for too long we suspect. Not only does Lord of the Rings: Conquest lack the scale, intensity, and character of Tolkien's magical universe, the gameplay just isn’t that great either.

-The Final Word-

The only thing epic about Lord of the Rings: Conquest is its musical score.
  • The enjoyable LOTR hero segments
  • The high-quality soundtrack
  • The unbalanced and awkward combat
  • The shallow gameplay
  • The outdated graphics
5.0
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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