Lord of the Rings: Conquest Review (PC)

The developer is no stranger when it comes to armed conflict but this is the first time theyíve had to go medieval and break out the whetstones. While the very insinuation of The Lord of the Rings is big epic battles, rousing speeches and hobbits saving the realm, Pandemic have tried to capture this dramatic chaos in the same style Battlefront offered a glimpse into the galactic struggle for Star Wars. Conquest offers all the iconic locations of the three films to battle as either the forces of good or evil as you seek to free or enslave middle-earth.

The games combat isnít a straight pick-up and play affair and so a trip into the tutorial is recommended to make sense of light, medium and heavy attacks and how they can be combined with special powers for each of the classes. The setting for your lesson in Tolkien warfare is none other than the epic struggle between the alliance of men and elves against the hordes of orcs and Sauron himself. Sadly you wonít be participating in a huge swathe of orc slaying but will be carefully guided down a specific route until you face off against the one ring wearing tyrant. Itís also here youíll start to see the cracks in the game design and execution already.

Hero classes mean business, grab one whenever you can
Sadly real battle numbers are far from epic and donít do middle-earth justice

While the tutorial is just for getting you into the basics I couldnít help feel underwhelmed with the poor presentation of what is supposed to be one of, if not the, greatest ever battles to ever scar middle-earth. As you contend with some weakling orcs that enter in waves, the 'tense' background scenery battles are just that, background scenery and donít even offer much in the way of an entertaining glance. The same animations are played over and over all around you with the face off against the dark Sauron himself nothing but a small scale ruckus compared to what youíd expect from The Lord of the Rings. Take this lesson with you, hero bosses in singe player are given a ton of stupendously crazy health and can become a choir in the end to finish off.

Gameplay itself is at times difficult to tolerate with the questionable control scheme and despite inhabiting a traditional PC genre itís actually better played with a console controller plugged in. You can string along attacks in combos which may sound great but actually can turn into more of a hindrance if you miss an opponent and land up getting jumped; expect lots of button mashing. You can also get knocked over which you should expect to happen a lot, REALLY a lot, and have to have you chosen class jump to get yourself up quickly before getting skewered. Itís more annoying that entertainingly realistic and abruptly robs the flow of action. You also build up your power meter as you hack and slash through enemies which can then add some real kick to moves, which are dependent upon the three types of attack.

The campaign maps are led by objectives with some tasty scripted events
Visuals arenít the most ruggedly good looking, with troops all cloned

The game comes with a campaign mode called The War of the Ring which first has you run the gauntlet for the forces of good before deliciously embracing the darker side of middle-earth as the Rise of Sauron becomes available. Either way youíll be leading battle charges in some of the most iconic of struggles between the Kingdoms of man and the legions of Sauron. To fill your gaming heart with a true battle cry for victory, the environments follow the visual lead of the films religiously and are accompanied by the fantastic scores composed by Howard Shore. As you go along the voice of Hugo Weaving (Elrond) narrates the flow of the story or tide of battle. Scenes from the film are spliced together to help keep the action as believable to the player as you go through. The only drawback is that the campaign levels themselves can be tyrannically arduous to get through; they have little room for failure as the AI singles you out for elimination.

Youíll be filling in the boots of the warrior, archer, scout or mage as you go off to war with each accompanied by differing sets of attacks and special moves. Archers are your most shooter like class in Conquest as they fire shots with ease, and are particularly effective against warriors if distance is kept. To help prevent the game from becoming a Robin Hood fest though the other classes have aces up their sleeves too. The Mage can summon a protective bubble that shields him and friends inside from harmful wayward arrow tips. Scouts have the ability to go stealth and then deliver a single killing blow behind an enemy, while warriors are the undisputed close quarter killing machines with mean special power moves. It ultimately best to mix the classes as you charge the enemy otherwise you tend to find yourself coming up short in impact and life.

While the main stay of action is from the four core classes, youíll also have opportunity to really let your inner sadist have some fun as you take control of hulking trolls and ents. You also have the chance to commandeer siege weaponry and let the Ďbig gunsí do all the talking, or grab a mount and ride into the enemy lines with you swirling a blade like a madmen. Itís these moments that can really help capture that sense of power and battle desperation the films gave us to gleefully watch when men and orcs went flying about the place. Of course youíll also have the chance to take the role of one of the heroes like Gandalf, Legolas, and Sauron etc and really dish some pain on the battlefield when you use their own special abilities.

Some battles can be interaction-fests, with others just about bashing
Expect to fall down a lot, and face some rather quirky cheap deaths

Multiplayer was the greatest achievement of Pandemicís Battlefront series and so Conquest looks to do the same with their offerings. Team work is essential when playing online as neglect for your fellows will likely see your death and probably theirs too. One great addition is Hero Deathmatch where all the players ditch playing nice with one another in favour of plain old slaughter as hero characters. Team Deathmatch is naturally included along with Conquestís own Capture the Flag and Territories modes. Fighting against other real people certainly ramps up the challenge but because of combos and the annoying knockdown ability; youíll want to make sure the campaigns have taught you well.

The Lord of the Rings: Conquest is a good but flawed effort from Pandemic Studios and has its visual presentation at times working with and then against it. Gameplay design and AI are the biggest shortcomings likely to infuriate at times but beneath those is a game relishing in war and its machinations. Ultimately I couldnít help but wonder what truly could have been had the development team be given another year to slave over it.

Top Game Moment: Practically smashing pixels from the screen with an almighty troll, and lobbing puny men of Gondor for sport.

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By StripperStupid (I just got here) on Feb 14, 2009
I played through the whole game in one evening ,already disapointing. I found online and offline play to be similar accept people online when in a losing situtation quit the game and there are as usual no penalties for this and no A.I players to replace them so you find yourself alone agaist a whole team quickly and lose alot and have very little fun. This happened every game or almost every game for 5 hours. I quit and returned the game to blockbuster gladly!
By Darkheart (I just got here) on Jan 20, 2011
I completed the game in two or three days. I found the Good campaign hard and the Evil campaign easy. I was dissapointed about the heroes. Where were Pippin, Merry and Sam. Sure, Frodo was good but it would of been better with the other three. I like playing in rivendell and just sniping enemies in the head with the archer. Overall I found it addictive, good graphics and a good set of campaign battles.