Review

Lord of the Rings: Conquest Review (Xbox360)

It’s been five years since Frodo finished his long quest to destroy the one true ring by chucking it into the fiery Crack Of Doom. It’s been five years since we saw the most endings in a movie ever as Peter Jackson’s 12-hour opus drew to a close. Since then we’ve seen an innumerable amount of videogame tie-ins based upon the epic trilogy – hack and slashers, RPGs, MMOs – the only thing we haven’t seen is a kart racer with super deformed Rings characters…yet.

Still, there’s reason enough to welcome Lord Of The Rings: Conquest with open arms as it’s the spiritual sequel to the Star Wars: Battlefront games, and they’re not half bad. You could cast a cynical eye over Conquest and immediately write it off as Star Wars: Battlefront in a wizard’s cloak with swords filling in for lightsabers and lightning bolts doing the usual work of a good blaster by your side. While this is ostensibly the case in a lot of ways, in other departments this comparison is somewhat unfair.


Seizing control of an Oliphaunt isn't as big a thrill as you'd hope. Bringing one down is far more satisfying
As you'd expect, Ents are weak against fire. They're also easy to pound into kindling with a Troll

Conquest doesn’t really try anything particularly new, but it does offer genuine wish fulfilment in the ‘Rise Of Sauron’ campaign, which allows you to view the traditional Lord Of The Rings story from the perspective of Sauron, Saruman and their evil minions. As such, your goal is to wipe out the key figures in the fellowship and prevent them from destroying the ring. We don’t want to ruin the fun by giving the whole thing away, but being able to control a Troll and rip through swathes of fleeing hobbits before burning their hobbit holes to the ground is far more fun than it should be. It's a slight inconvenience that it's only unlocked once you’ve completed the ‘War Of The Ring’ campaign, playing as goody-two-shoes Aragorn, Gandalf and crew, but then it's a reward that's more than worth the effort.

Conquest works in exactly the same way as Battlefront, sending you on a mission to capture spawn points, destroy strategic enemy emplacements and execute important characters. Each mission begins with a set number of lives and a task. Each task you successfully complete grants you extra lives and another spawn point closer to the next objective. As the quest wears on you’re given the option to play as a hero character such as Gandalf or Aragorn on the good side and The Witch King or Saruman on the side of evil. The moments where you’re granted the option to play as a powerful hero prove to be some of the most enjoyable you’ll have played in a game of this type. Each hero possesses their own unique abilities, but essentially they're superior versions of each of the standard soldier classes. For instance, Gandalf and Saruman are simply ultra powerful mages while Aragorn and Gimli are tougher, more seasoned warriors. Legolas is obviously the game's ultimate archer and Eowyn has a very similar move set to the scout class.

The single player campaign consists of sixteen missions, eight for each allegiance with an accompanying set of soldier classes to choose from and their own hero character. Warrior class is the most all-round of the classes and will in all likelihood be your go-to. Warriors have crowd clearing fire attacks that prove incredibly useful in the heat of a busy battle, although these special moves are limited by your red energy bar, which is filled each time you vanquish an enemy. A full bar can give rise to a devastating attack that kills any enemies foolhardy enough to be surrounding you at the time, whereas conventional fire attacks can still tear through several grunts with ease. In comparison, the other classes seem almost completely useless. The mage is a powerful unit to have skirting the perimeter of a battle, healing weak units, providing shields for vulnerable archers and grunts or creating space with a well-aimed flame wall or shockwave. However, mages are pretty feeble when placed under sustained attack and if you’re not quick enough to retreat and heal yourself, you’ll find yourself dead in a matter of seconds.

Scouts are only useful for stealth kills and have a backstab technique that kills most enemies instantly. They can cloak themselves for a few seconds to creep up on enemies before landing the fatal blow, but once they’re visible their basic attacks are pathetic, which means you’ll be running around, making minimal difference in the grand scheme of things. Archer units are undoubtedly the worst choice, as other than ranged attacks, they bring nothing of value to battle. They’re the weakest of all the classes and if you’re beset by hordes of foes – as is invariably the case - you have only a weedy kick to get yourself out of trouble, which proves impossible. Once we’d worked out the pros and cons of each class, we found that the warrior and mage classes were the only ones that were actually worth playing as.


This screenshot makes it look like you can ride a fell beast. You can't. Instead they swoop and kill you instantly
Assaulting a Troll head on like this is suicide. Press R1 behind them and you'll climb up their back. Pressing the correct face button in time will bring them down fast

There also seems to be a major lack of balance between the good and evil factions, with the forces of darkness vastly superior to the good guys. Where Sauron’s army have access to Trolls, Oliphaunts, Wargs and swooping fell beasts that can pick you up and fly off without warning, the fellowship are given short shrift with horses, Ents and nothing else. You can't even commandeer a Troll or Warg if you're playing as a goodie either, which strikes us as a major oversight. Immediately you can see why it’s far more fun being evil. It’s entirely possible to stomp your way through an entire campaign mission as a Troll and decimate the entire opposing army without any trouble. As long as you remember to keep your back covered, you’re safe from harm, whereas a horse is vulnerable from all sides and can be brought down with just a few swipes from a warrior's sword.

Multiplayer is a little more promising, making for a far more interesting experience than anything the single-player campaign can offer. There’re splitscreen co-op and competitive modes to enjoy, although why on earth the PS3 version of the game we played can only manage two players whereas the Xbox 360 can handle four is beyond us. Not for the first time, this gives us another reason to favour the Xbox 360 version of a game over the PS3 one. Nevertheless, even in light of the PS3 version’s shortcomings, it still works fine. Still, there's no escaping the feeling that PS3 owners are being short changed in being given a watered-down multiplayer mode.

Online, things seem to fare a little better, although our playtest through a wireless connection was marred by relentless lag that managed to wreck the whole thing. To its credit, the game does try to procedurally fix connection problems on the fly, but the entire online experience was rendered completely unplayable when we sampled it. We never normally encounter these sort of problems online, but we're positive that were we given a direct connection rather than a wireless one things would almost certainly improve.

Conquest’s single-player campaign is a short-lived distraction that should really be treated as training for the main event of online multiplayer. There’s extra longevity to be gleaned from the instant action option in single-player, but if you’re thinking of buying Conquest, you should do it for the multiplayer experience. While our connection prevented us from getting the most out of what the game had to offer, it was still clearly evident that the sixteen player battles had a lot going for them.

Connection issues aside, the online multiplayer modes are simple yet fun versions of capture the flag and team deathmatch modes that make good use of the game’s different unit classes and objectives. On the whole this could potentially develop enough to become a mainstay in your online gaming schedule if you ever happen to grow tired of Gears 2 and Call Of Duty.


Attacking from a horse is cumbersome and unwieldy. You're better off staying on foot
Wargs are vicious and far more useful than a horse. They're still not as fun as a Troll though

While the visuals may not be particularly polished and the gameplay can grow fairly wearisome over time, there’s still a lot to like about Conquest, although there’s not quite enough here to warrant a hearty recommendation. There's also a great deal of repetition in the character models, which sometimes makes it feel as if you’re waging war against a freakish circus of clones, but when you're cleaving your way through masses of them with a giant flaming sword, it doesn't really matter.


Conquest is proficient enough in delivering a solid bout of fantasy hack and slash, but there’s very little in the way of substance or depth. So, while Conquest is not exactly preciousssss, neither is it bad enough to warrant being cast into the fiery pits of Mordor. Maybe you should rentsss it first.


Top game moment: Pounding hobbits into mulch with Sauron.

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Comments

By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Jan 25, 2009
Nicolas19
For a good afternoon of LotR-flavored hack and slash, it seems satisfying. I hope the PC review's on it's way, too, don't neglect the ranking gaming platform:)
Small question: is there an FPS perspective a la Mont and Blade?
By Richie82 (SI Member) on Jan 25, 2009
Richie82
There will be a PC review and no, the viewpoint is not FPS style. It's strictly third-person all the way.
By JamieSI (SI Core) on Jan 26, 2009
JamieSI
This one is going to be liked by a few, me included. I actually enjoyed playing this, although I can see why most reviews have given it a poor score. The multiplayer is pretty decent, although only because it forces you to play as a team. Don't purchase it full price, wait for it to come down a bit.

Graphics can be disappointing at times, and the singleplayer aspects get a bit tiresome.

PC review is going live in a bit chaps, that review is done by Simon.