IGN Review of Lord of the Rings: Conquest
My generation probably won't see anything emulate the success of Star Wars as successfully as The Lord of the Rings franchise. The rampant fan following that followed each movie's release and the subsequent DVD launch is rivaled by few which speaks volumes for the films' creators' abilities to bridge the large gap between the fantasy world and that of popular culture.
Now Electronic Arts and Pandemic are trying to take the spirit of the movies and toss them into The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, a game clearly inspired by Star Wars: Battlefront on the original Xbox and PlayStation 2. Thankfully it's the near perfect use of the franchise that is the game's silver lining; it's just too bad that the core design can't quite stack up.
Conquest takes the predictable approach of allowing you to play through two campaigns; eight levels for the forces of good and eight levels as the armies of Sauron. The good campaign needs to be completed before the evil opens up, and thankfully the more diabolical of the two wins out in terms of fun. The premise for both is identical: players choose one of four classes (warrior, archer, scout or mage) and then must complete a set of objectives to clear the level. More often than not you'll get to play as a hero you'll recognize from the films, but let his life bar slip back to zero and you're stuck choosing from the four standard classes each time you go belly-up.
In other words, the design is identical to Star Wars: Battlefront. There are mounts that you can hop on like Ents, trolls and steeds, depending on which campaign you're playing. My main issue with this design is the redundancy of it all. All too often I felt myself tapping the same sequence of buttons, no matter which class I chose. Every character uses three face buttons as the main attacks with some sort of modifier that makes use of magic to power-up your attacks. There are slight variations from class to class, but the experience is redundant. Not helping is the fact that the classes are identical across both campaigns and the heroes are little more than core class characters on steroids.
Moreover, the combat is pretty damn clunky. Throwing combos is something that's built into Conquest but there are no breakaway animations or preloading possible when fighting. What that leads to is a painful pause as you are forced to wait for the previous move to carry out. Slamming buttons and seeing no result can be a bit frustrating and it happens often in LOTR:C. It's not that the fighting system doesn't work; it's that it was poorly designed.
Where Conquest hits its highest note is in its emulation of the classic environments from the films. All eight missions in each campaign are easily recognizable as famous battles from the film. It's great to play as Legolas and bring down an Olephant for the first time, but just like many other things in Conquest, it gets stale soon after the first quicktime event. Luckily the bad guys get much cooler heroes such as Balrog who gets to bring down Gimli in the Mines of Moria mission and slaughtering fifty hobbits in the final stage.
The expected narrative is delivered from Hugo Weaving and features clips from the film. It's decently presented but could have been stronger in the evil campaign which puts a new spin on The Lord of the Rings. Once Frodo drops the ring into Mount Doom at the end of the first eight levels, the story is rewound and told as if Frodo kept the ring for himself. That's how Balrog gets away with killing Gimli, you get to burn down the Shire and take down Minas Tirith.
But for all the mediocre gameplay that is dressed with cool moments from the films, The Lord of the Rings: Conquest is about its multiplayer. Sixteen players can take part in three modes: Team Deathmatch, Conquest and Capture The One Ring. The best is, unsurprisingly, the titular. Conquest places four flags around the environment and each team's point value increases faster and faster as they gain more and more flags. Teams can earn heroes by gaining all the flags at once, and it facilitates the small strategies that are possible with each class.
Yes, while they may not be all that inventive, there are indeed strategies that you'll see employed in multiplayer and they're essential for success. Mages can use their range shield to house several archers and keep them safe from projectiles. Scouts can charge in behind warriors and use their cloaking ability to assassinate heroes with one quick button press. It's cool when it works, but the options for strategy are ultimately limited. And while you will see players working together, the artificial intelligence is usually just plain stupid; commonly staring at enemy AI soldiers as if performing a sort of timed strike.
In the end the multiplayer, to a lesser extent, is hit by many of the same pitfalls as the single-player, which is to say that it gets redundant a little too quickly. Its different modes help, but the actions you're performing are the same. It would help if there was some sort of leveling or ranking system for players to earn new pieces of armor or abilities, but sadly there is absolutely nothing of the sort.
Graphically, The Lord of the Rings: Conquest is clearly built for multiplayer, which is to say that it's not exactly impressive. The best looking piece to the puzzle is the environmental sets that feel like they were designed by Peter Jackson himself (no doubt, they were). It's a bummer that everything is unimpressive. Textures are smudged and smeared around and character models could be much smoother and higher resolution. The framerate hitches on occasion and smoke has an odd effect on characters it surrounds.
Luckily the sound performs at a very high level throughout thanks largely to the inclusion of Howard Shore's fantastic theme that thumps throughout the action. Things roll steadily downhill from there with Hugo Weaving delivering a decent performance at the beginning and end of each mission while the mid-level work from Aragorn and Gandalf imposters falls absolutely flat.
©2009-01-13, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved