By Utkarsh W
In 2000, Pandemic Studios came out with a pretty enjoyable Star Wars game called Star Wars Battlefront, featuring some of the epic battles from the movies. You could play as a standard issue soldier or even take control of one of the Star Wars heroes every once in a while. Now take the same concept and apply it to Tolkien’s (or rather Peter Jackson’s) The Lord of the Rings and you’ll get The Lord of the Rings: Conquest. Based around some of the most memorable battles from the books and the movie trilogy, the game puts you in the shoes of a no name soldier during the War of the Ring, while also giving you the opportunity to play as a hero character. Sounds fun, eh? Not really, because the game isn’t half as fun as it promises to be.
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The game is primarily a multiplayer focused affair complete with a “tacked on” single player campaign. While the single player might look appealing in the beginning, you’ll soon realise that it lacks any kind of coherence or depth. You can play as the good factions in the War of the Ring campaign or wreak havoc on Middle Earth in the Rise of Sauron campaign, which features an alternate take on the events that would have taken place had Frodo decided to elope with Sam instead of heading into Mordor.
All this sounds pretty epic stuff, especially if you’re a Tolkien nerd, but it’s rather disappointing. Levels which should feel large are confined to much smaller battle areas blocked off by invisible walls from the rest of the battlefield. Helm’s Deep feels like a small fortress that is about two storeys high. This is even more obvious in levels like the Pelennor fields, where you can see hundreds of troops fighting elsewhere but if you try to get there, you’ll be slapped with a warning to return to the battlefield… so much for the “epic” feeling that the game is trying to achieve. Hardcore LOTR fans may cringe at some of the liberties the game takes with the source material. In one section set during the reclamation of the Mines of Moria, you have Gandalf fighting the Balrog (again?) alongside troops from Gondor. And just why is a Roharrim charging into battle on foot?
In battle, you can choose to play as one of the four predefined classes. There are the self explanatory Warrior, Archer and Mage classes along with a Scout, basically a stealthy assassin who can turn invisible and stab enemies in the back for one hit kills. Among these the Mage feels rather overpowered with his decent close combat skills and devastating offensive and defensive magical abilities. Large creatures such as Ents or Trolls can be controlled, acting like “tanks”, soaking up and dealing heavy damage. You’ll also be able to use mounts such as horses and wargs, but they’re a lot worse than moving on foot, so it’s best to leave them alone.
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At certain points in the game, you’re given the option of playing as one of the hero characters. The game features a pretty impressive list of heroes you can play as ranging from Gandalf to the Dark Lord Sauron himself. However, the heroes are nothing but beefed up versions of the four classes and can actually die rather easily. Didn’t know Sauron could be killed by ordinary soldiers. To add insult to injury, pretty much all the heroes feature extremely cheesy voice acting and sound nothing like their movie counterparts.
Much of the gameplay revolves around hacking and slashing or shooting through hordes of enemies while holding a certain area before moving to the next. While the constantly changing objectives actually give a good sense of pace and keep things moving, the core combat itself gets old rather quickly. Collision detection feels somewhat broken and your allies constantly keep getting in your way. Each class has a large set of moves and special abilities but it feels rather useless because in the end it all boils down to just mowing down enemies with basic attacks. Larger enemies such as Trolls and Oliphaunts need timed button presses to bring down and the animations can be entertaining for a while.
Multiplayer fares slightly better, and in the beginning it might feel like a refreshing change from the usual shooter based titles. You have your standard Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Domination game types, each with an LOTR twist. Games are easy to find at the moment, but one wonders how many may still want to play the game in about two months. Also, the classes feel unbalanced since the Mages can pretty much single-handedly wipe out most of the opposition. Still, there is some enjoyment you can extract from the online component while the community is still active. The entire campaign can also be played with another player in split-screen mode and you can even play offline matches with bots.
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Graphically, the game is nothing special but is not bad either. Character models are well detailed and the environments look pretty decent. More importantly, the frame rate is pretty consistent even with many units on screen at once. The music, most of which is taken directly from the movies, is pretty good. As mentioned before, the voice acting is horrible and I’m sure you’ll want to murder the announcers for the single player campaign. The exception, however, is the mid-mission cut scenes which feature footage from the movies with voice-overs by Hugo Weaving, who plays Lord Elrond in the movies and is the only actor to be featured in this game.
LOTR Conquest is not a terribly bad game; it’s just an uninspired attempt to cash in on the success of the franchise. It’s hardly worth recommending, since there are much better titles to invest time in. Fans of Middle Earth may be able to get some enjoyment out of it (if you’re willing to look past some of the indiscrepencies), but others may want to look elsewhere.
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