The Lord of the Rings : Conquest – Review
Whether it’s the Good versus Evil campaign structure, the quality of the source material versus its unfortunate rushed delivery or simply the imbalance between single and multiplayer, a clear schism is apparent.
This identity crisis, from the huge battles seen but impossible to partake of to the linear and repetitive mission objectives so incongruent against the backdrop of what is, in fact, a world war, shows a game struggling to offer, at the very least, an enjoyable gaming experience and ultimately failing to deliver a coherent one. It’s this inherent internal conflict, and a tendency to miss certain obvious opportunities, that results in a disjointed, albeit sometimes gratifying, Lord of the Rings flavoured event.
If you’ve played Pandemic’s previous offerings in the Star Wars: Battlefront series then you can skip the next paragraph as the game-play in The Lord of the Rigns: Conquest is exactly the same as the aforementioned titles; albeit with Star Wars’ characters basically donning a Tolkein suit.
Sixteen single player missions are proffered with the choice of entering each engagement as a warrior, mage, scout or archer. The first eight campaigns roughly mirror (though not chronologically) the famous battles from all three films so you’ll recognise familiar locations visited by Frodo on his journey to undo Sauron’s One Ring. From defending the Deeping Wall at Helm’s Deep to the siege of Minas Tirth, all the way to the Black Gates themselves, players are thrust straight into the action as one of their preferred classes. Do things right and you’ll unlock the ability to play as a “hero character”, taking up the role of Aragorn or Faramir etc. with a whole slew of more powerful combos and dazzling moves.
“There are quirks of course, but little to suggest a great degree of diversity.”
Game-play wise you’ll find each of these classes shockingly similar. There are quirks of course, but little to suggest a great degree of diversity. The scout’s ability to turn invisible and back-stab unwary opponents is a nice touch and the Mage’s magical attributes, including the ability to heal stricken comrades, adds enough variety to make class selection merely a rushed snap judgment. The issue however is not in the differentiation of their qualities but how, irrespective of class, the game can be completed using the same array of button bashing.
Trophy junkies take note: there is a Platinum here waiting with your name on it. The price is just one whole gaming day and the spoils of war are yours.
“Pandemic, in probably one of their better displays of creativity and ingenuity, dish up an interesting quandary.”
Throughout this short experience it’s not like you’ll be seeing new and dazzling environs from start to finish due to the “let’s try that one again with feeling” trait of the game’s dichotomy. After defeating Sauron (we’re not giving anything away here, the good guys win in the end) Pandemic, in probably one of their better displays of creativity and ingenuity, dish up an interesting quandary. Claiming the ring for himself at the Cracks of Doom, what if Frodo didn’t tussle with Golum and the One Ring was saved from its fiery fate? What if Frodo was intercepted by a Ringwraith and tossed into the fires himself?
It’s here that Pandemic shirk the safety net of Tolkein’s and Jackson’s vision with some creative revisionism of their own and posit a new War of the Ring (somewhat erroneously named The Rise of Sauron) with events now moving east to west.
With the One Ring now firmly back in his grasp, Sauron exacts his revenge on Middle Earth for the crushing defeats at Minas Tirith, Minas Morgul and at the Black Gates.
Unfortunately the limited number of maps created for the game’s first run-through dictates that over half the sites of previous altercations from the more familiar canon must now host a second fracas. For the most part the re-matches actually make sense, and there is some joy in repaying the Gondorians with humiliating thrashings in both Osgiliath and their beloved White City.
The new areas exclusive to the “Bad” campaign sees an assault on Weathertop, a sacking of Rivendell and, with what can only be seen as a hat-tip to the missing “Scourging of the Shire” chapter from the book, the enjoyable slaughter of hundreds of hobbitses at Hobbiton. Unfortunately some of the other battles however are inapposite to the point of contrivance.
Considering the Alliance have backtracked from the foot of Mordor as quick as their Gondorian plate mail would have permitted, the initial battle of the Second Act has the player embattle renegade orcs.
It’s hard to believe that, with their Master now in possession of such a dominant artifact, any orc with two brain cells would mutiny against the Necromancer. The malapropos battle sites doesn’t end there however.
Scarcely a few months after narrowly escaping the Mines of Moria with his life, it appears Gimli decides a last stand in his goblin-ridden homeland is the perfect site to station hundreds of Gondorians against the oncoming orc horde. Gondorians unused to subterranean combat against a foe comprised of many who were actually born underground? Wasn’t Helm’s Deep, more or less, still standing at this point?
We might be banging on the plot drum in a game that clearly never promised a stellar new adventure; deciding instead to dish out more action and less exposition, but it’s this lack of connection to the threat at hand or any fleshing out of the bigger picture that prevents us, as players, from truly getting involved in the story.
Apart from the bizarre logic behind the location of the second set of battles in general, the structure and scope of both campaigns are very much hamstrung by the multiplayer aspect of the game; suggestive of the previously documented imbalance and struggle Pandemic undoubtedly wrestled with when trying to marry both the off and online elements.
” … the levels smack of design decisions quite conspicuously with multiplayer in mind.”
With single-player goal based objectives clearly influenced by the multiplayer element, the levels smack of design decisions quite conspicuously with multiplayer in mind. From the Capture the Flag checkpoints to the “Destroy X in Y” one-dimensional game mechanics (seen in such areas as the Minas Morgul level), there is a clear sense that Pandemic would have preferred to just “Do a Warhawk” and make a multiplayer only beast.
Speaking of multiplayer, it should be noted that there are some virtues to be found here, as long as you don’t go expecting the complexities of a Call of Duty or its ilk.
If you’ve played previous Battlefront games (and make no bones about it, this is LOTR: Battlefront in all but name) you’ll find the online aspect of the game familiar and somewhat rewarding. Die-hard multiplayer fans will probably balk at the austereness of it all; seeing that there is no player customisation, no upgrading of weapons, skills, armour or the like, and basically each online affray is a full-on display of “charge and take down as many as you can before certain death arrives”. But, if you are new to multiplayer or prefer your online experience light and without the onerous burden of upgrading and statistics, this could be for you.
Despite the simplicity of it all, there is a degree of satisfaction from running around familiar locations seen in the films and unleashing retribution on elf and orc alike and therefore elevates the multiplayer above the slipshod single-player campaign mode.
“Unfortunately the design is not backed up by a great degree of graphical fidelity … “
Graphically the game scores highly in terms of the design of these aforementioned locations with a distinctive feel that the palettes from the films were dipped into liberally when creating the likes of Minas Tirith and the overall aesthetic of a world we all know and love.
Unfortunately the design is not backed up by a great degree of graphical fidelity with the game’s visuals swaying between adequate to poor to absolutely outstanding – if it were a PS2 game. There is nothing here visually that could be seen as a tax on the PS3’s hardware making us wonder why four-player split-screen isn’t available.
Middle Earth, depicted with its rich tones and architectural splendour in tact, is let down by the presence of muddy textures, a disappointing draw rate and a lack of detail that we have come to expect when dealing with The Lord of the Rings franchise.
Regrettably, the entire game possesses a graphical quality somewhat restricted by its multiplayer aspirations. Taking these graphical decisions into consideration we would have at least hoped that the game ran as smooth as elven skin but, unfortunately, the 30 FPS frame rate just doesn’t cut it. And it’s not just the absence of visual flair that disappoints as the camera also goes all Denethor on us (totally losing the plot) at random times and animations that appear stock and without merit. The end result is a feeling of disappointment and regret that the game stays so conservative and somewhat mediocre in the visual department.
The sound is a mixed bag as well. Howard Shore’s rousing score adds a degree of calibre by association but the voice acting is uneven and sometimes downright annoying, from the cringe-worthy in-game calls to arms to Hugo Weaving’s rushed and uninspiring narration that is borderline ennui at times.
“At its core, The Lord of the Rings: Conquest is a strikingly average game.”
Maybe it’s the anachronistic release of the game that is its biggest downfall. After all, The Lord of the Rings is a product of the early 2000s, and if this game had been released with the third film, The Return of the King, it may have been seen as more relevant.Â Of course, if it had, considering the battle scenes presented here are surpassed by Heavenly Sword’s – which roughly was a launch game – we might be saying it was a very good if not limited game. Unfortunately we must be somewhat harsher considering just where in the PS3’s life-cycle “Conquest” has materialised.
At its core, The Lord of the Rings: Conquest is a strikingly average game but, despite the many criticisms found in this review, it must be said that it is not without its merits. There is some fun to be had charging through familiar locations and mowing down waves of orcs or jumping on a horse and protecting Mr. Baggins as he attempts to fulfil his quest. It’s very much a pick-up-and-play game considering its short mission based structure, almost acting as the gaming equivalent of an aperitif between perhaps some other meatier and time demanding games the player may be engaged in.
That said, it’s still hard to recommend this to anyone but those of you who have Elvish or Black Speech tattooed somewhere on your body. For the rest of us – it’s worth a try if it was to appear on the PSN at a discount price, but not as it currently stands.
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