Star Wars: Battlefront minus the blasters. That’s a pretty accurate summary of The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, though I don’t think my editor would approve of me turning in a six-word review. It’s not surprising the two games are so similar considering Pandemic Studios developed them both. What is surprising is that here we are four years removed from Star Wars: Battlefront and in making The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, the team at Pandemic did so little to improve the formula. The end result is a mostly dull and uninspired affair.
In The Lord of the Rings: Conquest you’ll relive the epic battles from Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy, opening with the defense of Helm’s Deep and culminating in the final battle at The Black Gate. When you successfully complete the campaign you’ll unlock an all-new “Evil” campaign that presents a “what if” scenario, that being what if the Nazgűl resurrected the Witch King who was then able to kill Frodo before he could destroy the One Ring? The answer is: Every safe haven from Osgiliath to Rivendell and back to the Shire would be pillaged and destroyed in the rise of Sauron.
While that might sound like an interesting scenario, the intrigue all but disappears as soon as you step onto the battlefield. As each battle begins, you’ll choose from one of four character classes: Warrior, Archer, Mage and Scout. The Warrior specializes in hand-to-hand combat, the Archer in long-ranged attacks. The Mage mixes magic with the ability to heal and shield nearby troops, while the Scout is able to use stealth to backstab enemies, killing them in a single blow. The selection of character classes is nice but unlike Star Wars: Battlefront, where you were able to swap out various weapon sets, here you’re stuck with a single weapon (sword, bow, staff and dagger) and only a few special abilities per class, and so repetition sets in very quickly after only a few battles. At various points in the campaign you’ll get the chance to control various heroes, such as Gandolf, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, but for the most part they’re simply pimped out versions of the different character classes. When you switch over to the evil campaign, the four character classes are identical to the good side, right down to the special abilities. Talk about a missed opportunity to present all-new abilities for the Orcs. Instead, the evil campaign plays identical to the good campaign, save for the evil heroes – Saruman, Sauron, Balrog and the Witch King – who represent a much more diverse group. You can also take control of Ents and Trolls during the respective campaigns, and mount a couple of different animals, though I never found much value in the latter.
The issues worsen when you get into the thick of combat. As the Warrior, melee combat is little more than a button-mashing affair while long-range combat as the Archer doesn’t seem powerful enough and is equally hampered by imprecise controls and difficult camera angles. The Scout is great for one-shot kills and sabotage missions, but is otherwise too weak for large-scale battles. The Mage is arguably the best character class to control, with equally powerful magical attacks and buffers. The character classes certainly could have been balanced better. Unless the situation specifically called for an Archer or Scout, I found myself alternating between the Warrior and Mage, though playing as the Warrior was a mundane routine of striking a few melee attacks to fill up the energy meter in order to unleash a special ability. Only I never felt like I was in complete control of my character at all times. Toss in a very linear level design, the frustration of losing your last life towards the end of a battle and having to repeat the entire thing (or vice versa, a battle being declared victorious when clearly the tide is still very much against you), enemies that spawn and re-spawn in unlimited numbers right before your eyes, and you’ve got a gaming experience that isn’t nearly as much fun as it should be.
Multiplayer doesn’t quite save the day for The Lord of the Rings: Conquest either. It allows multiple players to play together through both the good and evil campaigns, which is nice, but competitive game modes are a bit of a disappointment. The game supports up to 16 players online, leaving what should be epic battlefields rather barren. Conquest screams out for at least 32-player matches but with a little too much lag and unbalanced character classes, I’m not sure even that would have been enough.
Even the visuals lack punch. The environments are surprisingly bland and there’s a general lack of detail in almost every graphical facet, from the textures to the character models, the weapon effects to the special abilities. Some of the character animations appear to be broken as well. The game does feature numerous clips from the movie trilogy, Hugo Weaving provides decent narration, and the sweeping soundtrack is used well, but from a presentation standpoint overall, The Lord of the Rings: Conquest is not all that indicative of a next-gen game.
And so The Lord of the Rings: Conquest is a disappointing outing. It tries to bring a Star Wars: Battlefront style experience to the world of The Lord of the Rings, which sounds good on paper, but clearly the transition from a sci-fi to a fantasy setting has brought with it inherent design issues that Pandemic Studios were unable to iron out. Even diehard Rings fans will find there's very little glory to be had in this conquest.