The Lord of the Rings: Conquest is EA’s latest entry in their long line of video games based on the New Line Cinema films. This time around, more expansive battlefields and a fully fledged online multiplayer component are brought to bear. Subsequently, this is one of the most engaging action titles in the series.
Nevertheless, the game plays strikingly similar to both older LOTR action titles from EA and developer Pandemic’s Star Wars: Battlefront series. As such, don’t expect a lot of depth or ingenuity, and there is very little divergence from the Battlefront formula. Still, the game offers epic scale, a nice amount of challenge, a lot of content to romp through, and it even allows you to take up the cause of evil as the forces of the Dark Lord Sauron.
Conquest allows players to fight through 16 levels divided equally between The War of the Ring and Rise of Sauron campaigns. Gamers wage war against the forces of evil and good, respectively; players will initially be part of the most epic battles of the movies and eventually cut their way through an alternative telling of the story with an evil twist. What’s more, both campaigns can be played either as a single player or with up to three other friends. The ability to play the story-portion of the game alone or via local split-screen is a real treat.
The campaigns in Conquest feature simple mission/objective-based levels. Players will move from one choke point to the next, battling foes and claiming territory. Combat in Conquest is very straightforward, relying on progressive button combos and simple modifications prompts. The controls are very intuitive though quite repetitive. Wading through the incessant onslaught of foes is quite reminiscent to what you might find in a Dynasty Warriors title. Cinematically, all of this killing works great. However, after a while, you’ll begin to get a bit numb to the action. In fact, gameplay quickly begins to feel like a bit of a button mash.
Graciously, the game tries to vary gameplay by offering four standard classes, a hero class, and even the ability to control mounts and giants. Warrior, archer, mage, and scout classes are the game’s bread and butter units – the ones you will most frequently control. Each class has distinct abilities, which help to make gameplay more interesting. Warriors are standard brawlers that employ deadly combos and a fiery sword to slice through enemies on the frontlines. Archers tend to stand back from the fray, using poison, fire, and multiple arrows to get the job done. Mages use elemental attacks such as lightning and fire to take down opponents, but they can also shield allies from ranged attacks or heal them with arcane force fields. Finally, scouts are rogues that use stealth to sneak up on enemies for critical backstabs. They can also launch grenade-like fire pots and, like the warrior, use wicked combos while dual-wielding daggers.
Heroes become available as you begin successfully obtaining objectives. Players will be able to take control of heroes such as Aragorn and Gandalf or baddies such as the Witch-king and even Sauron himself. These uber-fighters nicely fall under the aforementioned classes, so they too feel distinct from each other. The major difference between standard classes and heroes is that these units dominate the field of battle; it takes an insane amount of foes to bring them down.
Also, players will get a chance to ride into battle with mounts such as horses, wargs, and Oliphaunts or take control of towering giants including Trolls and Ents. Playing as all these different units kept things fresh, and I really liked how different each of the classes and units played; kudos to the devs!
Even so, playing through level after level can get repetitive. In fact, playing both sides of the campaign (good and evil) is more or less identical. Sure, taking out hobbits instead of orcs is initially very satisfying, but after awhile it becomes every bit as mundane. Essentially, participating in both the good and evil campaigns, while novel, is like racing back through Mario Kart: Double Dash in Mirror mode: What you’re left with after several hours of campaigning amounts to little more than more of the same.
Another hiccup is that, while quite challenging, gameplay can get very frustrating when playing alone. This is mostly due to unbalanced enemy units and poor friendly A.I. For example, playing as a mage is tricky business. They wield tremendous power but tend to be quite weak; an RPG convention that makes a lot of sense. However, when taking on enemy magic-users, they seem to be every bit as durable as a warrior but can unleash powers and protect their minions in such a way that makes them seem broken. On harder difficulty settings, single players will often replay levels over and over again until they can finally break through.
Exacerbating this flaw is the fact that friendly units don’t act in ways that allow you to take advantage of your class’s distinct nature. If I’m an archer or a mage, I should have friendlies protecting me. As it stands, even backline units will have to take on the tank role, incessantly ending in untimely and cheap deaths. This is, however, all ameliorated by playing with at least one other companion – someone with whom you can execute tactics and strategy. As such, it is highly recommended that this game be played via the excellent split-screen functionality. It’s just too bad the unit imbalance and friendly A.I. wasn’t correctly adjusted for individual players.
Additionally, as an aficionado of both the books and the films, I have to point out that Pandemic did take liberties with the amount of magic found in both mediums. The idea of dim-witted orcs being able to master the arcane arts and common warriors having access to magical flaming swords runs in stark contrast to the relatively low-magic universe of the books and films. Despite the incongruence with the subject matter, the addition of magically imbued swords, bows, and an abundance of wizards does make for more engaging combat. As such, I guess I let it slide.
Fortunately, the only problem to be found with the multiplayer experience is that there isn’t quite enough of it. Getting matched to players online is a breeze and we experienced stable, lag-free connections. Players can choose from Team Deathmatch, Conquest, and Capture the Ring. While Team Deathmatch is self-explanatory, Conquest pits teams against each other with the goal of capturing and holding more control points than the opposing faction. The first team to acquire the predetermined point total wins. Likewise, Capture the Ring is a CTF mode that has your team garnering points for controlling the One Ring. Again, all these modes are fun, but there weren’t quite enough of them. I expect future DLC to further flesh out the online multiplayer offering. Despite the included modes being very predictable, the way the four classes interact with each other and the injection of heroes into the fray keeps things interesting and fresh.
I really enjoyed the scope of the title as well. The environments and battlefields are expansive and quite interesting even though textures and details aren’t particularly well implemented. However, waiting for the same interminable combo animations to play out can become grating. Graphically, I would have liked to have seen more polish. Thankfully, the classic Howard Shore musical score is nicely incorporated throughout the game. All in all, the devs did a great job of capturing the look, sound, and, consequently, the feel of The Lord of the Rings as envisioned by Peter Jackson.
The Lord of the Rings: Conquest is a fun title that should keep many diehard fans, especially younger players, engaged. However, if you’re looking for something with a bit more depth than button-mashing your way to glory, you will likely find the game shallow and frustrating. In the end, it seems like The Lord of the Rings IP is showing signs of age. At least that seems to be the case for the long line of action titles in the EA stable. Outside of the excellent split-screen and online multiplayer experience, Conquest doesn’t substantially distinguish itself from games in the franchise released five years ago, and this holds the overall experience back.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
The environments nicely mimic the scope and epic nature of that portrayed in the films. However, muddled textures and obtrusive animations mar the visuals. 3.6 Control
The controls are very intuitive. I especially liked the easy-to-learn, progressive button combos. Nevertheless, it ends up feeling like a simple button-masher after just an hour or so of play. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The inclusion of the classic Howard Shore score is nicely implemented if somewhat unoriginal. 3.5 Play Value
The campaign experience is most readily compared to Star Wars: Battlefront or Dynasty Warriors. As such, players must be fans of action. The multiplayer options via split-screen and online really bolster the value. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.