|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Pandemic||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Jan. 13, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-16||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
December 22, 2008 - Pandemic Studios is known for high quality action/adventure titles; most notably, the Destroy All Humans! and Star Wars: Battlefront series. Both franchises are acclaimed shooters that use highly destructible environments and tons of onscreen action to immerse the player in an engrossing, action-filled world. While Destroy All Humans! used humor, crazy weapons, and a unique alien protagonist, Star Wars: Battlefront went for a more visceral approach by replicating large-scale battlefields.
Borrowing liberally from the Battlefront model of gameplay, Lord of the Rings: Conquest will simulate familiar, lesser-known, and original battles from the movies, books, and devs' imaginations in mission-based levels. In addition to the Battlefront-heavy mechanics, Pandemic has also given a nod to the Destroy All Humans! series by allowing players to take on these battles from the point of view of the evil forces of Mordor. As such, players will enjoy not only the standard campaign of good characters, but will also fight a secondary campaign as Uruk-Hai, The Balrog, and even Sauron himself. In fact, players will be able to choose from four confirmed classes, including warrior, scout, mage, and archer, and they will also be able to choose between good and evil heroes, including Aragorn, Legolas, Boromir, Saruman, the Nazgul, Grima Wormtongue, and many more on both sides of the struggle for the One Ring.
Gamers will enjoy taking on the world of Middle-earth from both perspectives. Early code shows a nicely balanced gameplay experience of being both a hero and a villain. Slaughtering orcs and other nasty beasties with heroic gusto should be great fun, and burning and pillaging The Shire and massacring the helpless hobbits should be eerily satisfying. Combat from both perspectives looks to be fluid and intuitive, though the mix of light, medium, and heavy attack combos may result in a button-mash rather than something a bit deeper. Also, there appears to be overly simplistic and clichéd mission objectives. Hopefully, the goals in both campaigns will be more complex than "set fire to the hobbit holes" or "take out the enemy archers." Fortunately, epic boss battles are present throughout the title, so even lackluster mission objectives should be overshadowed by the grandeur of more complex "BBG" fights.
Levels in LOTR: Conquest will cover about nine different environments. These encompass such places as the Mines of Moria, Cirith Ungol, Pellenor Fields, Rivendell, Isengard, Helm's Deep, Weathertop, Bree, Rohan, and more. These expansive environments are detailed and true to Peter Jackson's vision of Middle-earth and J.R.R. Tolkien's descriptions. What's more, the technical presentation in Conquest is promised to be nearly flawless despite the inclusion of so much onscreen action. The only hitch we can foresee is that the Teen rating has left much of the gore out and tamed some of the brutality that should go hand in hand with the actions and finishing moves players will perform. Nevertheless, LOTR buffs should find a lot of visuals to enjoy in Conquest. To top it all off, Howard Shore's epic score will feature prominently throughout the title.
Moreover, the sweeping single-player campaigns are only one part of the equation. Players will get to play with a total of four people locally, or up to 16 online in competitive and co-op modes of play. Running through the campaigns via split-screen or LAN at home should be great fun, and using your friends' smarts rather than depending on friendly A.I. will significantly raise the game's appeal. Additionally, duking it out with online competition will give the title legs past the initial ten hours of play. Online competitive modes include standard conquest, capture the flag, and deathmatch modes, as well as an all against one tag mode where one player plays as Frodo trying to keep the ring away from everyone else.
The Lord of the Rings has proven to be an intellectual property with major star power. The books created the fantasy genre, and the movies have endeared millions around the world to the characters and story. Still, the video game adaptations largely have yet to capture the magic the other mediums have. Pandemic Studios is looking to break this mold of interactive mediocrity set by previous tie-ins by giving players a lot of freedom in a lavishly detailed world. Stay tuned for our full review of the final product when it releases in mid-January.
CCC Editor / News Director