|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Pandemic Studios||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, 2009||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
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.