|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|
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.
CCC Editor / News Director