Lord of the Rings: Conquest Review
Written : Saturday, January 24, 2009
By: Lee Abrahams (GT: jackanape)
It is fair to say that I have not been the biggest fan of EA in recent times, especially due to their continued pimping of annual franchises. However, they effectively pistol whipped me into submission in the last few months with titles like Dead Space, Mirrors Edge and (the biggest shock for me personally) FIFA 09. For a company that has been synonymous with bad publicity it seems they have finally turned a corner. Here then we have one of the worlds biggest names in entertainment, The Lord of the Rings, and a fairly fun concept; with all of their recent success it is strange to have to wonder where exactly this game went so horribly wrong.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it borrows heavily from the Star Wars Battlefront games that graced the original Xbox that kicked off back in 2004. You control one of four character classes, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and have to capture key locations or complete certain tasks in order to control the battlefield and emerge victorious. All of the while contending with hordes of enemy troops and the occasional ungainly beast or two. If you think it all sounds exceptionally simple then you would be spot on, and that is where the problem really lies.
My sword’s on fire? I’m not falling for that!
The character classes are fairly generic really; the scout can turn invisible for a short time to sneak up on foes and has a nifty line in explosives, the warrior is better in single combat and has a variety of combos, the archer has long range attacks, and the mage can heal and cast spells. Nothing you haven’t seen before but the fact that the mage is so superior to everything else, seems to really make things unbalanced. The spells and, more specifically, the healing skills at his disposal kind of make the other classes redundant to be honest. That is not to say you can’t have fun with all of the classes, it's just that your life would be made much easier if you stuck with the most powerful. You also get a chance to play as some of the key characters from the trilogy too, but as they are little more than the same classes with a different look, it was hard to get excited about that fact. Still there is a great sense of satisfaction cutting down Orcs with Aragorn and head shotting foes with Legola; whilst playing as the Witch King or, better yet, the Balrog helps to mix things up a bit. However, these chances seem to be all too few and far between and offer only fleeting glimpses of what might have been.
The game does hit a number of good notes though. The battlefields are suitably grand in scope with plenty of action going on all around you. Being able to defend Helm's Deep, crush Isengard or storm the Black Gate means you'll witness all the grand battles the trilogy had to offer. Secretly though, I think players will get more enjoyment (or vindictive glee) from crushing the pompous elves in Rivendell or scattering the Hobbits in the Shire. Once in battle there are many things to catch your eye; mighty oliphaunts stomp around, catapults can be commandeered and you can even swipe a mount to storm around on. It is remarkable fun to begin with but the gloss soon wears thin. The backgrounds and characters are really quite bland and don’t convey the lush detail of the films, not to mention the same old cut-scenes are rolled out between each mission with the droning monologues doing little to convey a sense of excitement. As every battle ultimately boils down to capturing key areas and button mashing the foe into submission, you’ll soon find yourself getting bored quite quickly. The evil campaign does offer a glimmer of hope, as there is always more fun to be had when smashing up familiar heroes and bringing the world to ruin, but it is over far too quickly and not entertaining enough to justify a second play.
Me and my sword versus an army. When’s the next bus?
One of the most annoying issues is the fact you can be killed in an instant. You get a limited number of lives for each single player level and with a bit of careful planning you should be able to keep most of them intact. However, it is the arbitrary way that you can be bumped off that soon begins to get extremely annoying. Enemies can spawn out of thin air right next to you, enemy scouts can turn invisible and stab you to death, you can be punctured by a barrage of arrows, or squashed by a troll in one hit. I know they say that variety is the spice of life, but the number of cheap deaths on offer here is beyond a joke. Considering the enemy A.I. will always target your character above and beyond any other just adds insult to injury too. It means that death can come in a spilt second and it is all the more frustrating because of it. Being hacked to death in a fair fight is one thing but when you are struck down by an invisible or unseen foe – ARRRRRGH!!! I think you see my point.
Stepping online is really just more of the same, as you can take part in simple death-match games, capture the ring (see what they did there?) or conquest modes. At least you are up against smarter foes which results in a more challenging and, ultimately, more satisfying experience. Matches can tip back and forth but if one team hits a certain threshold then the top scorer will have the chance to spawn as a hero character, which can quickly lead to the end game. The classes seem to have a bit more use against human opposition too and their strengths, when utilised properly, can give your team a significant edge. Of course, you may find that being backstabbed one too many times by a skilled scout to be more than you can bear. Even though this mode is plenty of fun, it is hard to see a dedicated community springing up due to the limited appeal and repetitive action.
Evil may look funky but it sure is fun.
Achievements wise this game is a fairly easy one thousand points, primarily because the story modes are extremely short and the online aspects can be boosted with only two people. In fact, if you set your mind to it, you could get all of the points in a couple of days. The list itself is fairly weak as well with the majority of points coming through story progression and for getting X number of kills with each character. The same applies online too, as you’ll get points for winning games and using certain characters to do so. Nothing too taxing or particularly innovative.
If I had to point out one glaring issue with this game it is the lack of lasting appeal. The single player campaigns are far too short and the online modes are just the same old tasks against human opponents instead of A.I. It just does not do justice to the licence at all and the average graphics and presentation do not help matters in the slightest. Long standing fans may get more pleasure than most but, unless you are prepared to get a team together in order to rule them all online, even then they will only glean a limited amount of fun from what is essentially just a patched up and reskinned Battlefront.
Hugo Weaving provides the dull monotone for most of the story but other than that it is remarkably dull, the music should be stirring and epic but fails on both counts.
Bog standard characters and some very choppy animation, the backgrounds are flat, dull and generic. There is only so much brown your eyes can take.
The battles start off seeming fresh and epic but soon become the same old thing, with only the fun evil quest really capturing your attention. More fun can be had online but it is really more of the same and won’t impress you for long.
A bad use of the license really as this game could have been a lot more interesting if only more variety had been thrown into the mix. The online modes are just Battlefront Redux and it may as well just be a patch for the aforementioned title.
A pretty easy 1000 points here and none of the achievements are especially noteworthy or original, though considering the repetitive game-play they couldn’t have done much more.
If you’ve played Battlefront then this will be all too familiar and suffers from all of the same issues as well. Even for newcomers and LOTR fans, this will be tough to enjoy due to the brevity of the game and the shoddy mechanics. It is fun for a while, but despite the epic landscapes and chance to control (even fleetingly) the heroes of the Middle-Earth, once that first half an hour is over you’ll be looking elsewhere for your fun.