Conquest is the latest title in the Lord Of The Rings franchise to be released by Electronic Arts. It is an unusual combination of their previous titles such as Return Of The King with aspects of developer Pandemic’s Battlefront series. Can it capture the positive aspects of both and combine them into a killer title?
Much like Battlefront, Conquest places you with 16 other players online or 4 players in split screen mode to compete in battles throughout the Tolkien history. You can choose to play as one of four classes (such as scout, warrior, archer or mage) and then jump into the role of a hero such as Gandalf from time to time. If you have a darker side you can join the forces of evil and cause as much mayhem and destruction as possible. Additionally you can transform into a giant unit such as an Ent or Troll across three multiplayer modes (Capture The Flag, Conquest and Team Deathmatch) and two single player campaigns.
The single player campaign is unfortunately not without fault and while some of the sections and key cutscenes are memorable and enjoyable the overall mechanic is very contrived and rather haphazard. Part of the problem revolves around the game flow which is interrupted on a regular basis by a narrator barking instructions … this perhaps wouldn’t be so annoying if he had the voice of Kiefer Sutherland, but unfortunately he has to be one of the most insanely irritating assistants in game history. Not all of the voice acting is bad as Hugo Weaving goes some way in rescuing the experience but unfortunately overall it falls short of the mark.
There are eight single player campaigns for the forces of good and eight more for the armies of The Dark Lord Sauron. The good campaign must be completed before the evil sections open but thankfully the latter campaigns are more fun to play. The object of each set of campaigns is straightforward, you take a player class and then complete a series of objectives to finish the level. Sometimes you get to choose a hero from the films but when the life bar slips to zero you are forced to play with one of the ordinary classes again. Those who have played Star Wars: Battlefront will already be aware that this mechanic is very similar… you can jump on mounts for example, depending on the campaign you are playing. While this sounds like a lot of fun, in practice is really is just a case of button mashing the controller in the same series you do with the other classes. Every character uses three face buttons as the main attacks with a simple modifier to use magic to power up the attacks. To make it a little more entertaining there are some differences between classes but it feels more than a little redundant in the grand scheme of things.
The combat system really needed a little more play testing and fine tuning from developer Pandemic, because although you can throw combos they are all basically preset and without the ability to preload the next. This means you are forced to wait for the current move to finish before you can continue with the fighting.
While the voice acting and combat issues mentioned earlier would not be a total game destroying facet the controls also have problems. They are unintuitive due to a lack of visual feedback and can lead to considerable frustration after even a short duration of game play. The AI compounds the problematic areas of the game mechanic with enemies failing to respond to hostile actions and characters mindlessly wandering off into the distance or even over cliff tops … to their death. Sadly, these bugs are apparent throughout and once when I killed a boss character I ended up falling through the environment only to be forced into a replay.
This leads me into another issue, when you die and are forced into replaying sections of the game, you are forced to watch unskippable cut scenes while listening to the same irritating voice overs. While the game difficulty is set rather high you are presented with a plethora of lives, so the whole experience ends up disconnecting the player from any sense of realism or sadness when your character dies – you already know he will respawn within seconds.
This all leads to the conclusion that the single player game was never the focus of the developer and it appears to have been tacked on at a later date. The single player campaigns are all very short and vary in difficulty in a seemingly random pattern.
All this can be somewhat overlooked if the multiplayer side comes to the rescue, but unfortunately this is not entirely the case. There are certain fundamental issues with the game balancing because mages are very often overpowered on all the maps.
Team Deathmatch is not a very strong game mode in Conquest because the whole concept is very simplistic in structure. Conquest mode is the most enjoyable because teams have to capture strategic locations on the battlefield to start generating victory points … this is actually rather enjoyable apart from the times when the battles become a little chaotic with all the players just scrambling for the same position without any sign of coordination. So while the combat is not all that inventive, there are occasions when moments of brilliance shine through – Mages need to use their range shields to protect archers and keep them safe from attacks while they unleash an array of arrows. Scouts can perform quick, one strike kills to warriors after using their cloaks to sneak in from behind.
On a slightly more positive note the environments are instantly recognisable from the movies and it is fun to play as one of the heroes in an epic battle. Well …. for a short while anyway, because the game ends up being stale and somewhat monotonous.
Graphically, The Lord Of The Rings Conquest is fine tuned for multiplayer, which I guess is a polite way of saying it is nothing out of the ordinary. Textures are low resolution to keep the frame rates high and the character models are in dire need of anti aliasing and a little more attention to detail. The frame rate is generally decent however there are occasional dips when there is a lot of action onscreen. When you combine this with the quality of graphical detail it seems a little unforgivable with a reasonably powerful console such as the Playstation 3.
The sound is very impressive throughout with Howard Shore’s marvelous theme keeping the feeling of an epic adventure alive. Voice acting is generally poor and the actors delivering the persona of most of the main characters such as Aragorn and Gandalf are rather shocking.
Lord Of The Rings: Conquest is a rather staid and bland affair that appears to be in many ways a carbon copy of Star Wars: Battlefront. The combat is lacking and the mission development and structure feels to be a case of the developers just going through the motions. It really is hard to recommend this game to anyone except the Lord Of The Rings die hard fans.
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