Written for http://www.xboxgamezone.co.uk March 2009

Everyone loves Lord of the Rings, don’t they? Well, actually, I don’t. I quite liked the books, but I wasn’t fussed with the films at all which is a bit of a surprise considering my love for all things dwarfy and elfish. Arguably this puts me at an immediate disadvantage to enjoying Lord of the Rings: Conquest and maybe it does. However as I liked Star Wars: Battlefront (also made by Pandemic Studios), Dynasty Warriors and various other hack n slashers, I thought I’d give this game a shot. After all, surely it will be a fun hack n slasher, they can’t be that hard to make surely? Unfortunately it seems I was wrong.

The game opens up initially offering multiplayer and one single player or co-operative campaign depending on if you can find a willing friend to play along: the ‘Good’ campaign, War of the Ring. Once this campaign is completed then the ‘Evil’ side of the game opens up in the form of Rise of Sauron, essentially the same story, just from the evil perspective. The story of course being the main storyline of the books with a bit of poetic license and of course, the Evil campaign having an alternative ending. Each campaign and subsequent levels feel extremely similar in terms of gameplay. On opening, one can choose to play as one of four classes: warrior, archer, scout or mage.

All the classes are controlled in a very similar manner but are fairly well balanced. The warrior, somewhat predictably, mainly has physical up close attacks, although can throw axes a short distance at the enemy. As well as this, the warrior can use special attacks by adding special elements to his weapon such as fire. The archer can fire poison, fire or multiple arrows at its target and in some ways is the strongest of the classes, as a well aimed headshot invariably kills the enemy immediately. The scout can backstab an enemy, if it manages to sneak up behind one successfully, instantly killing them. While the mage can heal as well as fire lightening bolts and flame attacks. But don’t worry; you won’t be stuck with whatever class you choose at the start of the level as at various points in the level you can change class. As well as this, occasionally you will be given the option to play as a hero. These are where Lord of the Rings fans will be very happy as you are given the opportunity to briefly play as heroes such as Aragorn and Gandalf. Unfortunately as exciting as it sounds, it’s not very. You see Aragorn is simply a reskinned Archer class and Gandalf is a reskinned Mage. Still, if you’re a die hard Lord of the Rings fan, you will probably still be very happy nonetheless. Of course, who cares what class you are; if you don’t know what you’re doing you won’t get very far. This is where the trusty yellow arrow comes to it. In game it tends to be a bit manic with warring factions all over the place, so to help you along the way, the yellow arrow points you at every objective you need to get to. Sometimes it stops and you have to defend the area you’re in but for the most part as long as you follow the arrow around, you’ll be ok. This is fine if you don’t mind an extremely linear game. Or the fact that you can just run past everything else, Orcs and all, and head to the nearest yellow arrow to progress in the game. I know it defeats the object of the game but I have no doubt that after the first mission or two, you will be doing this too. After all, you won’t be missing out on much. Sure you will miss out on the ‘fun’ of the clunky combat that feels far too detached, or the reminder that all the classes are mostly the same when it comes down to it. But when it comes to quality gameplay, you won’t miss a thing as it’s just not really there. The objectives almost always come down to a few basic ideas: defend a location, capture a control point (a flag essentially) or meet up with your allies. When you die, you simply respawn at the nearest control point with all the enemies around you having the same health as they did before you died, meaning if you had inflicted a fair bit of damage already then you can finish them off easily. This makes things a little too easy at times considering you can simply keep respawning and chipping away a bit at your opponent. As well as this, if the enemy happens to be right next to a perilous cliff, you can push them off causing their instant death and a very easy solution for you. It’s a pity as I would have liked to have seen more intelligent enemies; it would have made things that bit more challenging. The only really irritating parts I found were when you had to defend an area for a set time. This was where the friendly AI felt a bit lacking as it just didn’t seem very good at defending, leaving everything down to you which in some places got extremely tedious when for the 100th time you were overrun simply because the friendly AI had left the area you were guarding. Perhaps the most annoying thing that then occurs is if you fail an objective, the level ends and you restart right back at the beginning of it which is a much harsher punishment than if you die, which seems a little unfair. To break up the monotony of repeating the same actions over and over again, there are some different segments in the levels such as being able to play as an Ent and using mounts. Unfortunately the controls feel a little clunky. In fact in terms of playing a tree, I found the mediocre Prince Caspian game fulfilled my tree playing urges much better than Lord of the Rings: Conquest has, which is worrying in itself considering how poor Prince Caspian was.

Aiming to be the shining light of this fairly average game is the online facilities that EA has kindly provided us with. For once, they almost work. It does have its quirks but for the most part I can see it making a nice change from the usual FPS/Sports games monopoly on Xbox Live. When I initially went to search for an online game to play by selecting quick game, I was initially rather annoyed to see that I couldn’t because I didn’t have the appropriate downloadable content. So I had to look under marketplace in the game and I couldn’t find any new map packs. Rather annoyingly, the new map pack isn’t listed in game despite all other DLC being there. You have to go back to the Xbox Dashboard and look through there. Only a minor niggle but considering there was a very recent title update, you would think it would already be there. If nothing else, surely EA are missing out on business by not including it? I digress, back to the actual multiplayer element. Offering conquest, capture the ring (flag to you and me), team deathmatch and hero deathmatch, there are plenty of options to whet your appetite. With 2 pieces of DLC available already there’s plenty to keep players busy. From what I have seen, the community is actually thriving quite nicely which makes a pleasant change as so many games lose their community very quickly. In places it reminds me of a third person Halo 3 but without the smack talk which is always good! Although not a reason to buy this game, it is a nice bonus to see a well rounded multiplayer facility despite the somewhat lacklustre offline mode.

Overall, Lord of the Rings: Conquest is the sort of game that a Lord of the Rings fan is much more likely to enjoy than a gamer. To a gamer, it is distinctly average and slow. The combat feels sluggish in places, and the graphics not quite up to scratch. On top of that it just gets too tedious too fast. However to a Lord of the Rings fan, it is a perfect companion piece to the films and books. It will evoke memories of events seen in the films (especially as many FMVs are closely linked to the film), it will excite you as you get to play your favourite character, and Howard Shore’s music score will be like, well it’ll be like music to your ears frankly. Presentation wise Conquest is top notch, it has to be said. It is just unfortunately the gameplay side of the game which has suffered, which is inexcusable considering it is a game after all! As you may be able to guess, no I can’t recommend this game. I would actually go so far as to say I enjoyed Dynasty Warriors 5 more, as although it was a somewhat tedious hack n slasher, it was at least fast paced, as any decent hack n slasher should be. Maybe if you’re bored and it’s very cheap and you enjoy achievement gaining (it is very generous at doling out achievement points), but don’t expect much at all. Unless of course you are a huge Lord of the Rings fan, in which case ignore all this and rush out to get it. But seriously, just don’t do it.

Lord of the Rings Conquest (360)