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Submitted by Jon Wilcox on January 16 2009 - 10:08

As TVG returns to Middle-Earth (again), we are forced to ask Pandemic Studio where it all went wrong...

Pros
  • Hopefully the final Rings game from EA.
  • Howard Shore's epic score.
  • Multiplayer means sharing the misery.
Cons
  • Looks like a last-gen title.
  • Bland and unimaginative.
  • Pandemic's poor run continues.

Despite last year's releases like Dead Space, Mirrors Edge, and Spore pushing forward a brave new world of original and inventive brands for Electronic Arts, the launch of Lord of the Rings: Conquest seems very much like a move by 'old EA': a faceless corporation that relied on annual updates and nasty movie adaptations.  It's not just that the Lord of the Rings phenomena has steadily declined since the last of the movies hit cinemas six (yes, SIX) years ago.  Rather, it's more to do with that EA has relentlessly plied gamers with more than a fair share of Lord of the Rings games this decade, most of of which have been toppled quicker than a drunk Orc with a club to the head.  The JRPG wannabe, Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, is one particular low point that springs to mind.

But wait, let's give this Rings swansong from EA a chance.  After all, it's been developed by Pandemic Studios in the same mould as their massively successful Star Wars: Battlefront games, and that can't be a bad thing.  Can it?  TVG heads to Minas Tirith to find out whether the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth will stave off the evil of Sauron, or succumb to his darkness...

The Fate Of Middle-Earth

Squarely following down the same path already well tread by Pandemic's two Battlefront titles, Lord of the Rings: Conquest once more takes players to Peter Jackson's interpretation of JRR Tolkien's Middle-Earth.  Set during the War of the Ring as the Free Peoples stand up to the evil forces of the malevolent lighthouse Sauron, there's no doubt that Lord of the Rings: Conquest has been designed with multiplayer in mind; the fact that the online option appears above the solo-player campaign in the main menu is proof enough. 

Since it has an emphasis on multiplayer gaming, you'd expect that perhaps Conquest would at least try and push the barriers back a little, or at least meet current expectations for modern multiplayer gaming.  So it's all together disappointing from the off to discover that the epic battles showcased in Jackson's trilogy haven't been duly replicated here.  Instead, Conquest supports the rather lowly figure of sixteen players, which hardly sets the Pelannor Fields alight.  Following a 'Capture the Flag' structure of capturing the One Ring and taking it to the opponent's spawn base, the multiplayer gameplay is both limiting and limited.

In contrast to the solo campaign there seems to be no limit on the number of re-spawns players can have, so the only criteria to winning or losing is scoring a set amount of points.  It would be decent enough as part of a compendium of multiplayer gametypes, but when it's the primary gameplay mode of a title it really doesn't stand up, and quickly becomes repetitive and dull.    Actually, it's not the only online multiplayer game mode available in the game; Conquest also features co-operative gameplay so up to three of your friends can join you in experiencing the solo campaign in all its 'glory'.

In actual fact, the single-player is even less inspiring than multiplayer, and comes close to redefining 'chore'.  Split between following (more or less) the 'true' events of the movies, and an imaginary take on what Sauron may have done had he recovered the One Ring, the campaign feels awkwardly repetitive, clunky, and frustrating.  Choosing from the same four classes as multiplayer, Warrior, Mage, Scout, and Archer, players are given much more of a challenge than in their cousin Battlefront games; instead of being able to re-spawn for as long as there are fighters in reserve, players are given a strict number of lives, which are only topped up on the completion of mission objectives.

Mission objectives throughout the game follow a narrow set of types, from capturing strategic points on a map, to defending them for a set amount of time, or just surviving in an area without being overrun.  Such objectives form the bulk of gameplay in Conquest, although there is the occasional glimpse of further variety: the quest to hunt and kill Frodo at the start of the 'evil' campaign, or killing a set number of orcs to resurrect the Witch-king, are just two examples.    Boss battles against Saruman and the Mouth of Sauron are two other instances where the generic gameplay offered elsewhere in the game is broken up, but none really detract from what is a repetitive and unimpressive campaign.

Despite the game's various Middle-Earth settings from Minas Tirith and Isengard, to Mordor's Black Gate, a Lord of the Rings game should give players the chance to play as key characters from the movies – and not as background grunts.  Thankfully, like Battlefront, hero characters from across the spectrum of Middle-Earth, giving players the chance to play as the expected members of the Fellowship (including Aragon, Legolas, and Gandalf), Ents, Eowyn, Faramir, Nazgul, and even Sauron himself.  It's a touch that's expected, and thankfully, delivered – even if the models of the characters are comparable to last-gen Rings offerings.

Eradicating The Pandemic

Quite honestly though, Conquest looks like an absolute warg of a game.  Lacking in anything that even remotely resembles the sort of visual quality we've come to expect from the current crop of consoles, Conquest's drab, angular, an uninspired environments aren't helped by the near-complete lack of post-processing effects like HDR-lighting, motion blur, or depth of field.  It's all too past-gen, from which we can only conclude means that Conquest has been produced with a modified version of the ageing Battlefront engine.  In a word, yuck.  Making matters worse is that the character models for Aragorn, Legolas, and the rest of Tolkien's intrepid team of fantasy warriors, all look like they've barely been updated since EA's first stab at Lord of the Rings games, which appeared back in 2002...and you can compare screenshots to see pretty much exactly that!

Between the visuals, the overall presentation, the terrible voice work that grates from the word go, and the general lacklustre experience on offer, it's difficult to see Conquest as anything more than a last-gasp attempt from EA to wring the final few dollars or pounds from the franchise before their agreement runs out.  It's devoid of charm, personality, or fun, and its only highlight is the liberal use of Howard Shore's Oscar-winning soundtrack throughout the campaign.  We'd quite honestly play Dynasty Warriors and have Shore's elegant yet powerful compositions piped through our sound system, than experience the utter dross of Conquest any more.  Where Conquest really does differ from its award-winning Star Wars Battlefront cousins, is that the more melee emphasised combat of this latest Rings title just doesn't suit the gameplay as well as the Lucas-owned property did.  The ability to fly in X-Wings, TIE-Fighters, and all the other vehicles of the Star Wars world wholly surpass Conquest's ridable horses and wargs, or the ability to become an ent or troll.

Following the takeover of VG Holdings (the holding company of Pandemic and Bioware) by Electronic Arts in 2007, Pandemic's once illustrious output, which included Star Wars: Battlefront, Mercenaries, and Full Spectrum Warrior, has been reduced to a small series of massive disappointments.  We can only guess how low morale at Pandemic must be at the moment.  Conquest marks the second title from Pandemic in a matter of months, and is far more disastrous than the disappointing affair that was Mercenaries 2: World of Flames.  It's such a black mark that we're surprised that Conquest didn't face the same fate as another product in development at Pandemic, The Dark Knight.  Based on the massive 2008 movie, the adaptation was canned by EA after it fell behind schedule, went over budget, and suffered from a lack of quality.  It's just a shame that this final Lord of the Rings game from EA also wasn't euthanised.


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  • Graphics: 61%
     
  • Sound: 68%
     
  • Gameplay: 49%
     
  • Originality: 58%
     
  • Longevity: 28%
     
Overall Score: 4/10
A bleak title from Pandemic and EA, and more than a disappointing swan-song for a relationship that's formed between the publisher and the iconic fantasy license.  Very much throwaway gaming, Conquest is wholly lacklustre, devoid of any real purpose, and is a real low point for Pandemic, which after Mercenaries 2 is really saying something.  'Must do better' is a gross understatement.

 

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User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Wed 02nd Jun 2010 00:23, Post No: 66

I love this game! I think reviewers are to harsh!


By: freeradical

Added:Thu 04th Feb 2010 16:10, Post No: 65

Err, yeah, ditto.


By: SegaBoy

Added:Thu 04th Feb 2010 13:39, Post No: 64

How is it awesome?


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Thu 04th Feb 2010 03:17, Post No: 63

this game is awesome [#@!?] yall[#@!?]holes


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Thu 04th Feb 2010 03:17, Post No: 62

thisgam is awesome [#@!?] yall[#@!?]holes


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Sun 25th Oct 2009 05:44, Post No: 61

Wanted to buy this.....

Maybe not now.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Sun 25th Oct 2009 01:03, Post No: 60

Wanted to buy this.....

Maybe not now.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Wed 12th Aug 2009 15:12, Post No: 59

The previous games of LOTR is way better than this crap!


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Wed 12th Aug 2009 15:10, Post No: 58

This game is one of the worst game i have ever played. I tired from the first level! If you want to lost your money and your time buy it.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Wed 12th Aug 2009 15:09, Post No: 57

This game is one of the worst game i have ever played. I tired from the first level! If you want to lost your money and your time buy it.


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