The Lord of the Rings license is truly a lucrative one, but has the bubble finally burst on Baggins? The Lord of the Rings: Conquest suggests that the time of the ring has finally come to a close, and EA’s final push for Mount Doom should be its last.
Conquest, as we’ll call it, is a direct decendant of the popular Star Wars: Battlefront games, as is developed by the same team: Pandemic. Naturally, instead of Luke Skywalker we’ve got Frodo Baggins, and Vader has been swapped out for Sauron. It’s familiar territory, with a weak single player mode playing second fiddle to a comfortable but ultimately derivative multi player section and never manages to truly shine despite the wealth of source material the game could have built upon.
If you’ve ever played a Battlefront game then you’ll immediately feel right at home with Conquest. The training level might be poorly designed, rushed and not remotely representative of the main bulk of the game, but at least it highlights the various classes you can opt to select from. The game is played from the third person, behind and slightly above your character, and is controlled with the usual twin-stick analog method: left to move and strafe, right to control the camera, which can be reversed in both axis and works quite well. What doesn’t work at first, though, is the multitude of conflicting button configurations, which seem to vary wildly from class to class making quick changes mid-game a disorienting affair. Again, the training mission does little to concrete these controls in your mind, so your first efforts in either single or multi player will be somewhat retarded.
When you’ve got down the basics, though, things start to make sense, as long as you stick to one class. The Archer class has access to unlimited arrows, for example, which can be tipped with fire or poison with a tap of a face button and can fire multiple arrows, Legolas-style, with L1. Conversely the Warrior uses L1 as a hold shift, and then taps a face button to use a more destructive version of a normal attack, which are done via the face buttons. It’s these inconsistencies which make switching from class to class more of an issue than it should be, but assuming you’re playing a game with at least 4 or 5 others you’ll be able to stick to one class and learn how to specialise – with most games like this your team works best with a mix of abilities.
In addition, the Scout can turn invisible, and Mages can wreak havoc with long-range spells, and defence aside are arguably the best class in the game.
Whilst the single player mode has you performing various tasks such as keeping the Uruk-hai from breaching the Deeping Wall of Helm’s Deep for a time, or escorting Frodo, but most of the action is fairly rudimentary battling and the majority of the games we played online were also your basic deathmatch equilivalent. Playing through and completing the Good campaign unlocks the Evil half where you switch sides but there are few surprises despite a comprehensive selection of levels to fight in – there’s the obvious Isengard, Moria and Osgiliath areas and a few levels we’ve not seen yet in EA’s Rings games, such as a battle at the stronghold of Minas Morgul and an alternative ending based in the Shire. Because the action is roughly the same in each area, special characters aside, there’s little variety throughout the entire game. Still, at least the Trophies come thick and fast.
Split screen can handle 2 players offline or on – slightly frustrating because the Xbox 360 version offers 4 players.
Whether or not Pandemic struggled with the PS3 version here or not, it’s clear that Conquest doesn’t begin to push Sony’s powerhouse nearly enough. The main characters might bear a passing resemblance to the real actors, but everything else is undoubtably last-generation, and we’d even go as far to say that the first Star Wars: Battlefront offered a more impressive aesthetic. The animation is clunky, the middle-distance environments are basic and poorly light, the 30fps frame rate should be double what it is and the far-off detail, where there should be hoardes of brawling combatants, is bare and sporodic.
In a game where the notion of huge battles is paramount, it’s heartbreakingly disappointing to see a few pixelated sprites making up the majority of the war machine. This is evident right from the training mission, with the poorly animated characters trading blows indefinitely right before your eyes, and continues right through to the climactic Minas Tirith seige. Even close up you’ll only ever see a handful of enemies around you, making the action seem more like a cheesy b-movie than the immense sense of scale Peter Jackson achieved. Naturally, when you’re online in a team of 8 against another squad it’s certainly busy enough with some nicely planned out levels, but there’s still an empty, hollow feel to everything going on around you.
Hugo Weaving provides the narrative exposition, but he sounds bored and desperate to leave most of the time, and the rest of the voices are single line snippets that repeat gratingly throughout each battle. The whizz of arrows and the crackle of fire are fine, but there’s little here that conveys the feeling of being part of something grand. The game’s saving grace is the music, using most of Howard Shore’s fine compositions as a background layer to the action which are still as beautiful and powerful as they were in the movies, but overall Conquest’s audio is as bland as the graphics.
Conquest, at no point in the entire game, felt like it required a PlayStation 3 behind it. As discussed, the graphics are poor, but everything about the game feels like it was using Battlefront technology – the computer AI is dumb, the levels are disjointed and without consistency, the class mechanics are basic and cheap, the combo system is almost entirely left to the player to develop and the controls don’t really work outside the obviously refined movement and camera. Had this been running on an original Xbox we’ve have been impressed, but this is not a showcase for your PS3 by any stretch.
There is no custom soundtrack support or Youtube uploading, but Conquest does offer a decent selection of Trophies.
Conquest is a third person 16-player brawl around some of Tolkien’s most famous landmarks, marred by poor visuals, unintuitive controls and repetitive gameplay. Despite being a huge Rings fan, this held little interest beyond the first burst of enthusiasm but we can see short-term potential for PS3 owners wanting an immediate dip into familiar territory, but there are better multiplayer battlers around. Disappointing and occasionally disrespectful of the Tolkien property, we’re struggling to recommend this and strongly suggest our readers download and try out the demo first before parting with their cash.