Lord of the Rings: Conquest

We’re used to seeing games rushed out to coincide with movie releases. Poor quality, unfinished, shoddy, soulless cash-ins. What I didn’t expect to see was a movie tie-in, released six years after the last film hit the cinema screens, that demonstrates those very same qualities.

Little more than a re-skinned Star Wars: Battlefront, it would be easy to moan about this game from a Tolkien fan’s perspective. It feels like it’s been made by a team who have pieced together their knowledge of Middle Earth from movie trailers. Giving mystic powers, magical swords and invisibility to every random character under the sun turns the whole thing into generic fantasy fare, making it completely unworthy of the license. I don’t know how this ever got approved by the Tolkien Estate.

But my real problem with the game isn’t that it’s not faithful to the books or films, in fact the non-canonical evil timeline is the best thing about the title. My objection is that this is just a bad game – even by last generation’s standards. In my opinion, the old Playstation 2 Lord of the Rings games are better than this title.

Resisting the temptation to stop the review there, I’ll give you a brief overview of the game mechanics. There are four classes of character. The warrior hacks and slashes his way through enemies with his sword, utilising a throwing axe to knock down distant opponents. The archer unsurprisingly excels at ranged combat and has a variety of specially charged arrows at his disposal.

The mage’s magic arsenal includes a flame attack, a healing spell, a pretty useful ground smash attack and what can be most accurately described as “Star Wars Force Lightning”. The final class is the scout who is able to cloak himself in shadows and sneakily backstab enemies.

At certain points in the game you’ll earn control of one of the major characters from the films whose powers either directly mimic or combine those of the four basic classes. There are also various mounts (such as Oliphants) and controllable creatures (such as trolls and ents) that can be used on specific maps.

It all sounds great in theory. However the control schemes used for the various classes are awful. It feels like the developer just threw dice to assign the moves on the controller, which leaves you constantly fumbling around trying to remember which particular combinations of triggers and buttons activate your special attacks. Combat is incredibly laboured and clunky with long animation times (during which the enemy has plenty of chance to move out of the way) and the collision detection feels well off.

The camera is also more than a little bit rubbish. With no way of locking onto your enemy you regularly find yourself slashing wildly off screen at an opponent you can’t see or, even worse, completely missing your intended target altogether.

Although the environments are pretty well designed, and instantly recognisable from the film, the game suffers from sub-par visuals overall. The character models are of lower resolution than you’d usually expect to see on the 360 (even allowing for the amount of enemies that are on the screen at anyone time), everything is a bit murky and it’s often hard to pick out enemies from allies.

Soundtrack wise it’s pretty impressive, but that’s because the game utilises Howard Shore’s fantastic movie score. The voice acting, though, is really hit and miss. I’m assured, from reliable sources that it’s Hugo “Elrond” Weaving doing the main voiceover but I think they must have got the rest of the cast from down the local job centre.

The game features two single player campaign modes, offline split screen co-op and online multiplayer. Rather tellingly the multiplayer modes receive top billing on the game’s menu screen.

The campaign modes aren’t bad. The first basically sees you re-enacting key parts of the battles from the Two Towers and the Return of the King movies. Missions mostly involve fighting your way to control points, successfully capturing them and then either running off and doing the same at another control point or finding and killing a particular character. There is some enjoyment to be had from these sections but on occasions it degenerates into something resembling either an unorganised playground game of king of the castle (with everyone piling into the control points) or a strange run-around reminiscent of a Benny Hill episode (where you spend a lot of time chasing your assassination target until he accidently falls off a cliff).

The second “alternate ending” campaign is quite interesting as it basically explores what might have happened if Gollum hadn’t stopped Frodo from succumbing to the power of the One Ring. It’s hard, though, to take some of these missions seriously when major heavyweight hitters like The Witch King, the Balrog and even Lord Sauron himself are little more than slightly beefed up re-skins of the existing four character classes.

I didn’t hate everything about the game. It’s nice to be reminded of a great movie trilogy and playing as some of the famous characters was fun at times. The game also chucks out achievement points like they’re going out of fashion. Even though the game was bad I still managed to make my way to the end of the two campaigns with over six hundred points in the bank. I just felt more than a little short-changed by what had the potential to be a brilliant title, taking some of the things from the last generation’s tie-in games and upgrading the experience for the current, more-powerful consoles.

As a budget title or a downloadable game they could’ve got away with what really is little more than a quick rehash of Star Wars: Battlefront. It’s just about passable as a rental. It’s unbelievable that they’re asking people to pay full price for this tosh though. It’s not good enough for Battlefront fans and it’s certainly not good enough for followers of the Lord of the Rings.

Avoid Lord of the Rings: Conquest like the plague. There are so many other, better games of this kind that you can spend your hard earned cash on.

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One Response to “Lord of the Rings: Conquest”

  1. Shamefully, one of those ‘it’s shit but I can’t help but play it’ games. But, at the risk of using some subtle pluggage, I think I’ve worked out why.

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