Well, the more evil among you have reason to smile, because you’re about to fulfill all your dark desires.
Star Wars: Battlefront was a huge hit for Pandemic Studios. The melding of the universe with Battlefield-style gameplay made for a unique experience, one that people are still playing to this day. When it was announced that Pandemic was working on yet another huge geek property with Lord of the Rings: Conquest, people wondered if this would basically be Lord of the Rings: Battlefront.
Well, it is. Is that such a bad thing?
I was fortunate enough to attend the recent Community Day for the game, becoming one of the first people to play through all parts of the story, and during our hours of gameplay it became obvious that they have another hit on their hands.
The big difference between this and other LOTR games (besides, of course, the classic focus on multiplayer gameplay) is the story. There are two campaigns, consisting of 7 and 6 levels, respectively. Firstly you’ll fight in the most famous battles from the films in The War of the Ring. You’ll do everything from use Ents to tear apart Isengard to utilize all the fellowship at the Black Gates of Mordor.
From here on out everything’s different. While the book ended with the scouring of the shire, we never saw it in the films- and thus this was the plan behind the brand-new evil campaign. In the Rise of Sauron campaign you’ll first utilize a Nazgul to make sure that Frodo doesn’t get to drop that ring into Mount Doom after all, and from there you’ll spread the forces of evil across the land, finally ending up in the shire and burning down all their cute little houses.
Pandemic worked with the Tolkien estate to not only make everything authentic to the work (or rather, the films, since this is based on them) and also to come up with this new campaign in a way that wouldn’t sully the Lord of the Rings brand. It works more as a (very long) alternate ending to the movies, and you can bet it’s going to be fun. The game is also narrated by none other than Hugo Weaving, who tells the story in his usual dramatic style.
As cool as it is, of course the single player really is only a tutorial for the multiplayer, which is the real meat of a game like this. But it’s not completely fair to dismiss this as Battlefront with LOTR visuals. Being that it’s a fantasy world there’s a much bigger focus on melee combat. There are 4 character classes you can play as- Warrior, Archer, Scout, and the somewhat controversial Mage.
The Warrior class will be your first choice, and the one most everyone will start playing as because it’s the most familiar. It’s the most hack and slash centered character, allowing you to perform combos and just generally destroy your enemies through brute force. Killing enemies charges a meter that will allow you to unleash special moves which are different for every class, in this case giving you a flaming sword to set your foes on fire. While the warrior’s all about the up-close fighting he also has an axe to throw and take out advancing enemies. As with all of the long range weapons, it regenerates after a short time.
The Archer class is perfect for those wishing this game were a shooter. Besides being able to zoom and take out enemies from far away he can also shoot fire arrows, poison arrows (which slows down enemies as it knocks down their health) and fire multiple arrows at multiple targets a la Legolas. As far as melee attacks they only have a kick that works as a good pushback maneuver. Playing the Shire level gives you a hobbit for the archer class, and perhaps my favorite moment of all my playtime was when I whittled down an Orc’s health with my arrows and then delivered a finishing blow by kicking them. Maybe those hobbits aren’t so useless after all…
Playing as the Scout allows you to be fast and sneaky. His cloaking ability also allows him to sneak behind enemies and perform a finishing move. He’s quick and has some strong and sudden melee attacks, and has a satcel bomb that he can throw to take out multiple enemies. He’s fun but I’m much more of a direct fighter in these kind of games so I only used him briefly during some of the multiplayer modes.
Then there’s the mage. Why was this such a controversial pick? Well, fans of the series know that there aren’t many wizards around, and they don’t exactly throw around fireballs and lightning with ease. They do here, and while it might not be fine for people who revere the LOTR canon, the class is essential for the game.
It also ended up being my favorite class. Acting almost as a support class, the mage not only has the power to shoot electricity to down your opponents (which can be charged up by holding the right trigger so that it will leap to multiple enemies) but also the power to heal yourself and your teammates. He’s also got a powerful ground smash attack that will knock down anyone around him, and a fireball. His block move (used by holding the left trigger) will unleash a large circle of light, similar to what Gandalf used to ward off the Nazgul at Minas Tirith, and here it’s used to effectively block arrows and magic attacks.
The thing that’s amazing about the game is the amount of depth in it. It’s almost overwhelming at first- each class has a ton of different moves and you’ll need to play each one differently if you want to last more than 10 seconds. You will also need to rely on your teammates and vice versa, which gives me great hope for the co-op modes.
(Follow the link below to the second page and all the info on the multiplayer!)
There are a few different multiplayer modes that all support 16 players (or 8 vs 8 teams). Conquest is the old standby, where you seek to capture control points for as long as you can to rack up a higher score than your opponents. Capture the Ring is a CTF mode of sorts, except there’s only one ring and you have to bring it to your opponent’s side. This is a very hectic mode, and it’s here that teamwork will come into play heavily. Watching a group advance with the ring, with a scout carrying the ring, warriors protecting him, archers picking off anyone that comes close while mages alternately heal and protect the group with their shield- well, it just demonstrates how important it is to have a smart group. During our many multiplayer matches we played with and against some of the developers, and they were invaluable for figuring out smart tactics to assist your teammates and win.
There’s also of course Team Deathmatch, every man for himself deathmatch, and hero deathmatch, which we unfortunately didn’t get to play. This allows you to play as the hero characters, everyone from Aragorn and Gandalf to The Mouth of Sauron and Lurtz. They’re all based on certain classes but are ridiculously overpowered versions of them. They show up in regular deathmatches once in a while when someone’s doing great… as a bonus for being the best on your team. They’re specific to the levels, and also appear in the single player campaigns during certain points.
The other big feature is the creatures you’ll be able to commandeer. Similar to the vehicles in the Battlefront games, you’ll have large creatures sitting idle next to your bases that can be jumped on (or into) and controlled. There’s nothing more fun than using an Ent to grab orcs and throw them across the field. Until, of course, your opponent inevitably sets you on fire. Trolls and Wargs and Oliphants and Horses- you’ll control all manner of beast here. The one thing that you won’t be able to jump on are the dragons (or eagles), who actually do show up to grab soldiers from the battlefield randomly on certain levels.
Even with all of this great content, I have to admit that I wasn’t really enjoying the game when I first tried it. Some of the later levels were difficult to the point of incredible frustration, and I was having to repeat things over and over to pass it. But it wasn’t until later that I realized it wasn’t the game being cheap, it was me being horrible at it. If I had played through all the levels in order it would have been different, because when I started learning all the moves and tactics the game became incredibly fun and challenging (rather than frustrating). You will really have to learn all the nuances of the game and every class, to find out who’s your strongest class, and which is best for each situation. The depth is pretty remarkable, especially since on the surface four classes sure doesn’t seem to offer a lot of variety.
There were a few problems I had with the game, though. The battles are smaller than Battlefront by necessity… a huge map wouldn’t do well for a game with no vehicles. It’d take forever to get across it. This has the side effect of making them feel less epic than they should, especially since it’s only 16 player matches with no other characters on the battlefield.
The characters also seem to get knocked over fairly easily, which gets irritating. Even worse than that is some one-hit kills that will sometimes blindside you. Don’t forget though that we didn’t see a finished version here, and they’re still tweaking how everything plays. I’ve got faith that everything will be fixed up by release.
This bad boy’s hitting early next year for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, with a DS version on the way as well.Pandemic’s known for making fun, addictive games, and this is no exception. Lord of the Rings fans will be in heaven here, and I can’t believe that I’m excited about yet another LOTR game. Every time I think I’m out they pull me back in again. I’d like to thank everyone at Pandemic for taking their time to talk with (and play against, and drink with) us, and being such gracious hosts… and the man himself, Jon Long, for setting it all up. Can’t wait to see the finished product!
(Got any more questions about the game? Hit us in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.)