It should be of no surprise that there are still videogames being created around the Lord of the Rings film franchise. With so many iconic characters, a theme song that anyone would recognize, and action that lends itself perfectly to the virtual medium, Lord of the Rings should be as easy a translation as any. Pandemic Studios is the latest developer to try their hand at bringing Aragorn and company to the smaller screen in Lord of the Rings: Conquest, a game that is extremely reminiscent of another licensed Pandemic creation: Star Wars: Battlefront.
The setup is almost identical. Players select from one of four classes: warrior, mage, scout and archer. The initial stages of the game place you as nameless archetypes, but you can always jump ahead a bit and get the chance to play as characters like Aragorn, Gandalf, Saruman and Eowyn among others. Each character has a wide range of melee and ranged attacks, some being stronger than others depending on their base class. We played through four levels total (Minas Tirth, Isengard, Moria and Black Gates) and they’re all pulled straight out of the films. But that’s all info that we’ve covered before, what I’m going over today is how the game plays right now at this point in development.
The last time we played Conquest there was obviously more work to be done, but even that was a huge improvement over what we played just a month earlier at E3. Well, just as before, this latest build sees a massive improvement in terms of performance. Plenty of enemies, both big and small, could fill the screen at any one time and there was rarely slow down. At least when playing alone. Once we got online the performance suffered a bit, but it wasn’t overly detrimental to the experience. Keep in mind, we were playing at, or close, to the 16 player capacity the whole time.
One feather in the cap of Lord of the Rings: Conquest is that it’s probably the truest representation of the combat that we saw in the films. Heroes battle against tons of enemies at one time, barreling their way through with a myriad of different moves and combos (some having more than six button presses). Characters from the movie have some specialized powers which are a cool way to spice things up a bit, but I couldn’t help but feel that, the majority of the time, I was just mashing the light, medium or heavy attack buttons repeatedly. The on-screen benefit was there with some impressive effects, but it just didn’t pack the fun I had imagined. Hopefully once more time is spent with the game, more depth is revealed.
For many the draw of Conquest will be the Lord of the Rings license, just as Star Wars brought in millions prior. Again, this is the New Line Cinema version of Lord of the Rings, not the J.R.R. Tolkien renditions. But that also means that Electronic Arts can flex some production value muscle and give the world of Mordor and its nuances some movie-quality details. Not to mention Howard Shore’s epic soundtrack that chimes in when you capture a point or successfully fight off an attack.
I played every mode that Conquest had to offer, which thankfully extends beyond the traditional capture point system. While conquest was the star of the show, others included team deathmatch, hero team deathmatch where one fighter is an over-powered character from the film and a CTF variant called Capture the Ring. Hugo Weaving is the announcer for all of the multiplayer action and you’ll hear him plenty when teams are trading the One Ring back and forth. Both good and evil forces are balanced very well with the characters pulled from the movies having similar attacks and abilities as those on the opposite side of the aisle.
There’s no question, and it should be no surprise to those who played Battlefront, that the multiplayer portion of Conquest is the star of the show. The AI, while functional — doing things like healing me when I needed it in battle — can’t hold a candle to the team work that you’ll get when playing with a group of friends. This was evidenced most by the Black Gates level which sees Gandalf and his buddies repel an attack from Sauron’s forces and then proceed to overtake a series of points throughout the level. If they can.
As with any class-based game, your success is determined by how well you utilize your character’s specialties. Archers need to stay away from the fray and launch their fire-infused arrows and multi-arrow shots into as many enemies as possible. The same goes for the Mage which is more of a support character. They can heal combatants as well as dole out some impressive ranged attacks, making the mage an ideal run-in-and-get-out type of character. The warrior is the brute and is great for running and in dominating with swords that can be imbued with powers that depend on whether you’re a character from the movie or a no-name.
There’s no question that Lord of the Rings: Conquest has potential. It could be a fantastic draw for fans of online gaming, supposing that the gameplay deepens the more time you spend with the game. The one question that remains is whether Conquest will be able to differentiate itself enough from Battlefront to attract new fans, but if it doesn’t succeed on that level, it can surely rely on its perfect use of the Lord of the Rings license to bring in some newcomers.
Lord of the Rings: Conquest is scheduled to ship to retailers on January 13, 2009 for PS3, Xbox 360, PC and Nintendo DS.