Lord of the Rings: ConquestESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Real Time Strategy
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Pandemic Studios
1-4 Players (2-16 online multiplayer)
256KB to Game Save
It seems like only yesterday I sat in a movie theatre watching the final instalment in the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) franchise. I distinctly recall feeling a tad depressed as I had to come to terms with the prospect that I was watching the last LOTR movie for the foreseeable future. Fortunately with EA’s LOTR video game franchise I can re-live some of those big screen epic battles over and over again. In a nutshell, that is exactly what you get in LOTR: Conquest for the Xbox 360. In Conquest you relive some of the movies and books epic battles such as the Battle of Helm's Deep and the Battle of Osgiliath. LOTR: Conquest arrives with little fanfare and very little hoopla. It really came out of nowhere and it seems to have been overshadowed by some of the bigger holiday releases. So it came as somewhat of a surprise when Conquest for the Xbox 360 arrived at my home office for review. After some extended playtime with Conquest, I have to say I am pretty impressed, but unfortunately it is just not my type of game. However, for fans of the movie and gamers who enjoyed Pandemic's Star Wars: Battlefront, LOTR: Conquest should be right up your alley.
As far as the visuals are concerned, LOTR: Conquest comes across as very average and fails to produce any real jaw dropping graphics. This is not to say it is a bad looking game but for those of you that have been playing Gears of War 2 and Call of Duty: World at War over the holiday season as I have, you may be disappointed. The textures appear muddy and the colors do not hold a candle to the games I just mentioned. While it may be unfair to compare LOTR: Conquest to such great titles the fact remains that the bar has been raised and Conquest does not meet the benchmark made by other developer’s Xbox 360 games.
Despite some of the negatives, there are some positives to be found within. Some of the environments are very well done and offer lots of detail, while the lighting effects are also good and sharp. Reliving some of those battle scenes does bring you right back to the movies and there is no doubt the game does a great job at re-creating some of the scenery found in big screen versions of LOTR. The scope and size of the environments is also impressive and the draw distance is equally as notable. The character models also look fairly good with a nice mix of different characters and detail. Gandalf, Frodo and Gimli are all easily recognizable and look similar to their on-screen counterparts. They may lack some facial expressions but all in all the characters look decent.
Technically speaking, the game runs very smoothly and there are no major framerate issues to be found. You would think with so much going on the screen at once, the game would slow down to a snails pace. To its credit, no such slow down occurred and there was very little to no clipping found. All in all the games graphics engine is fairly strong.
The music in LOTR: Conquest is solid and sounds as if it was taken directly from the movie's soundtrack. The music creates a terrific atmosphere and there is no doubt you are playing a LOTR game when listening to the soundtrack. It does have a tendency to become repetitive as some of the battles can last for quite some time. Nevertheless, the music is perfectly suited for the game and only adds to that authentic LOTR feeling.
The character voices on the other hand were a bit of letdown. They sound adequate but I would have liked to have seen far more in-game chatter from the characters in the game. Also, it would have been nice to have heard some of the voices from the movies, however I recognize this would drastically increase production costs. That being said, I did miss some of the voices heard in the movies.
Other sounds in the game such as the swords clanging, armies cheering, horses galloping, bowstrings tightening, and bombs exploding all sound good and are very effective. Here is where the audio truly excels. It is hard to pinpoint any one stunning sound effect as so much is going on during each and every battle. Bottomline, the developers did a bang-up job re-creating some of those battle noises heard in the movie and most fans will be pleased.
For those that enjoyed Star Wars: Battlefront, LOTR: Conquest will feel incredibly similar. In fact, Conquest is Battlefront but set in LOTR Middle Earth universe. Being a fantasy game compared to a science fiction game, the battles have an emphasis on melee combat. Granted you can use a bow and arrow or unleash some lightning strikes, however much the gameplay involves basic LOTR ground war combat.
In terms of the single player experience, the game is divided into two storylines: good and evil. In the good campaign, players follow the main events of the films, while the evil campaign has players controlling the forces of darkness in a new storyline. Imagine if Frodo failed to destroy the Ring and Middle-earth was conquered by Sauron. This is essentially where the evil campaign takes off. In order to play the evil campaign you must play through the good campaign first. Overall, I enjoyed the duel campaigns but my favor leaned towards the evil side. The evil campaign enables you to live out some of those dark fantasies you may have had if you were one of the warriors in Sauron’s army. Controlling a giant troll with a huge club demolishing everything in sight is truly satisfying.
Both campaigns do not take that long to complete as each one consists of 8-main battles. To give a ballpark estimate, you are looking at approximately 8-hours per campaign. The game features some cut-scenes taken directly from the movie and the effect is top notch. In fact, the overall presentation is really well done as the game uses the movie clips to help tell the story. The story mode consists of nothing but the most epic and fiercest battles of the three movies, but it does so with some great results. It is not all just hack and slash either. In addition to the big epic battles, Conquest features some varied objectives as well. For instance, you will have to defend a point for 3-minutes then you are directed to destroy an enemy unit within a specific allotted time. Other objectives include pickup and delivery type scenarios, regrouping scenarios, and capture objectives.
The controls in the game are fairly easy to pick up but it does become a bit of a button masher and can feel clunky at times. You have a number of combinations available to you but inevitably I returned to the default controls I had been using all along because they worked. You play in a third person view and you can feel somewhat detached from the action at times, however for the most part the game has a frantic pace which fans of Battlefront will undoubtedly enjoy.
The multiplayer aspect of the game is where LOTR: Conquest truly excels. Before jumping into an online game, you must pick a character class. LOTR: Conquest uses a class-based character system based from the original system found in the game Team Fortress. There are four playable classes:
1.) Warrior: Using a sword, Warriors can gain strength to deliver more powerful attacks. Gain enough strength and you can set your sword on fire. Warriors can also block and perform counter attacks with special moves. The warrior also has a throwing axe as a secondary weapon.
2.) Archer: Using a bow and arrow, shooter fans will inevitably gravitate to the archer. The archer uses a variety of arrows and attacks. Fire arrows can knock down enemies, poison arrows will slow enemies and do damage a prolonged period, and a multi arrow attack fires three arrows at multiple enemies. Archer can also kick enemies who get in too close.
3.) Scout: The scout’s primary weapons are two daggers, and he has the ability to cloak and kill units from behind. The scout is also equipped with a satchel bombs.
4.) Mage: A mage's primary mode of attack is lightning strikes. His strikes can be charged up for a more powerful attack. A mage can also heal his teammates and create an orb to protect himself and others from attack.
All four playable classes can mount horses and wargs. Whenever you have to travel a fair distance, horses and wargs certainly come in handy. The player is equipped with a sword when riding a horse and if an enemy strikes you then you are knocked off the horse. Both sides are balanced and makes for some enjoyable moments online.
Going on Xbox LIVE and engaging in some of those big battles is truly a joy. Online multiplayer modes include conquest, capture the ring, team deathmatch and hero deathmatch, all of which are based from Star Wars: Battlefront 2 game types. Up to sixteen players can play online. Players can also download more heroes, villains, and maps. Cooperative mode is available for up to two players either split-screen or over Xbox LIVE. The inclusion of the co-op mode is a nice addition and makes some of those epic battles even more enjoyable.
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