Review: Lord of the Rings: Conquest (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Lord of the Rings: Conquest
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Genre: Action
Release Date: 1/13/2009


You know what would make the Lord of the Rings movies even better? More hobbit killing, that’s what. Lord of the Rings: Conquest attempts to fill the dead hobbit void in our lives, via the manner that the previous Star Wars: Battlefront games allowed us to shoot those blasted Ewoks and Gungans in order to make up for those particular cute and cuddly (or just plain stupid) movie additions. Conquest uses a similar game setup in the capture-a-command-post, overwhelm the enemy army vein, but it adds a bit more story-related linear progression to the process. But is this new direction effective, or just an unnecessary fix to a working machine?

Read on to find out…

Story/Mode
There are two main playable modes in the game: The War of the Ring (good side) and The Rise of Sauron (bad side). The War of the Ring largely follows the plotline of the movies/books and starts out at Helm’s Deep and follows the Fellowship through Isengard, the Mines of Moria, Osgilliath, Minas Tirith, and the Black Gate. There is also an added battle at Minas Morgul, an event that never took place in the books or films. The Moria level is also a bit out of sequence from the movies, and takes place after the events of the film, when the Balrog has apparently been resurrected. Overall, the mix of strictly following events of the movies and creating an entirely new scene works extremely well. There is enough reverence for the plotting of the source material that fans of the stories will not be upset, but enough action and fast pacing that fans of hitting stuff with swords will maintain interest. While not particularly original, the “good” version of the story is a fun rehash with a few clever twists.

The “bad” story, though, is where things get a bit more interesting. It begins with the premise, “What if Frodo had kept the Ring of Power?” Obviously, he doesn’t manage to hold on to it very long. He’s a hobbit, fer chrissakes. This game mode sees an orc uprising, and then you play as Sauron’s dark forces as they slowly make their way west across Middle Earth, destroying everything in their path and culminating in the razing of the Shire, a storyline sorely lacking from the movies. In a plot point designed seemingly for my specific wishes, you are required to kill 50 hobbits before the final boss fight. Awesome. The Rise of Sauron plotline is a very well-done “What if?” scenario and its great fun to see just how the world would fall if Sauron were to get hold of his gaudy jewelry – especially as there is no hope for an alliance of elves and men, what with all the elves out yachting it up in the grey lands or whatever.

These storylines can be played either solo or multiplayer, online or local, so there are all the standard play options you’d expect. There is also the “Ëœinstant action’ option present in the previous battlefront games where you can pick a level, pick a team, and go slaughter without following story devices.

Story Rating: Classic

Graphics
Graphics in the game are…a bit underwhelming, unfortunately. It should be noted, thought, that quality may have been cut for quantity. There are a LOT of baddies on the screen at any given time and a LOT of AI fighting in the background. The backgrounds do look good, and character models are well done, but there are certainly better looking games for the 360.

Graphics Rating: Above Average

Sound
There is good news and bad news for sound in the game. The good news is the use of Howard Shore’s soundtrack from the films is put to great effect throughout the game. It definitely helps create the illusion that you are reliving the events of the films when you hear the familiar orchestral swells and choral movements. The bad news is the voice acting is….not good. At best tolerable and often terrible, the dialog is nowhere near the quality of the original film actors. There are some very poor approximations of the principal cast’s voices (although that did sound like Hugo Weaving) and the vocal queues to remind you of mission goals can be annoyingly cheesy.

Sound Rating: Poor

Control & Gameplay
Gameplay options allow you to choose one of four classes in the game – warrior, archer, scout, and mage. You can also play at various times as a variety of different main characters from the films – Aragorn, Frodo, Legolas, Sauron, the Witch King, etc. These heroes will all fall into one of those four classes, but with a few varied abilities. The classes are all reasonably well-done and fairly balanced (with the possible exception of the one-hit kill possessing scout) although I found the warrior and mage by far the most fun to play. But, me likey smashy. Controls are laid out in an intuitive way, the main four buttons used for jump, then 3 different attack levels. These 3 different attacks allow for actual combos, which is a fun improvement over the Battlefront games. The various power attacks are all powered up by slaying enemies. There is the warrior’s flame sword, the mages magic attacks, some specialty arrows for the archer, and invisibility for the scout. Luckily these are fairly easy to replenish, as I found the warrior to be a bit clumsy without using the flame sword, and the scout is essentially useless unless invisible. (Don’t bring a knife to a sword fight, I guess) The gameplay is easy enough that button-mashing works well, and complex enough that combos work better, so there is a nice learning curve to the game. I, of course, ignored this in favor of button mashing, but it is nice to have the option. I did encounter a couple of glitchy issues with the control common to many third-person games: when entering a narrow passage, the camera angles and number of enemies combine in a way that makes it incredibly difficult to see exactly what you are doing. Or where you are, for that matter.

Another note on gameplay: rather than the straightforward method of winning fights in the battlefront games – capturing battle posts until you overrun the opposing forces – conquest sticks to some more plot-point driven tasks, such as destroying catapults or power crystals, or even killing specific enemies. This serves to follow the story’s plotlines in a fairly logical manner, and I found the task-driven approach to be an improvement over the previous, simple, capture-the-post method.

Gameplay Rating: Good

Replayability
The whole point of this game is the slaughter of enemies (preferably of the hobbit variety) so watching the plot unfold is hardly the point. With that in mind, there is some replay value in coming back to a level and finding new hordes of baddies to annihilate. Difficulty levels can be adjusted to make for some variety in the replay, but this is not the type of game that offers a bazillion side-quests or alternate endings and the like. Game replay exists for a single purpose: killing hobbits. Or saving the world, for you Dudley Do-Rights out there, I guess.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

Balance
The balance of difficulties is, overall, well done. While I played through mostly on the easy level, the different levels did offer slight challenge, and when I go through the game again, an increase in difficulty should make it a bit more challenging. Heroes in the game are significantly more powerful than the stock playable classes, but not so much that they can’t be taken down with enough fodder. There is the issue of the previously mentioned one-hit kill the scout class possesses, but it is difficult enough to pull off that I only had it used on me once during my tenure with the game and is evened out by just how useless those scout knives are against a horde of warriors.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

Originality
Since it’s a movie tie-in and based on a previous, successful game series (Battlefront 1 and 2), Conquest doesn’t rank real high on the originality scale. The game does make some inventive improvements over the Battlefront series to make up for this, and the creation of a battle not seen in the films, along with the entirety of the “Ëœbad’ version of the game is certainly an innovative approach. Conquest isn’t breaking any new ground, but it’s a fun, slightly varied version of a solid approach.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

Addictiveness
There is a definite, immediate, visceral need to finish a storyline in one sitting. I played this thing with my roommate, and we didn’t get up even for bathroom breaks until we would finish a storyline. On the other hand, now that I’ve beaten both storylines, I’m not in any huge rush to get back to it. I think it’ll be fun to play through again alone, or on a harder difficulty with friends, but that raw desire to duck out of work early and go play just isn’t there.

Addictiveness: Poor.

Appeal Factor
Appeal factor is definitely not an area this game excels in. While the game itself may be fun for a little while for the casual or even hardcore gamer, the only people this game truly appeals to are Lord of the Rings fanatics who happen to like adventure style games. That’s not a small group of people, of course, but it is a mere fraction of the overall gaming community.

Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

Miscellaneous
One of the major reasons I bought the Battlefront games was to kill Ewoks. Plain and simple, I wanted nothing more than to draw a bead on an Ewok and snipe that empire-destroying teddy bear right between the eyes. A combination of that sense of misanthropy of cute humanoids and knowing full well that the Frodo storyline in the movies is by far the boring part (importance to the plot notwithstanding.) definitely fueled a desire in me to fuck up some Hobbits like a car crash. Conquest did not disappoint in this. They saved the best level for last – the razing of the Shire. It is an actual game imperative to slay 50 hobbits. You can’t progress to the last boss until you kill the cute.

Brilliant.

Miscellaneous Rating Unparalleled.

The Scores:
Story/Mode: Classic
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Poor
Control & Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled

FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
This is exactly what you’d expect if you were to combine the Star Wars: Battlefront games with Lord of the Rings plot devices. The game offers up a few innovations in gameplay tasks, but is overall a merely OK game worth maybe a weekend rental or holding off on purchase until it’s inevitable arrival in the cutout bin.

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