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Videogames inspired from the Lord the of the Rings films have always been to a higher standard than most movie tie-ins. Unfortunately, Conquest chooses to ignore the character and personality of the source material and instead, gave me a headache with its shallow combat and ridiculous retelling of the Rings story.
As a long term fan of the books and films I've eagerly consumed every videogame release that's drawn on the Lord of the Rings saga. I've poured many hours into the excellent MMO - The Lord of Rings Online. I've had great fun with the two RTS games - The Battle for Middle Earth 1 & 2. I've enjoyed the action games named after the last two films and even stomached a cute little platforming version of The Hobbit. So when LOTR Conquest was released I was naturally interested and excited to see what the developers, Pandemic, had done with such epic and deep source material.
My first reaction was one of excitement - after all, starting off on the slopes of Mount Doom, playing as Isildur and trying to slay the mighty Sauron sounds like it should be a tremendous and thrilling experience. But the appalling lack of scale results in the epic battle, seen at the very beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring, reduced to a pathetic bar brawl.
Sauron himself looks about as menacing as a black pole and the entire prologue culminates in the embodiment of ultimate evil simply vanishing in a cloud of dust. Hardly an impressive start to a 2009 game. Sadly, this tone is carried on throughout the entire experience with familiar locations of Middle Earth reduced to a bland style of architecture that would only make a Swedish furniture store proud.
Underneath this dull exterior the mechanics of the game appear solid...
Underneath this dull exterior the mechanics of the game appear solid enough - Conquest is built on the aging Battlefront game engine and whilst this is adequate enough for the Star Wars canon, it doesn't feel like a good fit for the Lord of the Rings. Choosing to play as a Warrior, Archer, Scout or Mage suits a generic fantasy game, but in this world where magic is the preserve of a few very special people, the design of Conquest starts to feel very forced.
Progressing through the game is achieved by hacking, slashing or throwing fireballs at enemies and taking or holding certain control points on the map. Each level is set in a particular well-known environment from the films - like the siege of Minas Tirith or in the Mines of Moria. Every now and then you get the chance to take control of a hero character and here a flicker of respectability comes into the game as these instances are quite fun to play through. But this brief glimpse of mediocrity is poisoned by the utter disregard of the lore of both the films and the books. Characters will say and do the most inappropriate things - e.g. When I'm wielding a fiery sword I never, ever, want to hear a fellow soldier describe my actions as ‘awesome', and neither do I want to play as Gandalf storming Isengard and single-handedly taking down Saruman.
All these crimes could quite easily be ignored by players who have little or no knowledge of LOTR, but other critical parts of the game appear flawed as well. It's far too easy to die on the easiest difficulty setting and even the toughest character can get caught in multiple enemy combo's that mean an instant death with no chance of evasion . Death results in one of your ‘lives' being lost (didn't that concept die out last century?) and once your lives are gone, it's level over and you have to replay the whole wretched mess again.
One of the big selling points of Conquest was the chance to play as the forces of evil.
One of the big selling points of Conquest was the chance to play as the forces of evil, killing off the main hero characters and ultimately trashing the Shire, like all hardcore gamers want to do. Now I'm not averse to liberties like this being taken with the lore - after all Battle for Middle Earth had an excellent evil campaign - but this part of the game remains unlocked until you complete the ‘good' side. With the game having an erratic and, at times, broken difficulty level this just serves to irritate by locking out half the experience.
All these ghastly issues pepper Conquest like a fatal pox and leave it with no redeeming features whatsoever. The liberties and variations on the source material is an insult to Tolkien, the films and the books, but ordinary gamers are unlikely to find anything redeeming as well. Never mind throwing the Ring of Power into the Crack of Doom - this game should be cast back from whence it came and never be spoken of again.
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