Review by xenodolf
"An interesting approach to the bloated fantasy hack-n-slash genre, but several fundamental game-play aspects need serious polish."
As my Gamerscore addiction grows more obsessive, I much reach out and play many games I normally wouldn't. I'm not a huge Lord of the Rings fan, but I am a big brawler enthusiast and I needed something to enjoy before Afro Samurai hits the stores. I decided to write a review since this game will probably get a lot of attention due to the subject matter. Enjoy.
Although Tolkien had an undeniable influence on the fantasy fiction genre (in and out of the game industry), leading to race and monster designs in everything from Wizardry to The King of Dragons - I can't seem to finish any of his literary works. I only got half-way through The Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy of movies never held my attention for more than about 5 minutes at a time. That being said, this game seems to do a half-decent job of showing the chronicling events of the storyline and even offering a "what-if" alternate version where Sauron sticks it to the good guys. I've noticed some people mentioning errors in the mythology (like the Mages), but I don't know enough about the series to fairly grade it.
The visuals seem to be slightly above average for things like character models and animation (aside from the wonky running). Certain objects you can interact with - like the Oliphants - stand out quite nicely, and there's a bit of carnage in most of the levels consisting of defeated steads that adds some immersion into the eye-candy category. That being said, there are also several distinctive areas in the graphics department I found lacking enough to dial down the scoring. There are only about a dozen or so enemies on the screen at once in most cases. I found this to be infuriating as the LOTR movies had massive army battles and if Ninety-Nine Nights could pull off such a flood of combatants, why can't a distinguished licensed property and A-list developer do the same? That also calls to mind the backgrounds of certain levels, which have little "looped" battles taking place outside of the area you can walk about in. The problem is that these animations seem even more rigid than stuff I saw back in 1993 beat 'em ups, and several levels have the enemy ranks standing motionless as you fight before them. There's also the lack of blood (even black gunk like in the PG-13 movies) which makes such an "epic" string of battles feel as impacting as a cartoon fight scene.
Most of the music I didn't even notice throughout my 15 hour or so investment into LOTR: Conquest. I did get pretty tired of the blandly-voiced constant orders getting heaved at me from my invisible commanding officer concerning objectives and various scripted dialogue. The sound effects are roughly average, and once again - nothing stood out as especially engaging.
Technically, the controls were pretty spot-on in the usual categories. No real lag, detection complications, etc. However, the combat felt especially stiff - worse just about any 360 hack-n-slash I've played since Too Human. If you expected to pick up a soldier and go to town in the rows of enemies like this was Dynasty Warriors - you're up for a unenthusiastic result.
I'll start out with the positive aspects. You've probably played several class-based, team-oriented first-person shoots like Team Fortress 2, Quake Wars, or Frontlines: Fuel of War. However, the beat 'em up variant of this is basically nonexistent, so EA gets credit for introducing something new to the mix. You get four classes to switch between, each with different strengths and weaknesses and uses in the various styles of skirmishes. Some are used for basic assault (the warrior, and the mage if you spam the fire magic) while the others (archer, scout) are clearly support classes for upholding a defensive formation. Most of the levels consist of a mixture of attack and defense, so you'll usually switch classes as the stages progress. You have a limited amount of respawns so you die, although completing objectives adds a couple of extra lives to your collective pool. The allied NPCs are infinite in number, and are actually less wimpy than your standard-fare Dynasty Warrior friendlies. There's also a co-op mode to add another human player to your advantage, although it is questionably lacking an online search mode to find people - meaning you're stuck with scouring Gamefaqs for a partner or using offline split-screen. The problems with the game set in almost immediately as you play it, though. The combat renders most of your melee attacks into an incredibly nerfed comparison to the Dynasty Warriors game or anything of that ilk, and you'll often find yourself getting knocked down even on the easiest difficulty setting. You can play "upgraded" versions of your basic classes by completing certain objectives in each level, although I honestly find most of the Hero characters to be less useful than the nameless base ones. As soon of the levels can take 25 minutes to beat, I would have liked the inclusion of a saving system in the stages - but that was left out for whatever reason, making certain achievements much more of a chore to unlock. As mentioned earlier, the levels only allow up to about 15 enemies on-screen at once - which makes stringing combos together more work than it ought to be and leaving my basic brawling bloodlust rather unsatisfied by the most simple of mass-carnage parameters. The stage design is also incredibly limited - with many invisible walls or insta-kill barriers that give you next to no notice before you bump into them and die. The layout is often bland, consisting of repetitive goals (defend this, attack that) that blends the levels together worse than the average beat 'em up. Honestly, if this had been fleshed up to normal brawler expectations - the inclusion of an on-the-fly class based combat system, it could have set a new standard for the hack-n-slash genre.
Replay value 4/10
Aside from the campaign (which will take you about 2 days to beat on the lesser difficulties), there is also the inclusion of the online PVP matches and the single-player instant-action. EA went way overboard on the servers, resulting in dozens of empty rooms online with long-winded technical names that are rather annoying to communicate to a friend. The only good thing about such a sloppy ranked matched setup is that is is easy to boost for achievements since it would take a person forever to scroll through the various listings and interrupt your match. Player matches are easier to navigate but the online battles for the most part feel too limited and not chaotic enough for a competitive versus beat 'em up mode. The instant action mode is even more cumbersome and irritating, with overzealous friendly NPC behavior and cheap enemy tactics. Your buddies will sweep in to rob you of kills after you spend 40 seconds smacking on a pile of opponents, yet when you are getting your face stomped by the aforementioned enemies - your A.I. pals will be on the other side of the map doing who-knows-what. I suppose you could overlook all this if you were a huge LOTR fan or had a limited amount of beat 'em up experience to compare this too - but as you know, I fit neither of this categories.
Blame it on a rushed product, or EA once again getting dollar signs in their eyes instead of catering to honest gaming policy. Lord of the Rings: Conquest feels like an incomplete transition between a real-time strategy game and a conventional fantasy-brawler, but never really fleshes out either half or becomes a greater sum than it's parts. If you love the LOTR saga, you can probably ignore the various flaws I've mentioned and enjoy the game. Beat 'em up fanatics like myself may be drawn into the class-based-combat, but I'm not sure if many of them can be as forgiving. I'd rent this game, but a purchase doesn't seem like a likely $60 investment.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 01/28/09
Game Release: The Lord of the Rings: Conquest (US, 01/13/09)
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