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Review: The Lord of the Rings: Conquest

John Funk | 29 Jan 2009 15:00
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If you've never played the two Star Wars: Battlefront games from the past console generation, you're really doing yourself a disservice. The Battlefront formula was simple - Step One: Put players in the shoes of a common grunt soldier during the Clone Wars and Galactic Civil War and let them relive some of the most famous fictional battles of all time. Step Two: Rake in the cash hand-over-fist. With the overwhelming success of the two Battlefront games, it's no mystery why development studio Pandemic would try to replicate that winning formula with yet another iconic fantasy trilogy beloved by nerds worldwide.

Sure enough, in Lord of the Rings: Conquest, you take on the role of a common grunt soldier during Tolkien's epic War of the Ring. At its core, LotR: Conquest is, essentially, Battlefront a la Middle-Earth, and at first glance doesn't deviate too much from the formula that made the Battlefront games great...

...so why is it such a chore to play?

As a soldier in one of the armies involved in the War of the Ring, there are four classes available to choose from: Warrior, Archer, Scout, and Mage. Warriors and Archers are pretty straightforward - one hits things with a sword, one shoots things with a bow and arrow - and while their presence doesn't hurt the game, they feel rather run-of-the-mill. The Scout is slightly more interesting, with the ability to turn invisible at will and kill any foe with a single backstab. The most unique class in the game is the Mage, whose power to heal, create protective fields that repel enemy projectiles and magic, and to spawn walls of fire make them much more fun to play than the other three, as well an invaluable asset in multiplayer.

No matter what army you're playing as, you will always have these four classes, and only these four classes (other than the occasional Hero, but they're essentially just stronger versions of one of the four classes). The only variation between factions is appearance: an Orc Mage and an Uruk-Hai Mage might look different, but as far as gameplay goes, they might as well be identical twins. Even cosmetic differences only go so far - every member of the same class in a given army will look exactly the same, from Hobbit Archers to Elven Warriors and Gondor Scouts. Hey, Pandemic, "Attack of the Clones" was supposed to be in your other game.

The Campaign mode in LotR: Conquest - featuring the pivotal battles from the siege of Helm's Deep to the assault on the Black Gate - feels dull and uninspired from the get-go. Victory is almost always achieved by ... standing near flags until they magically change from flying your opponent's emblem to flying yours, killing one specific enemy hero, or standing around in a small area defending it from enemy assault. Rinse, repeat, and congratulations, you've won!

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