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!
The repetitious battles only seem worse when directly held up to scenes from the Peter Jackson films, which Conquest unfortunately does. Charging an impossibly vast army of Orcs in front of the gates of Mordor? That’s pretty damn epic. Standing around outside the same gates waiting for the Orcs to come attack you (thoughtfully in waves of no more than ten at a time so that you can handle it – how polite)? Not so much. Remember that breathtaking scene in Return of the King where Legolas gracefully scales the massive Oliphaunt and brings it to the ground? In Conquest, it’s become a simple Simon-Says quicktime event that any normal grunt can perform. I’m not even sure how the Mage is supposed to climb one of those things while wearing a glorified nightgown.
While the multiplayer is certainly a marked improvement over the lackluster single-player campaign, it feels like too little, too late. Since two of the game’s four classes are entirely melee-based, large-scale fights often degenerate into a haphazard mess of wild button-mashing and ability-spamming. At least in Battlefront, you had the option to pilot some of the most iconic sci-fi vehicles of all time, from speeder bikes to TIE Fighters. In Conquest … you get to ride a horse (or a Warg, but as with the classes, the difference is purely cosmetic). Nor is the horse particularly useful, since the controls are sluggish and you can get dismounted in a single hit anyway.
Part of the problem is that the formula that worked so well for a sci-fi third-person shooter like Battlefront doesn’t translate perfectly to a swords-and-sorcery High Fantasy hack-and-slash, and it’s likely that Pandemic knew that. It feels like they tried to compensate by adding bits and pieces from EA’s (genuinely good) LotR movie tie-in games like combos, special attacks, and giving the player a limited number of lives instead of a finite amount of respawns for the team as a whole. Unfortunately, they just ended up with a game that feels inconsistent and stuck halfway between its two inspirations.
The goal might have been to take the best of both worlds from two wildly successful (and wildly entertaining) game series. Instead, LotR: Conquest just makes me want to go back and play the originals.
I’m not sure if the very idea of doing “Battlefront in Middle-Earth” was doomed from the start, or if the project went awry somewhere during the development process. One thing is certain, though: If you’re looking for the One Game to Rule Them All, Lord of the Rings: Conquest isn’t it.
Bottom Line: The entire game feels sloppy and phoned-in, the repetitious mission objectives turn Tolkien’s epic War of the Ring into a bona-fide snoozefest, and the classes are largely unoriginal and boring to play. Don’t even get us started on that announcer, either.
Recommendation: If you really want to see the Witch-King of Angmar get poked to death by a single lowly Archer, maybe you’ll like Conquest. Otherwise, it’s not worth much more than a (morbidly curious) rental.
John Funk actually went out to find his old copy of Battlefront after playing this game.