Publisher: Electronic arts
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Release Date: November 24, 2008
If you've ever played either of the Star Wars: Battlefront titles, then Lord of the Rings: Conquest is going to feel very familiar indeed. While it is a bit more of a melee-focused title than its Star Wars-based counterpart, the overall gameplay is roughly identical. You take on the role of a single soldier in a giant battlefield and attempt to defeat the opposing army with the help of your AI allies. If your soldier dies, you just respawn as a class of your choice. You're given a set group of checkpoints to capture and successfully capturing them all wins you the fight. The Star Wars: Battlefront titles were not the best games in the world, but they could be a boatload of fun, especially if you managed to play them online. What we saw of Lord of the Rings: Conquest at a recent event suggested much of the same, although we saw an extremely early build.
The skirmish we saw in our presentation demo was the climactic Battle of Minas Tirith from "The Return of King." We were thrown into the battle and had to defend one of the city's inner gates from an oncoming swarm of Orcs. Once we defended that area for a long enough period of time, we were instructed to move on and set fire to a group of Orc siege towers. While doing this, we had to be careful of the Nazgul Fell Beasts, who would swoop down and occasionally pick off a single soldier, instantly killing him in the process. The demo ended with us defending the last gate of Minas Tirith from a final rush of Orcs and Trolls who sought to breach the gate. Stopping them for a few minutes won us the battle.
There are four specific classes in Lord of the Rings: Conquest that you can play as, and they're divided into two types of classes, melee and ranged. The four classes are the Warrior, Scout, Archer and Mage, with the Warrior and Scout being melee fighters and the Mage and Archer functioning as long-range specialists. The vast majority of the combatants on the field are generic replaceable soldiers, and you can switch between the various classes at any time. Sometimes, you'll gain the temporary ability to switch to a Hero, who is one of the characters from the movies, such as Aragorn, Frodo or Gandalf. They're quite similar to the default classes, but with massively improved stats and each has a set of unique abilities. You can't play as the Heroes often, but they're capable of changing the tide of battle when they appear.
Warriors are perhaps the easiest class to play, wielding swords or axes and providing powerful close-range combat. Not only are they very powerful up close, but as they fight, they also build up a combo bar that can be used to do things like perform special combos or set a sword on fire for additional damage. Their biggest weakness is that they're fairly lame at long-distance fighting, with the sole ranged capability being an inaccurate and weak throwing axe. Scouts are perhaps the polar opposite; they're faster and weaker than the warrior, and they trade swords and axes for dual daggers. They can't dish out or deal as much damage as the Warrior, but their special abilities make up for that. A Scout can become invisible and sneak up behind enemies to perform a deadly stealth attack, and they can also toss explosive bombs for substantial damage.
Your ranged classes, on the other hand, are a bit more unique. Your Archer is basically Conquest's version of a sniper. You can fight from far away and use special arrows like Fire Arrows and Poison Arrows, but if a foe gets up close, you're in a much rougher position. On the other hand, the Mage is far more interesting, and while he's technically a ranged class, he functions more as a jack-of-all-trades. The Mage has a wide variety of spells, such as giant walls of fire or long-distance blasts, which allow them to do huge amounts of damage to faraway enemies. They also can create an energy bubble that makes everything inside it immune to arrow attacks. The catch is that Mages are extremely weak and squishy, and unlike the other characters, they can't block attacks. If a Warrior or scout gets close to a Mage whose spells are still recharging, you can bet that the Mage is doomed.
In the demo, we got to try out one of the Heroes — Aragorn, the ranger-turned-king. He played very similarly to a Warrior, but was significantly stronger and faster. In addition to the regular warrior abilities, he also has a powerful combo that unleashed the Army of the Dead for additional damage to most enemies within a wide radius. We only got to use him for a short period of time, but his power was enough to change the course of the battle, despite the fact that the enemies brought out powerful Trolls to stop him. Beyond Aragorn, we know a few of the other Heroes for the good and evil sides, although we didn't get to see them in action. Heroes for the good guys include Gandalf, who functions as a Mage, and Legolas, who functions as an Archer. The bad guys get characters like Saruman, who serves as the evil version of Gandalf, and Sauron himself, who is an extremely powerful Warrior.
While we didn't get to see any gameplay beyond the demo, we heard about two gameplay modes that will be available. The first is an online mode called Ringbearer, where one character plays as Frodo Baggins and the rest play as Nazguls and try to catch him. Whichever Nazgul catches Frodo becomes Frodo, and the game continues until time runs out. Whoever spends the most time as Frodo is the victor. It sounds like a rather fun little game mode, although we didn't get to see it in action.
The other mode is called Stronghold and is very similar to the Galactic Conquest mode in Star Wars: Battlefront 2. In this mode, you're going to see a map of Middle-earth with various battlefields, and you'll send your army around trying to conquer areas from the enemy forces. Doing so will grant bonuses to your army and make it easier to win the war, while losing battles will place you in a more dire position. Like Ringbearer, we didn't get to see this mode in action, but anyone who played Star Wars: Battlefront 2 should have a comforting sense of déjà vu.
While the early build of Lord of the Rings: Conquest showed a lot of promise, it also indicated that Pandemic had some work to do before it reaches the quality that the storied property deserves. At least five years have passed since the release of the movie tie-in games, and while those action titles were great at the time, Pandemic's history of quality titles demands that they step up to the plate to bring Lord of the Rings: Conquest on par with gamers' expectations.
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