As far as brand names go, The Lord of the Rings is one of the biggest and most iconic. Quite why the gaming world has had to suffer without a decent LotR title to gorge itself on is odd considering the wide variety of genre’s and gameplay styles that various development teams have tinkered with over the last 20 years. And now from Pandemic Studios comes Conquest, a button bashing brawling-focused epic.
The idea here is a pretty decent one. Taking all those epic battles from the series as a starting point, you’ll select one of four playable classes (your usual RPG fare with beardy Mage’s, hulking Warriors, speedy Scouts, and just odd Archers) and head out onto the battlefield to make merry hell.
To spice things up a little, at various points during the game’s two campaigns - one fighting for the good guys, and another for those beastly baddies - you’ll suddenly find yourself in control of one of the series most famous characters. Discovering that you’re currently in control of Gandalf, as a LotR fan, and having all that power at your fingertips is admittedly something a bit special. It’s just a shame the rest of the game is a bit, well, rubbish.
To play this is good old Dynasty Warriors esque fare. The Warrior class in particular is essentially a master class in repetitive button bashing as you unleash the same three button combo again and again. Archers suffer from not being too great in a close-up scrap, and keeping enemies permanently at a distance is a little tricky (and dull). And though the Scouts ability to turn temporarily invisible and sneakily stealth kill an enemy is fun, that’s not the best method when there’s hundreds of enemies populating the battlefield. Mage’s are the most fun, packing impressive spells and even the ability to heal themselves at will.
And that’s just about it really. You head out on one of the game’s missions, spend half an hour bashing buttons, and hopefully manage to slaughter enough/the right enemies. It’s all merely functional and uninspiring, particularly with capturing territory simply requiring you to stand in one particular area for a set amount of time. Not exactly anything new there.
But as generic and average as Conquest is, there were still a few token bonus areas that could have saved this one from total mediocrity. While the films packed in some incredible visuals that brought all those epic battles truly to life, Conquest is a long way from an attractive title. While character models are reasonable, particularly considering the wide array of fighters on screen, the animation only acts to the game’s detriment. Huge slashes with your weaponry simply don’t look like they truly connect, with clipping issues aplenty. It might not sound too important, but it leaves the action appearing a little hollow. The backdrops too are functional at best, with some dodgy textures and a real lack of lighting in particular acting towards the games detriment.
The one saving grace could easily have been the online options. While the campaigns are tedious in single-player, head online and two of you can team up as the forces of good/evil and things do take a slight turn upwards. It’s still the same dull gameplay experience, but at least now you can have a chat with someone as you hack and slash your way to victory.
Conquest is exactly the kind of game you expect to be released this time of year. One that's released in the hectic holiday rush would be lost among the big releases, but hitting the shelves now it stands as the best of a very bad batch of recent new titles.
If Dynasty Warriors with a LotR skin is what you crave, then give this one a try. Though be warned this isn’t as good as Koei’s epic series. For anyone else, stick to playing all those games you got for Christmas and wait a few weeks till the real quality starts.