Lord of the Rings: Conquest Preview #2
Ever ask yourself what if? What if I hadn't eaten ten pounds of kettle corn last night? What if I'd remembered to wear deodorant today? What if Frodo had failed in his mission to destroy the One Ring?
While the people around you might find the second question the most compelling, fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy would probably vote for the third. The hugely-popular fantasy masterpiece has a long history of thrilling readers, movie-goers and more recently, gamers. Over the last twenty-five years or so, the market's seen a lot of LOTR games, most of them doing their best to faithfully uphold the existing canon.
In all that time, hasn't anyone ever wondered what would've happened if Sauron had found the Ring? Well, the guys at Pandemic have, and in Lord of the Rings: Conquest, they've made sure all us wannabe Dark Lords finally have our day.
LOTR: Conquest is a 3rd person action game based on Pandemic's Star Wars: Battlefront series and as such, has a big dose of Battlefront's brand of fun and excitement. This time, instead of joining the Rebellion or the Empire, you choose between Sauron's forces and Aragorn's Army of the West. Going “good”, you choose from factions like the Elves, the Riders of Rohan or the Gondorrians; going “evil”, you choose from factions like the Orcs, the Easterlings or the Uruk-Hai. Each faction has four classes to choose from, two melee: Warrior and Scout, and two ranged: Archer and Mage. (Before you ask—Mage is as close as you'll get to being a Wizard; the Tolkien foundation limits the number of Wizards to the five mentioned in the books.)
Warriors are experts at swordplay and have a ranged, rechargeable axe throw to finish off fleeing enemies. They can also light their swords on fire—no jokes about “flaming Warriors” now—to perform devastating fire attacks. Scouts are stealth masters. They get in close to use two-handed dagger attacks, go invisible to perform stealth grabs and clamber up cave trolls like they had steps built into them. Archers snipe their targets from a distance using special Poison, Fire and Triple Shot arrows, and Mages act as a support class, healing wounded allies and casting Defensive Bubbles to protect them.
All four classes have unique abilities and attacks, most of which are unlocked the second you step on the battlefield. Using these abilities depends on a full combo meter, and this combo meter fills and recharges faster the more damage you do. Your skill in battle affects more than just your combo meter though; the better you do, the better your allied AI army does. This can turn the tide and mean the difference between triumph and a merciless drubbing.
Win or lose, most fans of the LOTR haven't laid awake at night dreaming of playing an anonymous grunt. They all want to be Aragorn, Legolas, Gandalf, Gimli or Frodo. (Those of you wanting to be Tom Bombadil—get help.) In LOTR: Conquest, you get to play all of these and more. In addition to the good side heroes, you get to play the evil side as well, as a cave troll, Saruman, the Balrog or Sauron himself. Heroes skills correspond to the four playable classes but have their own attacks and abilities, the three coolest being Aragorn's ability to call up an army of the dead, Frodo's ability to use the One Ring and the cave troll's ability to pick enemies up and use them as frisbees.
The game has two modes: Campaign and Instant Action. Campaign can be played singleplayer or online/splitscreen 2-4 player co-op and begins at the start of the Fellowship of the Ring. It then takes you through the entire trilogy, joining all the famous battles: Weathertop, the Mines of Moria, Helms Deep (as well as a few battles never fought in the books) ending at the siege of the Black Gate. Completing the “good” campaign unlocks the “evil” one and this is where Pandemic really expands on the canon.
The evil campaign starts at the end of the trilogy. Frodo has failed to destroy the One Ring and you play a Ring Wraith who takes the Ring to Sauron. Once the Ring is in his power, you and Sauron's army march forth and reduce Middle Earth to smoldering rubble. I admit, I'm giddy at the thought of it. And don't tell me you haven't dreamed of marching across the Shire at the head of a Uruk-Hai army and stomping all those smug little hobbits into the turf.
If storylines aren't your style, jump right into the fray with Instant Action mode. Instant Action comes in the singleplayer or 16 player online multiplayer variety and you can choose from Conquest, Capture the Flag, Deathmatch, Hero Deathmatch and the most interesting of all, Ring Bearer. In this mode, one of you plays Frodo and the rest play Ring Wraiths. In a bizarre game of Tolkienian tag, the Ring Wraiths try to take Frodo down and he tries to evade them. The first to kill Frodo earns the right to be Frodo, and the whole crazy thing starts all over again. What's most interesting about this mode is that not only do the Wraiths have to take Frodo out, they have to take each other out. I imagine a talented Frodo could probably get his enemies to do all the dirty work for him.
Just like Battlefront, in multiplayer you can switch characters during battle at any allied control point, and you can also pick a new character every time you die. You can use all manner of siege equipment such as catapults, ballistas and battering rams, and call in medieval air strikes, making eagles and other flying creatures attack enemies or carry them away.
Whatever the mode, you're bound to appreciate the epic scale of the game. Whether it's the Shire or Isengard, the Pellenor Fields or the Black Gate, the maps are huge. They have to be—not only do they need to accommodate huge armies, they have to be roomy enough for siege engines, horses, wargs and oliphants. The last three can actually be used as mounts, which makes covering a lot of ground that much easier.
The scale of the game isn't the only impressive aspect of it; the sound and graphics add a lot as well. The misty, gray-scale look of the game is based heavily on the movies, but the visual effects have been enhanced, especially in combat, to make them even more heroic. Enforcing the movie connection, actor Hugo Weaving who played Elrond in the films, lends his voice to the game in the role of narrator.
LOTR: Conquest is bound to impress both LOTR fans and Battlefront fans alike. The combination of Battlefront's combat mechanics and LOTR's powerful fiction can't help but be a winner. And for those of us who always wanted to become a Balrog, this is as good as it gets.
LOTR: Conquest is rated T for Teen and is due out this fall on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and DS.