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Oh Dear. One is tempted to be rather cynical about Lord of the Rings: Conquest, seeing as it's appeared following EA's announcement of hundreds of job cuts after not making as much money last quarter as it expected. Surely this couldn't be an entirely shameless attempt to leach money from unsuspecting LOTR fans around the world? I wouldn't dare ever make such a suggestion.
One thing not open to interpretation is the fact that Conquest plays like one of those tedious Koei games Warriors Orochi and Dynasty Warriors. Your character is far too big, and the larger ones almost entirely block your view -just like the Koei games. There's no way you can lock on to your opponents when involved in melee combat - just like the Koei games. The graphics are distinctly underwhelming (except perhaps for the Balrog) - just like those Koei games. No need to labour the point I think.
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Essentially then, for those of you who haven't had the dubious pleasure ofplaying those titles, you'll spend 99.9% of your time in Conquest hacking your way through unlimited armies of respawning enemies (you'll know they're respawning because you see them materialising right in front of you). You'll be doing this in one of four guises: as a warrior, archer, scout and, worryingly for Tolkien fans, mage (see Blasphemy! overleaf).
The warrior is all about getting stuck into close combat, with powerful sword/ axe attacks and swift group manoeuvres; the scout can cloak himself and perform an instant-kill backstab or throw a satchel charge into a group of foes; the archer can make use of fire and poison gas cloud arrows (the former useful for destroying objectives in later missions); and the mage can create a large area-of-effect shield to protect himself and his allies from missile fire, heal people and fire lightning bolts from his hands.
Each character has a reasonable number of skills, but the problem is thatat least two of them are effectively useless. I may just be rubbish with the warrior and scout, but you'll most likely be playing the majority of the game with the mage and the archer. This is for two reasons; first, lack of a lock-on ability makes chaining move combos together very difficult to achieve with regularity. What usually happens is that you hit the enemy twice and then he gets bashed to the floor. Unfortunately, your momentum takes you past him and you often end up slashing at thin air or trying to turn midcombo, which produces similar results.
Meanwhile, the scout is too weak to get involved with melee combat, and his only really useful ability is cloaking. But relying on this is unrealistic when battles get more hectic, as there are simply too many enemies respawning at too fast a rate. By the time you've backstabbed the stronger enemies in one area, another batch have spawned.
Block little snitch authentication app. This means you'll end up spending virtually all your time as an archer or mage. The nature of their ranged attacks mean you can stay away from the haphazard melee combat, suddenly making the game less of a furious button-clicking exercise and more of a considered combat game (to a small extent, anyway).
The Magic Touch
As the archer, you can zoom in and pick off foes relatively quickly, causing more damage when zoomed than if you aren't Presumably this is to simulate the increased accuracy of your shot when taking 'proper1 aim, although it is just as easy to hit your target when not zoomed in (you can fire quicker, too). You also have a rather nifty kick that gets you out of trouble if enemies come too close.
The mage, though, is easily the most tactically diverse of all four classes, having chain lightning, area-of-effect and defensive abilities which can be used in various situations. As the mage, you're the equivalent of a damage class mixed with a buff character, providing healing and protection from ranged attacks to anyone who sticks close to you. The Al doesn't seem to be able to use the mage properly, though, usually just spamming the energy shield ability rather than using his powerful attacks.
Most importantly, the mage can heal himself, an ability that's vital later on. You can't recover health easily in any of the other classes, so you'll end up running about like a tit in a trance hoping for an Al mage to heal you. This is even more ridiculous when you find yourself in control of one of the hero characters.
From time to time you'll get the chance to play as one of the heroes from LOTR, such as Gandalf, Aragorn and Gimli. Later, in the Rise of Sauron campaign (an alternative version of the story where Frodo is killed by aNazgul before he can complete his quest), you can take control of Saruman, Sauron and even the Balrog. These are tougher than your average generic characters and have slight variations on the usual class skills. The same problems apply, though: you'll still avoid playing Aragorn because you're forced to use melee attacks and can't heal yourself. Comically, it was easier to defeat Elrond and Legolas with an orc mage than it was with Sauron because of his lack of healing abilities.
The gameplay itself, with or without the use of heroes, is utterly repetitive and, dare I say it, almost dripping with the noxious juices of consolisation. Thankfully there aren't any 'Press Left Trigger!' instructions, though I did have a bit of a problem figuring out how to spawn as a hero when the option was made available (you press the left or right cursor keys). On the whole, nobody should be finding Conquests control I system difficult to get to grips with and the tutorial does its job well.
I Unfortunately, this ease of use Ebecomes one of the main problems.Because you get to grips with things very early on, you'll find yourself doing the same thing over and over and over again, constantly, throughout the entire game. The very first section (defending Helm's Deep) is one of its most interesting because it varies the template islightly by having you defend the outer walls of the city against siege ladders and sappers trying to destroy the walls.
From then on, things remain much the same throughout Only the entry of the armies of Rohan provides a break from I the action (also the one and only time I found the scout class to be useful). I'll be fair, and say that attempts are sometimes made to add something interesting to f the mix (on a couple of occasions you get to ride a horse into battle), but these parts are often easier to complete by, yes, doing the same as you've been doing for the rest of the game.
Being able to play as the likes of Sauron doesn't work with the feel of the books too well, either. Taking control of LOTRs adversary and then being killed by a few elves doesn't feel at all right. Neither does the Balrog turning up in the Shire and being wounded by hobbits. What can also happen is that a random event - such as a giant eagle or bat swooping down over the battlefield - can lead to your hero being carried away and killed instantly, which can be both bemusing and frustrating. Still, no matter how flawed the game, it's still cool to trudge about the battlefield as the Balrog or incinerate orcs as Gandalf.
Despite these bursts of entertainment, there's little to recommend in this game. At first glance the battles feel epic and large in scale, but you'll soon realise that the actual area you'll be fighting in is tiny by comparison. When defending Helm's Deep, you'll see the limitless numbers of orcs stretching away into the distance, but only a handful of these ever come towards you.While the number of characters on screen at any time can be surprisingly high, without your intervention, very little actually happens. As the game progresses, you'll often find yourself totally ignoring the majority of the enemies and just making a beeline for the objective. If you don't do this, you'll generally get bogged down and bored by the endless repetitive combat.
Despite all this, Conquest does has a curiously addictive quality that will keep you battling on until the end. Perhaps it's just the underlying quality of the Lord of the Rings story that keeps you playing -the ooh, I'm fighting Saruman now!' factor. Or perhaps it's the occasional rush you get from killing 15 enemies at once with a well-placed power attack. Whatever it is, if you do decide to play Conquest, you'll almost certainly trudge through to the end, which has to count for something.
Unfortunately you'll have killed off half your brain cells in the process, as well as developing various RSI-related affliction to your mouse hand. There are so many other things that are either wrong or just plain silly, but I haven't got space to list them all. Lord of the Rings deserves a better action game than this, and with the rich source material available to them, Pandemic and EA should be ashamed of themselves for unleashing this on the general public -even if we all know it'll go straight to the top of the charts regardless.
Middle-earth - now with added mages
If it weren't for the mage class, Conquest would have been worse - but the point about the Middleearth universe is that magic is a rare commodity, wielded only by a chosen few. So, why is it that mages are a common sight in these battlefields? Surely there was a way around this to keep the game closer to the Tolkien canon?
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Being able to kill Saruman relatively easily with a generic mage pisses all over the carefully cultivated lore of the most revered fantasy franchise of all time. Nicely done, Pandemic.
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Look, a bandwagon!
Flogging deceased equines
Multiplayer co-op is all the rage nowadays (a full 15 years or so after Doom introduced it, but whatcha gonna do?), and Conquest hasn't missed a trick in including it.
Unfortunately, at the time of going to press, there was no opportunity to try any of the other co-op modes, including Ring Bearer, Capture the Ring and Hero Deathmatch. But it's basically the same as single-player and, as usual, makes the experience better with the addition of a companion.