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25 Reviews

Lord of the Rings: Conquest

Review: Gandalf, forgive me

To this day, Star Wars: Battlefront II is one of most played original Xbox games on Xbox Live. Taking the winning Battlefront formula then and applying it to the Lord of the Rings series - a franchise famous for its epic battles - should've been a repeat success for Pandemic's series. But sadly, it isn't.

In visuals, audio, execution and level design Lord of the Rings Conquest is unremarkable in almost every aspect. The majority of maps are cluttered, boxy and completely lack the epic-feel of the movies. The winning Battlefront formula has been hampered by dull combat, sloppy presentation and little respect for the Tolkien franchise.

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Remember the epic Fellowship of the Rings prologue, which stunningly envisions the evil Sauron's defeat in a battle of thousands of orcs, elves and men? Here the battle is reduced to a twenty-man pile-in down a pit, where the dark lord simply turns up on the battlefield (accompanied by the annoying, never-shuts-up announcer "It's Sauron!") and then chases you around like a Scooby Doo villain whilst you backtrack and shoot arrows into his face.

The most epic thing about this entire opening battle is the hundred or so orc-shaped cardboard cut-outs in the background, flailing their swords like animated gifs. And yes - they're invincible too.

It's a bad opening to a disappointing game. As you'd expect Conquest's single-player experience takes the form of various Lord of the Rings battles chucked together in an order, book-ended with clips from the films, a licensed soundtrack and a voiceover by the bloke who did the Cillit Bang ads (sounds like him, anyway).

Just like the Battlefront blueprint gameplay's based on, each level challenges you to capture or defend specific points of the map, or eliminate special enemies such as orc captains and Oliphaunts. Pick your character class (Warrior, Archer, Mage and Scout), go for the objective, die, repsawn, die, respawn. Repeat.

The first two playable character classes are as bland as cornflakes; Warrior's are your basic hack 'n slash vehicles while Archers feel like Stormtroopers with guns disguised as bows. Mages and Scouts at least inject some strategy into online games with moves like the Scout's ability to cloak and backstab, and the Mage's arrow-blocking shield bubble keeping things slightly interesting.

With ranged combat and vehicles scaled back for the Tolkien setting, Conquest's battles lean towards close-combat, hack 'n slash scuffles that, while not disastrously executed, become repetitive quickly.

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Lord of the Ring's giant creatures and monsters, Conquest's answer to Battlefront's AT-ATs and Scout Walkers, are sadly one of the most poorly-executed parts of the package. Taking down a giant Oliphaunt - one of most thrilling sequences from the films - should be an epic endeavour. Instead the struggle takes the form of three incredibly forgiving and very easy QTE sequences, which end with the 50ft gargantuan awkwardly flopping sideways and then instantly vanishing from the battlefield. Sorry but that's rubbish.

Hulking Cave Trolls too, instead of the intimidatingly aggressive foes from the films, are reduced to the easiest enemies to off in the game, thanks to a one-button QTE sequence. As you can imagine, this also makes the one-hit-kill critters slightly frustrating to control in multiplayer games when they're occasionally available.

Meanwhile mountable horses - which give you the ability to swipe left, swipe right, or get hit and fall off - are among the most useless modes of transport imaginable. And then - just when you think Pandemic would get a break - there are the Ents, which instead of being giant tree monsters are now 7ft grey... things, that flail, catch fire and aren't fun to play at all. No thank you.

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