Lord of the Rings: Conquest

Deep breath: Lord of the Rings: Conquest is a dream game; the answer to a fundamental question. Wouldn’t it be cool if...? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could play through every battle seen in the Lord of the Rings films? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could play through them co-operatively? Wouldn’t it be cool if those battles were turned into online scenarios, where teams could compete for victory? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could play as all of the major Lord of the Rings characters? Wouldn’t it be cool to ride a horse into battle? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could play as an Ent?

Yes. Oh Yes. Yes. Oh God yes. By the grey beard of Gandalf, yes. And maybe.
Conquest is a game in the tradition of Star Wars: Battlefront – a title that’s sold extraordinarily well. In Battlefront (which itself borrows from Battlefield) you fight to capture control points or steal flags while wrapping AT-ATs in tow cable or X-Wings around a Star Destroyer’s shield generator. But this time, it’s fantasy: a game conversion of Peter Jackson’s take on Tolkien. Where once you rode a Snowspeeder into battle, you now charge atop a stallion. AT-ATs are now Oliphaunts. AT-STs are Ents.

Every major battle seen in the films is here: from the major setpieces like Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith, to smaller engagements on top of Weathertop. Each level is set up as a systematic, balanced riot. At Minas Tirith, giant Oliphaunts storm toward the gates while a Ringwraith circles on its flying mount. In the battle we saw, they were balanced against a steady stream of infantry. When they met in the middle, chaos ensued – the Ringwraith dived and scattered foes, the Oliphaunts trampled, while archers pin-cushioned their riders. It is as spectacular as it is chaotic – your job in the two singleplayer campaigns (one for the goodies, one for the baddies) is to figure out where the weak points are, and exploit them. Catapults causing trouble? Fight your way to the back of their lines and raze them to the ground. Stone walls of Helm’s Deep preventing your orc brothers from reaching the heart of the castle? Grab a firework and charge at that culvert.

By now, your internal cogs of lore and continuity may be turning. Didn’t the good guys win all the battles? Indeed, play as the good guys and the campaign structure matches Tolkien’s story. Play as Sauron, and it’s all reversed: events start at the Black Gate, the trashing of Minas Tirith follows, and the story ends with humanity scoured from Middle-Earth. Internal consistency be damned. Look! A Cave Troll!

Aug 12, 2008