LOTR Conquest: Tolkien-Flavored Cheese

Rapidfire Review: Lord of the Rings Conquest

Some quick game designer’s observations about this PS3 game. This thing is hilarious. Yes, unintentionally hilarious, but I give Pandemic points for making the formula easily digestible.

Admittedly, I’m kind of fond of Pandemic because they’re kind of scrappy and they did a solid job with Star Wars Battlefront and Army Men RTS, the latter of which was published by 3DO, one of my previous employers.

He Has Infiltrated Their Lines with Scout Invisibility! Yes!!!

If you yell this with a British accent and buckets of false enthusiasm, you will approach the humor quotient of the demo. Or you can simply watch this video:

That’s pretty choice. Maybe you don’t remember masked, invisible scouts chucking satchel bombs when you read Tolkien, but you probably weren’t reading closely enough. They were all over in The Silmarillion. No, seriously!

Similarly, the wizard class can heal and cast chain lightning, fire wall, and earthquake at the press of a button. A bit of a contrast with Gandalf, whose strongest magicks were providing therapy to Theoden to get him out from under Wormtongue’s control, and +5 chaperoning of stupid Hobbits.

But of course, providing gravitas and guidance is not really what the kids want to do when they’re fantasizing. So Pandemic has taken a few rather generous liberties with the source material.

Gameplay

All would be forgiven if Conquest provided a luxurious gameplay experience, but sadly that’s not the case. Conquest is a lowbrow experience built for simple orc-bashing fun and the exploitation of a license, and it really shows in the brain-dead camera, the simplistic combos, the lack of a “lock-on” control, and the unresponsive controls.

When I say “unresponsive controls,” I’m using a bit of shorthand, actually. Many reviewers use this phrase to describe the disease that afflicts many games, including Conquest. It’s not really the controls that are frustrating; it’s animation cycles and the granularity of the input that the game can accept. This is a topic that has to wait for another day, but let’s just say that sometimes it feels like an eternity to get your character to do what you want him to do.

Conquest does deliver a 16-player online experience which is reminiscent of Battlefront and another 3DO game, the long-forgotten Legends of Might and Magic. Online is good.

Endgame

I also got a good chuckle out of the end of the demo, which allows you to play as the hero Isildur in a crowded battlefield dominated by none other than Sauron himself. Talk about giving up the goods – Pandemic threw subtlety to the winds and trotted out the Dark Lord in the demo. Ol’ Sourpuss draws a beeline for Isildur at every opportunity and bounces him around like a superball, often incurring the wrath of the craptacular camera code (you can’t see Isildur after he gets whacked) and the clumsy object boundaries (Isildur gets popped up on top of environmental objects).

Not a problem — a few dozen good pokes with a standard-issue sword or arrow puts him in the grave. If only Frodo had known!

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Making a Cardboard Camera

Dad, this one’s for you. This is what I call an extraordinary level of effort and precision. The thing actually works, but good luck on getting the film. You’d have to process it in a trash barrel or paint bucket.

Kiel Johnson’s Cardboard Twin Lens Reflex Camera Time Lapse from Theo Jemison.

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