The Lord of the Rings is one of the most important pieces of fantasy fiction ever written. Without it much of modern fantasy as we know it would never exist, nor would Dungeons & Dragons. While it was never really as popular as its derivative works the series received many new converts with the coming of the movies. While they may not have been entirely true to the books they did a great job of taking the sometimes wordy works of Tolkien and introduced them to a new generation. One of the best things about the movie is that they brought about an interest in the series as a source of video games. A number of really good games have come out and really made the series a part of modern mainstream culture.
On paper, Lord of the Rings Conquest sounds like it carries a lot of promise. You play as one of four different basic soldiers - warrior, archer, scout (assassin) and mage - and attempt to seize control points on a battlefield. You will battle your way through enemy grunts as well as opposing soldiers on your way to victory. The players that are doing really well in the middle of the stage will get the option to control one of the "Hero" characters; these can range from Gandalf to Legolas to even the Dark Lord Sauron himself. Ride around the battlefield on horses and Wargs or take control of a Troll or Ent to cause serious destruction all over the field. Heck there are even catapults and ballista littering some fields to help you take out those bigger enemies.
This all sounds great but begins to fall apart when you actually control the game. Every aspect of actually controlling the game has some problem that should never have made it past play testing. Character movements are too loose making precise movements difficult thus leading to you falling to your death in some levels. Melee combat is a mess because once you press the buttons for a combo you're stuck in it without any ability to cancel out of it which leads to cheap hits. Arrows and axes move far too slowly, making ranged combat more of a nuisance than anything. The magic users are ridiculously overpowered, able to excel in melee combat, ranged combat and also able to stop all other ranged attacks from hitting anyone near them.
Essentially the basic gameplay is entirely broken. There's almost no balance whatsoever. It's entirely possible for a warrior to lock you in a permanent state of knockdown or juggle you. Archers can one shot kill you if they clip your head and the entire purpose of the scout are their ability to sneak up on people while invisible and instant kill them from behind. That doesn't even take into account the fact that Trolls and Ents can perform one shot kills by grabbing people to use as projectiles, a straight shot from a catapult to a basic soldier is an instant kill, the Nazgul flying around on the fell beast are an instant kill if they grab you… are you catching the theme here? What makes this all the worse is that these can happen to a hero character. So if you excel in a stage and manage to get the reward of playing as Gandalf all it takes is a random troll grabbing you for a one shot kill.
There are two ways to play Conquest: either through the single player campaigns or instant action maps which can be played over Xbox Live. The single player campaign is a bit more interesting than the instant action but the difficulty can be prohibitive and frustrating. The only thing that the campaign does that's really cool is the ability to control Saurons forces to wipe out the free peoples of Middle Earth. Controlling Nazgul and trolls to wipe out the heroes is great fun. But the limited lives you're given to complete these stages can be ridiculously aggravating considering all the one shot kills, juggles and other idiocy that comes your way.
Playing it online isn't really even worth your time unless you are willing to spend every hour of every day mastering both the stages and the character classes. You need to know how to navigate the stages without dying, headshot people with the archer on the fly and how to actually make the scout perform a backstab to make it even worth dealing with. Things like juggles and non-stop knockdown are so common playing online that it isn't even fun in the slightest until you've invested dozens of hours into it and you could be doing better things during that time.
The game does look pretty good all things considered. Some will say that the graphics are muddy or not as good as they could be but they're not taking into account playability. More often than not there are dozens of people onscreen at the same time with plenty of background activity and explosions all around. It seems like the graphics were deliberately left good, but not stellar, to prevent frustrations like slowdown and lag when playing online.
Lord of the Rings Conquest had plenty of promise going for it but it seems as if there wasn't enough attention paid to the problems that it had. Unlike the Star Wars: Battlefront series the single player seems to be the main focus while the multiplayer is a bland afterthought. If you can convince a friend to play with you then there is some fun to be had with co-op campaign gameplay but overall this game seems to suffer from a horrible lack of play testing and balance. It seems that Pandemic should stick to making games with blaster rifles instead of swords and arrows, those are infinitely better than Conquest.