If you haven't got the time to read Neon's in-depth review or just don't like reading, why not head over to our easy to digest video review. At under three minutes you'll get all the essential info in no time at all. You could even watch it while waiting for the kettle to boil.
Do you remember that bit in the Lord of the Rings trilogy when Gandalf's twin brother turned up to help electrocute the orcs outside the Black Gate? Or how about the scene where a small army of elves marched off a ledge to meet their fiery deaths in the Mines of Moria? Nope, we don't remember these things happening in the films either; however, they certainly do happen in LOTR: Conquest, and the game is all the more enjoyable for it.
This is essentially Battlefront: Middle Earth Edition in everything but name. As with Pandemic Studios' Star Wars games, Conquest is a third person action game that allows you to play through all the epic battles of your favourite film series - assuming that your favourite film series is the adventures of Frodo and co. It's been a fair old while since the release of the Rings movies, so if you have even a passing interest in this game then the chances are that you're a pretty big fan of the trilogy. If this is the case, you're probably wondering if Conquest does a good job of recreating that epic LOTR feel. As it turns out, the answer is... kind of.
If you've read our hands-on preview, you'll know that Conquest offers a competitive multiplayer mode where up to 16 players can carve each other up using one of four classes: Warrior, Archer, Scout or Mage. You'll also know that while we found it to be fairly enjoyable, our overriding feeling was that it lacked the sense of spectacle that made the film's huge battles so enjoyable. Our opinion on this matter hasn't changed. There are certainly some half-decent scraps to be had out of these matches, and the four classes each play differently enough to provide a good mix of strategies and play styles, but it still feels like little more than a skirmish. It's important to note that Conquest's much-touted ability to show "150 characters on screen at a time" is only applicable to the central campaign; while bots can be used to fill up vacant slots in a multiplayer deathmatch, there will never be more than eight combatants on each side (up to four can play together on one console via splitscreen on consoles).
In other words, it will always be just a skirmish. On the plus side, you do get a choice of flavours for your multiplayer: Team Deathmatch, Hero Team Deathmatch, Capture the Ring and the territory-based Conquest. We're still a bit sad that Pandemic chose to scrap Ring Bearer mode - a type of match that would have seen one player become Frodo while everyone else played as Ringwraiths, attempting to hunt him down. That sounded pretty good fun to us, but alas it was not to be. Still, at least there's fun to be had from playing as an entire team of angry Gandalfs - nothing beats the sight of eight Ian McKellans going to town on Sauron's all-star villains.
Players looking for a true Lord of the Rings experience are better off with Conquest's central campaigns. Initially all that is available is The War of the Ring - a set of nine maps that follow the major conflicts of the Trilogy in roughly the same order that they appear in the film. You'll start with the Battle of Golgoroth, the fight which saw Sauron defeated at the end of the War of the Last Alliance. After this training level, you'll move on to the Battle of Helm's Deep, later moving on to battles at Isengard, Osgiliath and Pelennor Fields, among others. Pandemic has also used artistic license to include some battles that never appeared in the films - so alongside familiar fights you'll also get to do things like helping to liberate the Mines of Moria from the orcs. You could argue that some elements of these new scenarios are a little contrived - Gandalf ends up fighting another Balrog in Moria, for example - but these additions are largely the kinds of things that fans will enjoy. In a similar vein, completing The War of the Ring unlocks The Rise of Sauron - an evil campaign that considers what would happen if Frodo had failed in his quest. You'll murder the little hobbit in the first level, set on Mount Doom, and then lead the forces of darkness on a rampage across Middle Earth. Eventually you'll even reach the Shire - slicing and impaling a hundred little men with furry feet like the cold-hearted bastard you are.
It all sounds rather fun, and to a certain extent it is. Chopping through the maps by yourself gets a bit repetitive rather quickly, but if you play with friends then the game gains a new breath of life. You can play with up to three other chums online, but there's also a local splitscreen mode (on 360 and PS3) that provides plenty of fun for two without a huge drop in quality. When played like this, Conquest becomes a bit of a laugh - and yet it's hard to escape the feeling that the presence of a mate is merely distracting you from the flaws that are more obvious in single-player. Each character class gets a handful of moves to use, but these are all you'll ever have: there are no extra weapons to pick up, and since you're supposed to be playing as rank-and-file troops, there's nothing in the way of levelling-up or gaining new abilities. Even on the occasions when you play as Gandalf or another of the series' heroes, they handle like spiced up versions of the regular classes. In short, the combat is pretty darn shallow.
The game's presentation is also somewhat uneven. Most of the character models look like reasonable gaming equivalents to their cinematic counterparts, while the larger beasties like Balrogs and Trolls are relatively impressive in their movement and appearance. Other animations fare less well: orc swordsmen have a peculiar way of waddling into battle, while running one horse into another can result in a bizarre glitch that sees your nag sliding about on its nose. Pathfinding can also be an issue in levels that feature narrow ledges: there are quite a few chuckles to be had from watching suicidal elves hurling themselves off cliffs in the Mines of Moria. On the audio front the game gains a good deal of atmosphere from its use of Howard Shore's original score and Hugo Weaving's narration, although we were less impressed by the Barry Scott impersonator who likes to shout orders at you during each battle.
Most of these flaws actually tend to be quite amusing, but they still don't help what is ultimately a fairly limited experience. There is certainly lots of fun to be had with LOTR: Conquest, but unfortunately it's not really the kind of fun that lasts over a long period of time. Unless you fall in love with the deathmatch modes, the main draw here is the two campaigns - and most gamers will be able to cut their way through both in under five hours. Even if you're a massive fan of the series, we'd advise you to approach this game with caution.