Towering oliphants loom over the battlefield, raging toward the Rohirrim. Orcs swarm around, brandishing rusty blades and thirsting for blood. Yes indeed, developer Pandemic Studios seems to be taking great pains to create a hack-and-slash game that stays true to its source material. Expect to see these sights and many others in The Lord of the Rings: Conquest. Two famed settings, Pelennor Fields and Minas Tirith, are home to some levels that we recently explored, and we're here to report on the experience.
First, we should mention that in each of the campaign missions that we played, we could choose from four total character classes, both at the outset and within the missions: scout, warrior, archer, and mage. The warrior's broadsword may be the most obviously authoritative, but the other three classes have obvious advantages. Scouts wield daggers and are swift to attack, so if you like quick, stylish moves, you'll gravitate to this class. Archers, of course, are equipped with a bow and arrows, and you may find their triple-shot and poison-arrow skills particularly handy. Or if you're a fan of Gandalf, perhaps you'd rather test out the mage class, which uses lightning bolts as its main attack.
The first mission that we tackled was Pelennor Fields. The initial goal was to destroy some siege towers. There were a few ways of doing so, but we took the sneaky route: sabotaging them by setting them on fire. However, even as a warrior, we found that slicing our way through the hordes to get to the towers was harder than it looked. The field was simply swarming with angry orcs, and we were able to dispatch a good number of them with our sword, using both standard attacks and a variety of violent-looking combo moves. Trolls, on the other hand, were a much greater threat, and just getting near one could mean instant death. The best solution was simply to avoid the fight altogether, leaving plenty of elbow room for the hulking trolls. Eventually we were able to maneuver into position and set the towers aflame, though in each case, we had to lure a nearby troll away from our destination. The sequence was challenging and surprisingly strategic.
The next portion of the level involved getting close to enough to some oliphants to climb them and take them down. Getting into position was a bit of challenge, considering that the stomping heel of a pillaging pachyderm generally means instant death in almost any scenario. Once we were in the right spot, a flip of the trigger initiated a short climbing sequence that was vaguely reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus, and once we'd climbed far enough, a God of War-style button-mashing sequence felled the behemoth once and for all.
The Minas Tirith level that we checked out was more straightforward, and we got to see multiple classes in action. Here, the main goal was simply to fend off a stream of invading enemies as they spilled into the stronghold. Seeing the mage in action was probably the most interesting sequence. Flashes of lightning and fire filled the screen, and orcs and trolls alike fell at the power of such commanding magic. Playing a scout during this section was rather fun too, given that the steady rush of foes was complemented by the quick dagger play. The controls seemed fluid, so it was easy to pull off impressive-looking combos and slice up familiar, menacing meanies in the process.
We didn't get to take part in any multiplayer action, though the game will include two-player cooperative play. More intriguingly, the game will support online 16-player adversarial modes. The most familiar of these modes is Conquest, a mode that fans of Pandemic's own Star Wars: Battlefront games will recognize. Here, teams will attempt to capture control points across the map while defending their own. However, you won't be stuck roaming around with just your teammates; battles will remain large in scale, and non-player combatants will join you in the fray. You will also be able to mount a horse (and even better, a warg!) to aid you in your travels. Two other modes sound equally interesting. In Ringbearer mode, one player will begin the match as Frodo, who must deliver the ring. Other players will join the match as ringwraiths, fighting each other as they search for the diminutive hobbit. Should a wraith capture Frodo, that player will turn into Frodo and take over. The other mode that we heard about was Stronghold mode, which is a Risk-style strategic mode in which teams fight one another on various maps to take over the various territories of Middle-Earth.
If you like the setting and look forward to getting your own hands on The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, you won't need to wait too long: It is due to be released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in 2008 during the holiday season. If you prefer your action to be more portable, you will be glad to hear that a Nintendo DS version is also in the works, though we have no details to share at this point. We will bring you more information on The Lord of the Rings: Conquest as it becomes available.