During a few battles in Lord Of The Rings: Conquest, a winged beast swoops down and snatches your character off the battlefield. It's a strange way to die, not just because it's random and unavoidable—Conquest is rife with these throw-your-controller-at-the-TV moments—but because it's commemorated with a little onscreen trophy: "Unfriendly Skies." Get it? High five!
That's the delusional attitude of Conquest, a field-combat game that sees its most aggravating flaws as cause for celebration. This Star Wars: Battlefront clone (by the same developer) dilutes the sweeping battles of Peter Jackson's LOTR films into a series of errands with incidental fighting. The game tries to mask the banality of its chores with Tolkien-esque trappings—instead of "Grab the key!" it's "The key lies somewhere upon the ground! Recover it!"—but the Battle Of Osgiliath demands more action than purple prose can muster.
While Conquest touts its "fight as the bad guys" feature, Sauron's forces are the same as their virtuous counterparts, just fatter and uglier. So no matter whose side you take, you choose from the same four unbalanced fighter classes. You can be a warrior, whose special ability seems to be rapid death; an archer, if you don't mind your computer-controlled allies constantly stepping in front of your arrows; or a wizard, whose ability to heal himself makes him the correct choice 90 percent of the time.
Then there's the "scout," who can turn invisible and sneak behind enemies to deliver a fatal stab wound. This class is useless in the single-player campaign, but enormously popular online. Multiplayer matches are typically waged by armies of scouts skulking around trying to assassinate one another, while the non-scouts frantically dart and hop in a futile effort to shake their invisible stalkers. It's a griefer's dream. For everyone else, it's tedium.
Beyond the game: Conquest covers the saga's major battles while inventing a few of its own, so Tolkien purists will want to look away.
Worth playing for: You can occasionally fight as one of the saga's heroes, and Aragorn's "army of the dead" attack offers the kind of visceral mêlée thrill that ought to happen throughout the game.
Frustration sets in when: EA's glitchy multiplayer servers place you in a one-on-one match of capture the flag.
Final judgment: Middle-Earth deserves better than this middling effort.