Crispy Gamer

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the Game

Having already told the entire tale in videogame form, EA is now looking at new ways of retelling the epic saga that was Peter Jackson's masterful movie version of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." Thankfully, the software giant has opted not to make an arcade-style kart-racing game, but has instead charged Pandemic Studios -- makers of the Battlefield-esque Star Wars: Battlefront series -- with the task of making The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, a similarly massive multiplayer game out of the fantasy film. Though according to Sean Soucy, the game's lead designer, Conquest won't just be Battlefront with Elves instead of Ewoks.

Crispy Gamer: Let's start with the basics: What kind of game is this going to be? Because at this point the only genres that haven't been given the "Lord of the Rings" treatment are dance game, flight sim and Guitar Hero rip-off.

Sean Soucy: Conquest is a third-person fantasy action game set in the Lord of the Rings universe. It's an open-battlefield game in the vein of the Star Wars: Battlefront series. Gamers have certainly seen Lord of the Rings action games before, but nothing on this scale or with the variety that we offer. Anything you'd want to do in a Lord of the Rings game, you can do in Conquest. You've got the basic classes with melee, ranged and magic combat; you've got horses, wargs, trolls, ents, catapults, siege towers, heroes -- everything from the epic battles you've seen in the films -- and players actually get to control all these units.

Crispy Gamer: Whose idea was this?

Soucy: Well, after Battlefront II, we started to explore other properties that would fit the style of gameplay we had developed with the series. The more we thought and talked about it, The Lord of the Rings was one that made a great fit. It's got the epic battles and unique hero characters. It's also not a shooter setting, which appealed to us. It's a fantasy setting, and that alone has allowed us to really put a new twist on the Battlefront gameplay style.

Crispy Gamer: Will it use a first- or third-person perspective?

Soucy: Third-person perspective. The melee element and the control of the various creatures and siege machines in the game are much better served in a third-person perspective. The third-person perspective gives players a much better view of all the cool things their characters can do in the game.

Crispy Gamer: Do the battles cover all three films, or will there be other battles that were alluded to in the films or books as well?

Soucy: We've got all the big battles from the films. You'll fight at Helm's Deep, Minas Tirith, Isengard, Osgiliath, Pelennor Fields, the Battle of the Last Alliance, the Black Gate -- all the epic battles you'd expect to see. But we also have some battles in both the Good and Evil campaigns that are hinted at in the books: the razing of the Shire in the evil campaign, for example. In the films, when Frodo looks into Galadriel's Pool, Frodo sees what will happen to the Shire if he fails. We let the player live that out.

Crispy Gamer: Will you be playing as just regular soldiers in the battle, or will you be playing as specific characters from the film?

Soucy: You'll play as officers as well as the heroes. The officers give you that "part of something bigger" feel, while the heroes give players the ? well, hero moments. Heroes are treated as a reward for players completing their objectives throughout the game, and are also playable in the multiplayer modes.

Crispy Gamer: Now in the Star Wars: Battlefront games, you got to drive such vehicles and creatures as AT-STs and Tauntans. What will you be driving, so to speak, in this game?

Soucy: Oh we've got that covered. Horses, wargs, playable trolls and ents, catapults, siege towers and battering rams are just some examples of the kinds of things the player will have at his disposal in the game, but the battle is set in the air as well as on the ground. We've got fel beasts swooping down from the sky and carrying off soldiers. Eagles come to the aid of the forces of good to attack the orcs from above.

Crispy Gamer: Combat in the Battlefront games have mostly been shooting, with some occasional melee when you're a Jedi and have a lightsaber. Will Conquest be the reverse, mostly melee with some shooting?

Soucy: Of the four playable classes in the game, the Warrior and the Scout are more melee-focused, while the Archer and Mage are more ranged-focused, although every class has some form of ranged attack. Melee combat is an integral part of the game and is definitely a much bigger part of LOTR: Conquest than in the Battlefront series.

Crispy Gamer: How has this changed the game and what have you done to compensate?

Soucy: The mixture of melee and ranged classes is one of the things that has really helped us put a new spin on this gameplay style. There are lots of interesting dynamics between the classes in combat depending on the situation. For example, an Archer has an advantage against the melee classes if he is able to keep his distance from them, but if the melee guys get within range to use their melee attacks, the Archer will be in trouble. There are also a lot of ways for classes on the same team to play together using combined arms to be more effective against their enemies.

Crispy Gamer: Is there anything that you think works better in Conquest than it did in the Battlefront series?

Soucy: Melee combat and controlling creatures. It also gives you a larger sense of an epic battle and has a better single-player campaign.

Crispy Gamer: How about the other way -- is there anything that works better in Battlefront than in Conquest? I could see the vehicular combat being more fun when you're driving an AT-AT than one of those big elephant things.

Soucy: I think you'd be surprised. The "vehicles" we've got in the game end up adding quite a bit to the gameplay and are very satisfying in their own right. It's hard to pick out anything that was specifically better in Battlefront. We've done our best to take the best elements from Battlefront and improve on them everywhere we could. The differences that the Lord of the Rings universe presents have really let us take things to a cool new level in Conquest.

Crispy Gamer: So will anyone from the film be doing their character's voice in the game?

Soucy: We have a recognizable actor from the films as the narrator for our campaigns. Can't say much more than that at this time?.

Crispy Gamer: You mention that this has a better single-player mode than the Battlefront games. How so?

Soucy: There are two campaigns in the game: A Good campaign that closely follows the story from the books and films, and an Evil one where we let players explore their darker fantasies in a fictional campaign that assumes that Frodo fails in his task to destroy the One Ring. The campaign missions are objective-based, where players fight against their enemies to complete their objectives to win the missions. The campaign can be played solo or with up to four players in online co-op or split-screen co-op.

Crispy Gamer: Are there any plans to also include more typical multiplayer modes, such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch or Capture the Ring?

Soucy: Yes. We have Team Deathmatch, which can be played with the normal units or all heroes. We also have Capture the Ring, where both teams fight to capture the One Ring for their side.

Crispy Gamer: And how many people can each match accommodate?

Soucy: We have a max of 16 players online.

Crispy Gamer: With Pandemic becoming members of the EA family, you're now related to the guys at Dice, which designed the Battlefield games that inspired the Battlefront games. Has this led to any awkward moments during family dinners?

Soucy: Nope. We've actually got a couple of guys that came over from Dice, which has been great. We've been big fans of those guys for a long time. It's nice to finally be in the same family.

Crispy Gamer: The game is set for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC and DS. I assume the first three versions will be largely the same, right?

Soucy: Yes, they're all being developed in parallel together, though the PC version obviously needs a little special attention in order to make sure the experience with a keyboard and mouse is up to par.

Crispy Gamer: Will there be any cross-platform play between the PC and 360 versions?

Soucy: Unfortunately, there won't. There are technical issues there that have prevented us from being able to do this.

Crispy Gamer: So what then will the DS version be like?

Soucy: The DS version is great. It takes full advantage of the stylus and touch-screen and is a really cool experience on the DS. Multiplayer should be a blast.

Crispy Gamer: Finally, do you have a release date yet?

Soucy: We hit store shelves this fall.