Developed by Pandemic Studios and released on PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo DS, Lord of the Rings: Conquest was a fun but largely forgettable video game reimagining of the lauded trilogy. Players took control of different types of units in large-scale battles across Middle-Earth, following the plot of the novels and films.
At least, that’s what the initial campaign mode of Lord of the Rings: Conquest is about. Upon completion, players unlock an Evil Campaign that reveals just how grim things could have been for the heroes if the plot had deviated during the final fateful moments of Frodo’s journey.
Lord of the Rings ends with a massive battle — both for the soul of Frodo Baggins and on the battlefield just outside of Mordor. While Aragorn and his allies do their best to hold Sauron’s attention and his forces at bay, Frodo and Sam finally reach the Crack of Mount Doom. Although Frodo’s resolve finally breaks, and he claims the ring for himself, Gollum — who had survived up to this point in the story only thanks to the mercy of Bilbo and Frodo — makes his move. Taking the ring, Gollum ends up tumbling into the lava below — destroying both himself and his “precious” and inadvertently saving Middle-Earth. Without Gollum’s presence, things could have taken a far darker turn.
In the Evil Campaign — dubbed the “Rise of Sauron” — Gollum isn’t present, and the ring being taken by Frodo elicits an immediate response. Under Sauron’s command, the Nazgul retreat to Mount Doom and hunt down Frodo — fighting through Orcs who’d arrived to claim the power for themselves. Resurrecting the Witch-King following his defeat on the Pelennor Fields, Sauron unleashes him against the Hobbits — resulting in Frodo and Sam being killed. Victorious, the ring is returned to Sauron — who regains his physical form. The Free Peoples of Middle-Earth retreat, but despite their best efforts, Sauron’s forces quickly wipe out Osgiliath (with the restored Mouth of Sauron killing Faramir) and Minas Tirith in turn, wherein a rejuvenated Sauron burns the White Tree to cinders and effectively destroys the Kingdom of Gondor.
The rest of the Fellowship tries to counter Sauron’s moves, but more and more of Middle-Earth quickly collapses under the Dark Lord’s rule. The Balrog known as Dorin’s Bane is revived in Moria and ends up killing Gimli. Aragorn and the last of the armies of men are cornered on Weathertop and slaughtered by Saruman and his Orc armies. Sauron himself arrives for the Battle of Rivendell, wherein Elrond and Legolas do their best to protect the harbor that leads to the Grey Havens. However, Legolas falls to the Dark Lord in battle, and Sauron claims Elrond’s own ring for himself. Finally, Sauron leads his forces into the Shire and wipes out the Hobbit’s peaceful lands, ending the war once and for all by killing the last of the resistance led by Eomer, wiping out Treebeard and the Ents, and killing the final member of the Fellowship, Gandalf.
The campaign ends with Treebeard’s body being used for a bonfire to burn the scores of dead Hobbits, the final survivors, including Elrond, going into hiding, and Sauron claiming dominion over Middle-Earth. “The Rise of Sauron” is a good showcase for how gruesome things could have become for Middle-Earth if the heroes had lost, and just how important Gollum was to the ending of the story. Without Gollum there to provide enough chaos to destroy the ring and save Middle-Earth, Sauron would have truly won — something recognized by Frodo in the original novels. Frodo and Bilbo’s mercy ended up saving the world, because, without it, Sauron and his restored armies would have wiped out most of Middle-Earth in no time whatsoever, and in truly brutal fashion.