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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth 2 Preview

publisher: EA
developer: EA LA
genre: Strategy

PIV 1600, 256MB RAM, 6GB HDD, 64MB video card
ESRB rating: T

release date: Feb 28, 06
» All About The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth 2 on ActionTrip

As soon as Electronic Arts acquired the rights to make video games based on Tolkien's books, it became obvious that the industry giant wouldn't miss out on a golden opportunity to cash in on one of the most "milkable" fantasy franchises of all times.

By my reckoning Lord of the Rings has played its role in entertainment, so it's time to cool off a bit (unless some of you are in the mood for a musical interpretation... Lord of the Rings, featuring the High-pitched Voice of Saruman and the Magic Melodies of Sam the Benevolent Gardner). Like I said, maybe it's time to take a break from the One Ring saga. But, apparently, that's not what EA thinks. Their next endeavor is taking their Battle for Middle-earth license further with a variety of new units, realms, races and options.

On a slightly negative note, I think EA should've done a better job the first time around. The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth had a range of gameplay drawbacks, which didn't suit many gamers, especially those that are inclined to typical fast-paced real-time strategies. For example, The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth featured annoying lengthy load times before each mission, hence many mainstream players were disappointed right off the bat. In the end, it really didn't offer a sense of depth and scale as promised prior to the game's release. The battles were okay, and being able to view the living world of Middle-earth via the map was extremely cool, but ultimately the game never reached the epic feel of the movies.

By now the whole gaming world knows that Battle for Middle-earth 2 depicts significant events of the Third Age from a different angle. Sauron's war against the whole of Middle-earth stretched all the way to the remote regions of the north. Any respectable Tolkien fan is aware that the northern parts of Middle-earth are the dwelling places of dwarves and elves. Before Sauron launched his assault upon the land, he knew that the only way to conquer the free peoples of Middle-earth is to beset it from all sides and he certainly had the manpower... sorry, I meant the orcpower, to do so. That's why his armies were strategically positioned across the land to strike approximately at the same time. Part of his army attacked Minas Tirith and the people of Rohan, while a great force was also assembled to assail the homeland of the elves and dwarves (located, like I said, away to the north). Basically, the game shifts to areas like the Grey Havens, the barren wastelands of the Ettenmoors, the Misty Mountains, Mirkwood and even the Shire. EA already revealed the number of available missions right at the outset. Players can enjoy playing 16 scenarios on either side.

As before, players get to choose between the good campaign and the evil campaign, which means you either join Sauron or one of the free races of Middle-earth. In the previous game, your choices were limited to four races, whereas in Battle for Middle-earth 2 the variety stretches a bit further with two additional races - the dwarves and the elves. Other races include the humans of Rohan and Gondor, and on Sauron's side, the orcs and goblins of Mordor and Isengard. You can also expect each race to have its own attributes. Goblins are swift and can tunnel their way quickly into sections on the map that are otherwise difficult or impossible to access by other units. (C&C: Generals anyone? - Ed)

We were glad to hear that bases may now be built anywhere you wish, whereas earlier, players were restricted by the game's storyline and could not raise structures where they pleased. Additional buildings are offered as you upgrade your base, so you can improve units as well as the defenses of your city. It will be possible to strengthen the base with extra catapults and guard towers (which can be placed on any part of the map - even next to the enemy fortress if you want).

Hero characters are back to lead your armies once again. Several new leading figures of the Lord of the Rings mythology were thrown in, such as Elrond, and other (devious) characters like Wormtongue, Sharku and so on. By the way, I don't know if you guys actually remember Sharku... The name's not all that popular as other icons from the Lord of the Rings lore. Sharku lead the group of Warg-riders that attacked Theodan and his men as they were fleeing to Helm's Deep in TTT. The hideous character fought with Aragorn, and after the duel Isildur's heir plunged into a ravine, barely making it out alive.

If players get tired of typical heroes from the LOTR universe, they can always customize hero units to their inclination, adjusting the appearance, weapons and armor of the character. The interesting bit is that even more powerful heroes will make an appearance, such as Galadriel or Sauron. However, they can only be summoned into the fray if your race manages to get hold of The One Ring. Occasionally, Gollum can be seen creeping around on the map. Whoever nabs him first gets to utilize the power of the Ring. After a certain time, you can charge into battle with Galadriel or Sauron, using their tremendous power against enemy forces. Gollum also comes as a unique spying unit. If you get hold of the Ring, your enemy can recapture Gollum and use him to sneak into your base to steel the Ring back (the system works both ways, of course).

With the new available races, things will surely be a lot more exciting this time around. The additional characters also opened a range of possibilities in terms of individual skills, so each hero unit that marches onto the battlefield now has a broader selection of special abilities to help you overcome the enemy.

A rather surprising move by the developers is the addition of the turn-based part of the game, which, according to them, works similarly to certain segments of Rome: Total War, combined with some elements of Risk and Diplomacy. You simply move around your heroes and garrisons to invade enemy territories and occupy other strategic points on the map. If you've played Rome: Total War, than you should know the drill by heart. It boils down to accumulating as much units as you can and then moving them across the map to take over a certain area. Once two opposing armies collide, you can choose to resolve the matter automatically, or by personally leading troops into battle in real-time. This bit should work out great, especially in a rich setting such as Tolkien's Middle-earth. This mode will be playable both in single-player and online multiplayer variants.

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