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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth 2 - The Rise of the Witch King Review
developer: EA LA
PIV 1600, 256MB RAM, 6GB HDD, 64MB video card
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Nov 28, 06 (released)
|» All About The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth 2 - The Rise of the Witch King on ActionTrip|
Whenever I sit down to play an expansion pack, I take a deep breath in the hope that I'm not going to encounter yet another measly franchise-milking title devoid of any notable improvements. We all know of EA's reputation when it comes to the whole milking business, and to top that off, expansions rarely bring anything new to the table, so you could say I was pretty worried.
There's nothing I enjoy more than freezing a bunch of Dunedain.
This little gift comes straight from my Dark Fortress.
Here comes the kicker though.
Much to my amazement, my doubts were all but cast away after a while of playing The Battle for Middle Earth II - The Rise of the Witch-King.
The game takes players on a dark journey through realms and factions of Middle-Earth not represented in the movies. This in itself can be quite a nice foundation for any sort of innovative content.
During the Second Age and the great wars with Sauron, the mighty weapon of the enemy, the One Ring, passed on to Isildur, elder son of Elendil. When Isildur fell, the One Ring was lost and Middle-Earth enjoyed a thousand years of peace. During all those years, The Dark Lord recuperated, reassembling his forces, eventually beginning to spread seeds of evil throughout the land. It was then that he chose to send forth his deadliest servant - the leader of the Nine, who later became known as the Witch-King of Angmar. In case you didn't know, the realm of Angmar lies in the Northern regions of Middle-Earth, where the Witch-King strives to gather massive armies of minions to conquer the remaining kingdoms of Arnor. Driven by malice and his dark powers, the Witch-King means to avenge the Dark Lord's defeat in the battle once fought against the Last Alliance of Men and Elves. This expansion pack engrosses players in one of the first great conflicts of the Third Age. Leading the Witch-King himself, as he spreads terror and desolation through Middle-Earth, you'll get to experience how the powers of darkness wage war against the squabbling races of Men.
The start of the first scenario may seem like child's play. Just when you think you have the edge, enemy reinforcements will start marching into the fray and the Witch-King must do his best to defend all fortifications. After that, it gets even harder. The armies of Arnor are divided, but still very powerful. The cool thing about this expansion back is that it stresses the importance of newly incorporated spells and heroic abilities. Without them, wining a battle is almost impossible. Likewise, units often need heroes by their side, otherwise they may get wiped out very quickly. The AI is a bit smarter this time around, so it takes additional effort to triumph on the battlefield. It's therefore advisable that you upgrade armor and attack abilities of every unit formation. Purchasing upgrades depends on the amount of resources you've accumulated, which means you need to instruct builders to set up as many mines as possible. For those of you who don't mind a bit of extra micromanagement, these additional tasks shouldn't be a bother. Actually, it sort of shows how well you can cope with the missions at hand. Investing certain resources into the right upgrades will determine the outcome of each scenario. Because of the challenging nature of the missions, most players will surely spend many hours in completing the new story-driven single-player campaign. Unfortunately, if you know your way around and once you get a grip on new skills and powers, it won't take you long to go through the entire story.
I've really enjoyed using new units as well. So-called Thrall Masters can summon many warriors to your aid in a matter of seconds. For instance, when you require quick reinforcements, it's often a good idea to recruit Thrall Masters and tell them to summon a pack of Wolf Riders, who are fast and skillful at performing charge attacks. Resource deficiency, on the other hand, may call for cheaper units, so you can instruct Thrall Masters to beckon Goblins instead. Another new unit is the Sorcerer. Sorcerers bring along a whole range of new spells to cast and hurl at foes. Although, one of the chief problems with Sorcerers is that they are very weak to attacks, and so you'll have very little time to cast spells. Equally, Thrall Masters, if not experienced, can get wiped out by the enemy very quickly. This annoyed me to some extent. I was forced to reload my saves frequently, on account of such unit weaknesses.
The addition of new heroes also brings a variety of spells and unique fighting abilities into play. You'll enjoy watching as human soldiers tremble in the presence of the Witch-King when he casts his fear spell. Also, there's a powerful troll, named Rogash, who has the ability to leap headfirst into tight formations of enemy troops, sending them flying across the battlefield.
Improvements and innovations don't stop there. One of the most commendable aspects of the expansion pack is the inclusion of a revamped version of the War of the Ring turn-based mode. The original had one major flaw in this respect. Namely, you could amass huge armies throughout real-time battles and then those armies would simply vanish into thin air once you got back to the strategic map. Now, players are able to transfer units from one scenario to the next, making battles a lot more exciting. However, owning persistent units involves higher maintenance costs, so you're in for additional challenges if you want to cling to your experienced armies. Additionally, players are welcome to use a refurbished Create-a-Hero option, allowing more powers as well as a brand new hero class - the Troll.
The mighty armies of darkness storm the front gate.
The turn-based mode features a few new touches.
The game remains true to the original when it comes to visual and audio quality. Each new spell produces an array of colorful effects, accompanied by detailed unit and backdrop animation. The trademark soundtrack (now featuring additional tracks as well), once again, sets the right atmosphere, making another worthy tribute to PJ's movies.
The multiplayer was as engaging as before. Players may face challenging campaign missions, with modes such as Competition, Control Point, King of the Hill, and Hold Out.
Lord of the Rings admirers may relish in story segments that were taken from Tolkien's writings; a chapter of Middle-Earth's history, which wasn't portrayed in Peter Jackson's movies. In one of the single-player missions, you'll get to lead the assault that eventually led to the destruction of the great watch tower of Amon Sul. Incidentally, Amon Sul is the very spot where, years later, the Witch-King, Lord of the Nazgul, would stab Frodo with his deadly Morgul blade. So I think it's safe to say that the add-on comes highly recommended to all Tolkien geeks. The Rise of the Witch-King also made me realize why I enjoyed the original game so much, plus it offered a whole bunch of new units in addition to introducing never-before-seen kingdoms and heroes from Middle-Earth.
Overall, the game is worth the $30 bucks (or $25 if you pre-ordered). The bad news is that while the Witch-King does present enough innovative content, it still requires new-comers to install the original BfME II, which means they're gonna need to shell out another 30 bucks for the pleasure.
8.5 Very Good
Another praiseworthy portrayal of the races and characters of Middle-Earth, new units, new spells, new heroes, turn-based mode is a lot more gratifying;
Some friendly units appear too weak, more experienced gamers will complete the main campaign fairly quickly.
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