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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth 2 Review
developer: EA LA
PIV 1600, 256MB RAM, 6GB HDD, 64MB video card
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Feb 28, 06 (released)
|» All About The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth 2 on ActionTrip|
Franchises like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are slowly beginning to wane. Of course, EA and LucasArts are still confident they can reel in serious revenues from both licenses. Well, they might be right. LucasArts' real-time strategy Empire at War has already topped recent PC-game sales charts in the US, which only goes to show that the Star Wars franchise hasn't quite diminished yet. EA hopes it will be the same way for The Lord of the Rings. The company feels the industry is ripe enough to accept a continuation of the Battle for Middle-earth strategy, which engrosses players deeper into the fantasy universe created by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Crossing the bridge in Rivendell. Don't look down!
And now for some elven beach volley.
After playing the first Battle for Middle-earth game, we really expected more in terms of the epic feel of gameplay. After all those pretentious trailers, depicting the clash of huge armies on vast battlefields, we were slightly disappointed to behold just a mere segment of what was initially promised - a truly epic RTS. In the end, the game simply failed to capture the incredible scale of some of the battles that went on in P.J.'s movies. Even so, The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth turned out to be a decent enough strategy. Plus, it was set in a universe with a strong fan base, hence it managed to achieve considerable success.
As opposed to the first game, which mostly followed events from the movie, Battle for Middle-earth 2 takes us on a journey across the Northern realms of Middle-earth. Frodo is moving closer to Mount Doom and the massive armies of darkness begin their march towards the lands of the West. At the same time, Sauron musters a great force to vanquish the dwarves and elves. That's really all you need to know about the storyline. Most of the missions portray some familiar locations, characters and races, as well as some new ones that weren't seen in the movies, but were described by Tolkien at various points in the books. This time around, there are many different ways in which players can enjoy the imaginative realms of Tolkien.
After you've been dazzled by the backdrop animation in the main menu, you are left to choose several different game modes. You're welcome to play three single-player modes: the Good Campaign, the Evil Campaign and the so-called War of the Ring mode (which is also available in the multiplayer variant). War of the Ring lets you play the game in more or less standard turn-based fashion. The objectives are clear-cut and you can choose whether or not you want to resolve battles automatically or in real-time. When playing battles in real-time, you'll notice that one of your most important tasks is to stop the enemy from collecting resources. Apart from that, your goal is to eliminate every opponent on the map.
Playing the game in multiplayer certainly has its advantages. As a matter of fact, the multiplayer stands as one of the most engaging and addictive parts of the game. Matches usually revolve around recourse control, as well as using powerful abilities of particular hero units, like Gandalf, Elrond and so on. From our experience, everything looks and functions just fine in online matches. To begin with, the servers work okay and are intuitive enough for players. What's more, no matter which mode you choose to play (skirmish or War of the Ring), you can be sure that the game will occupy you for quite some time.
In any case, the single-player campaign is definitely an interesting and rewarding experience. However, there are a few things that might hold back hardcore Tolkien fans. Several points in the game's storyline are blatantly incoherent with Tolkien's tales. For one thing, it was weird to see the Mouth of Sauron getting killed in Erebor as he battled against the great dwarf king, Dain. To people who are not bothered by such things, Battle for Middle-earth II will present a plot that's motivating enough to keep playing on. On the other hand, to those of you who are determined to experience Tolkien's world just as he described it in his books, the game might be a bit of a letdown in terms of the way the story is laid out.
As you immerse yourself in the single-player campaign, there are several vital aspects you need to grasp in order to go through missions successfully. Every race has unique abilities that are extremely helpful during combat. If you do not use them, you can easily end up with your army decimated, save for some of your hero units. For example, leading an army of dwarves involves tactics and planning, given that most troops are quite stout and not very agile. The basic dwarf infantry gets to use the incredibly effective Charge ability, which is used to rush opponents head on. Once they slam into enemy ranks, you'll see hordes of orcs and goblins being flattened or flung into the air. In order to grant them such a skill, players are obliged to upgrade the units as soon as they are recruited from the barracks, which, naturally, involves a certain amount of resources. Setting up defensive structures is another crucial step. Towers can be raised and crammed with dwarven axe-throwers and you can erect walls around your entire base if you want to. The same thing goes for other races. If you do not rely on their unique abilities, you are likely to lose any battle.
Playing the first few missions made me realize that each race could've had a slightly wider variety of units. After a while, however, players are able to combine elf and dwarf forces, which notably broadens the choice of strategies during battles.
The coolest thing is that you'll get an opportunity to see various familiar characters and regions of Middle-earth, experiencing the great wars of the Third Age from many different angles. Elf troops are led to battle by characters like Glorfindel, Elrond, Haldir, Arwen and even Thranduil (King of the Mirkwood Elves and father of Legolas). Each of the aforementioned heroes has a set of specific powers that come as a significant boost to your army's might. The dwarves are led by renowned characters such as King Dain, Gloin and others. I also enjoyed the fact that dwarven armies were strengthened with the valiant Men of Dale (mostly recognized for their archery skills - fans might recall them from "The Hobbit"). Leading the hosts of Mordor was fun as well. The shrieks of Black Riders and destructive power of the Watcher in the Water can terrify men, dwarfs and elves alike (unless they are accompanied by hero units, which can raise moral and improve their damage). In any case, this game is just the ticket for players who happen to enjoy the rich setting of the Lord of the Rings - that's if we disregard the aforementioned inconsistencies with the novels.
Gameplay wise, there's a lot to enjoy in Battle for Middle-earth 2. The game is fast-paced and relatively easy to get into, especially if you are familiar with the original. Coping with resources is a piece of cake, so you can focus your attention on the battles at hand. My only complaint is that the developers still haven't managed to convey the epic scale when it comes to battles. Some conflicts can be big, but still not big enough and they are, clearly, far from what we've seen in the LoTR flicks. (Heh, you don't say. How *cough* odd. - Ed)
8.5 Very Good
Awesome graphics and audio, enough content to guarantee hours, nay, make that days of top-notch gameplay;
Sometimes the AI ignores your orders, may be too much to handle for some rigs, maps still take a long time to load, some inconsistencies with the books may upset Tolkien fans.