The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth Review
developer: EA LA
PIV 1300, 256MB RAM, 32MB video card
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Dec 06, 04
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In the Land of Mordor, where shadows lie...
Okay, okay, I admit it. I keep criticizing LotR-based products where in fact I buy them all. It doesn't matter if I've already gotten the product in dozens of different shapes and forms. I am a follower of a simple logic that "another purchase won't kill me" - so I keep buying. If you've ever wondered who the hell spends so much money on trivial LotR crap, you may now die peacefully, as you know the answer. With that in mind, I guess it won't surprise you that I cannot sleep for weeks because of RoTK EE DVD (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Extended Edition DVD - Ed). The purchase of a LotR DVD sounds pretty naïve compared to other aspects of my LotR mania, but I have yet to wait two more days in order to put my grubby little mitts on it, so there's nothing naïve about it. My eyes are all greedy and bloodshot and I have this uncontrollable shiver, folks. It's not pleasant.
Run, you fool! I am the Keeper of the Secret Fire, for fuck's sake!
Hurry up, Pip! Kick the evil Troll in the shin and gain a level!
Before the rumor mill gets into full swing about if I'm taking any medication or not, I'll get to the point. I wanted to see the damned DVD so much I had to find something suitable to tide me over till the DVD release- and is there anything more suitable than a LotR-based video game? (Whoever answered "strangulation" is excused to go shoot themselves now. I'll wait.) Of course, I was prepared to be disappointed or angered if I found Tolkien's work was butchered, bastardized or both, but I was not in any way prepared to see *this*.
If you're wondering what I mean when I emphasized *this,* you're not alone. As I write this review, I find myself wondering if *this* refers to something good or something bad. Indeed, it is hard to tell. I've played a part of this amazing game only to discover I don't know what I think of it. Maybe this is because it is so hard to decide if this is a video game in the first place or simply an interactive LotR movie.
I can almost hear you ask, "What do you mean?" LotR: The Battle for Middle-Earth is no plain RTS - it is a gorgeous-looking game that gives you a chance to participate in the movie, both in the good and the bad sense of the word. The game begins with a suitable explanation, presenting a short version of the otherwise long LotR story. You know, the forging of the One Ring "and what happened afterwards." After that, you are simply put in front of the map of Middle-Earth and, without much ado, told to select the Fellowship and enter Moria. Having no other choice, you will have to agree and this is where your journey will begin. First of all, I have to admit I was surprised to find out the story begins at this specific location as I could find no excuse for that. I understand EA is aware even maggots are familiar with the story of the most famous epic fantasy novel in the galaxy, but I still fail see the reason for not incorporating the story into this game. As it is, LotR: The Battle for Middle-Earth is not a story-driven game. It is simply a collection of different chapters in the history of Middle-Earth that you'll have to finish to defeat the other side. You get no explanation why you need to undertake certain actions or get involved in specific missions at a certain stage of the game. You are not allowed any choice in this matter - you are given an assignment, you finish it, and then you are tasked with another. I understand the missions had to follow the story of the film (rather than the book), but then again, what about the story *in* the game?
This aside, I must admit I rather enjoyed the experience of taking part in an interactive movie. Many movie sequences have been borrowed for the game, so it felt like watching a movie where everything depended on me. With the possible exclusion of Viggo Mortensen and several others, most of the original actors agreed to give their voices to the game characters, so I do not even have to mention what a great impact it has on the atmosphere in the game. The game looks and feels so lifelike that I could almost have mistaken it for the film. Alas, not all things about this title are brilliant.
Apart from having limited freedom in the course of the battle for Middle-Earth (after all, this *is* a linear game; nothing to be ashamed of) I was really bothered by the repetitive nature of some of the game's missions. In game's defense I couldn't categorize this as a common occurrence. I think we could easily blame this perception of mine on the lack of a properly implemented storyline, as you have to draw all your motivation from the film and not the game itself. I'm a LotR-obsessed freak and I need no other motivation than that, but what about other, normal people? Is this game intended for freaks only? I don't think so. Well, maybe on another thought... Oh, do stop that, you're annoying! Sorry for this Gollumization, folks.
The game mechanism is very simple (which is good) so you won't need to bother with the non-playable tutorial (which is even better). Since this game is built using the Generals Engine, it retains many of the same features and interface solutions. I guarantee you are qualified to step into action straight away, which is definitely a plus. The game features a simple and intuitive building system which helps you enjoy this segment of the gameplay thoroughly. There again, the system is maybe even too simplified, so you're able to run through some scenarios without having time to realize what you're doing. This can be helped if you at least play on the normal difficulty setting, but even with that, I found some scenarios too easy. The only things that caused me any real trouble at the beginning were the Trolls and the Warg Riders, whereas other enemies compensated for their stupidity with their large numbers. It is difficult to come to any definite conclusion about the enemies' intelligence, as they were able both for the most stupid and the most enlightened of actions (especially when they were using their spying powers). Still I would say enemy AI was more on the plus than on the minus side.
Apart from buying new buildings and constructing units, you also have to go to war as the battle for Middle-Earth won't wait. The main map shows you the next province(s) you are supposed to conquer, so if there is more than one of them, it is possible to choose where to strike first. Every province gives you a different bonus and presents a different challenge. You will be required to destroy Orc camps and bases or wipe out enemy forces - you know, the usual stuff, so if you are successful, the province will fall under your command. Possible monotony has been successfully evaded by combining different mission types: for example, after you spend some time in Eomer's saddle (not with *him* in the saddle, unfortunately), you will get to save the hobbits from the Isengard Uruk-Hai in the forest of Fangorn - you get the idea. After you finish a mission, you will pass onto another chapter in the battle for the domination over all of Middle-Earth and so on.
I started off with the Fellowship, so after an abrupt start I had to pass through the mines of Moria, where I even got to fight with the Balrog. That was the funniest Gandalf vs. Balrog fight ever, as my wizard kept jumping around waiting for his special powers to fill up and trying to avoid the flaming demon's strikes. What surprised me most about this fight is the fact I won it - I killed Balrog although the demon was supposed to drag me to the bottomless pit... you know. Yes, you heard it right - Gandalf is alive, and his change from the Grey Wanderer to Gandalf the White occurs not because of his "resurrection", but because he takes good care of his laundry, even when traveling in the wilderness. Boromir is also alive - you come in time to save him in the woods. While this may sound as sacrilege to any true Tolkien fan, it is in fact really practical and convenient - if PJ didn't want to stick to the book, why would EA have to? As a fan, I am deeply offended so I protest but as a gamer, I don't give a fuck about it as the situation suits me well.
A visually perfect game with superb animation, great sound effects, voice acting and soundtrack; spectacular battle sequences, intuitive and simple building and combat system, some neat special powers, lots of great material from the movies;
Have these guys ever heard of a story-driven single-player campaign? Some missions are repetitive and the combat will sometimes seem too simplistic and mindless.