Mark Marrow
19 Mar, 2006

The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II Review

PC Review | The second battle on Middle-earth is a much more triumphant one.
A typical movie-licensed, or rather, any pre-existing franchise that is sucked dry for its videogame debut doesn’t always end in success. With a few exceptions to this statement, the games are typically quite ordinary. Next to Star Wars though, no other license has proven more successful in recent years than the Lord of the Rings franchise, partly thanks to Peter Jackson’s movie recreations of the fantastic J.R.R Tolken’s novels that breathed life into the mythical Middle-earth world.

It’s strange though; despite the hype-train for Lord of the Rings beginning the slow down, EA is investing in bringing various branches of the Lord of the Rings universe in the form of video games to gamers across the globe. Having played most of the Lord of the Rings games from EA, I can safely assure to fans, and critics of movie-to-videogame franchisers, that the talent at EA isn’t going to waste – and the sequel to the exceptionally well presented The Battle for Middle-earth is far from being an exception. The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II is not only a solid RTS experience, but also one that fans of the genre and the series should immensely enjoy.

The Battle for Middle-earth II is the showcase for the war on the northern part of Middle-earth, which is simultaneously taking place during the war on the south – which is where the actual Lord of the Rings story takes place. This gives a bit of flexibility to what the game can present in terms of story and progression, and because of this, three new factions are introduced - the elves, goblins and the dwarves – as well as the factions from the previous game. Each new faction has a number of specialised units and playing styles that expands the gameplay of The Battle for Middle-earth II greatly.

At the core of The Battle for Middle-earth II we have the two single-player campaign modes, one for good and the other for evil, which span over eight missions each. The missions in The Battle for Middle-earth II are designed in a very old-school style. It’s your typical base building, army preparing and flood out the enemy sort-of-gameplay. None of that new-age access point capturing, restriction ho-ha, just straight to the old-school RTS fun. Typically, some people may find this change from the original build of building nodes a turn in the wrong direction, but then again it all boils down to how you play your RTS games, and in most cases the decision to adapt the game into a more traditional RTS game is for the better.

Epic in all proportions.

Epic in all proportions.
You begin each mission with a primary task such as destroying the enemy camp, but in the meantime, throughout each battle, there will be a number of secondary missions that’ll pop-up that will help go towards your resources, and eventually, building units and structures at a much faster rate. In The Battle for Middle-earth II resource gathering is acquired from building certain structures that’ll continue to accumulate nearby resources from its surroundings. Your resources are boosted by other additions such as taking over neutral buildings and from your HQ. There is often a problem with this style of resource collection, since resources never grow dry and you can stay in the one area for the entire battle – making the game a bit more defensive, and meaning you’ll have to build your army and virtually rush the enemy’s structures to prevent them from building more units. Now, this isn’t a problem for myself, but it can be depending on your approach to RTS games.

Unfortunately, the game’s campaign mode does have a few rough edges. The progression and story of both the evil and good campaigns are a little dry and the emotional impact is clearly lacking. The story doesn’t suit your typical vision of the battle-busting Dwarves, or the supposedly ruthless goblins. The story is there though, and it’s enough to create that illusion that this is the major war that was happening while our family-friendly heroes were trying to throw ‘that’ ring in the pits of the earth. The presentation before each mission has its problems also. Each mission opens up with a mix of paintings and in-game graphic sequences to explain why and where you are. The paintings are of extreme detail and were a major positive to the feeling of each scenario, but the in-game graphic sequences are very sub-par. The animation is awkward, proportions are terrible and the character models are very bland. Naturally, this is an area of the game that many gamers won’t worry too much about, while others will feel that the overall atmosphere is clearly lacking.

The Battle for Middle-earth II has a number of fascinating additions of its own that make the game that more enjoyable and more flexible in how you want to approach each battle. There are upgrades that can be built for each building, which can be typical armour upgrades, but also defence add-ons for important structures such as your HQ. For the Goblins you can add various add-ons such as a structure that’ll make the enemy that’s approaching run away in fear for a few seconds, as well as having an area of effect add-on. One of the more promising additions to the Battle of Middle-earth series is the game’s special army powers that you can use in-battle. Overtime, you accumulate points to spend in abilities that’ll help you on the field. These powers can range from summoning powerful creatures, giving a powerful buff that increases your armies attack power, as well as healing your troops. These powers are quite effective during battles, and can usually be the deciding factor in conquering your enemies.

Spending points on special powers is extremely important during battles.

Spending points on special powers is extremely important during battles.
The AI has had a dramatic improvement over the original game, but the game still has trouble ironing out some of the more generic RTS issues - such as unit’s responses to their surroundings. The game is based on numbers in your army, so having a large force is important. But it isn’t helpful when you have units running in range of your long-range, building destroying units. It became ever so frustrating to see your units wipe so easily because of the stupidity of them running into flying boulders. The enemy isn’t any exception to this either, so if you know how to play your cards correctly, you can usually use this issue in your favour.

While a lot of fun is drawn from the campaign mode, the bread and butter is within the skirmish and War of the Ring modes. The War of the Ring mode is pretty much a beefed-up Risk game. Being a massive fan of the board game Risk, I felt right at home in this mode. You have an overhead view of each of the territories in Middle-earth, and you must slowly move units from your homeland to the other territories on the map and eventually defeat your enemy by either destroying their HQ or conquering a certain number of territories. In each territory you are able to construct buildings that supply your troops. You’ll then be able to move these units to other areas on the board. In doing so you’ll eventually battle it out against your enemy to claim these areas, and in doing so you’ll unlock certain bonuses when having a certain amount of territories under your belt. These battles can be resolved by auto-combat, or if you wish to make the game that much more longer, you can play each battle for a territory just like your typical RTS skirmish mode. In doing so can make the game a lot more longer and boring, but for the strategy buffs out there, and us Risk fans, then this is a shoe-in for where you’ll be spending most of your game time.

Multiplayer is an area that falls short. Due to the new approach for the game, the multiplayer match-ups can become an issue. The resource system focuses on gamers to cut-out these buildings and rush the enemy if you’re expected to stand a chance, meaning that RTS gamers may have a hard time adapting to that playing style. War of the Ring is also available in multiplayer, but due to how long these games can usually take, it isn’t a favourable choice amongst gamers.

Battle of Middle-earth II is very easy on the eyes. The game uses impressive light and shading effects that highlight the environments exceptional well. The collision and destruction of buildings is well detailed, and the look and actions made by the units is pleasing. One area that I was impressed with, something I don’t see in many RTS games, is that there’s a great sense of detail of collision when units run into enemy units. I never grew tired of watching mounted units running into packs of Goblins and watching them fly back as the mounted unit crashed their way through.

Ohhh... so pretty.

Ohhh... so pretty.
As expected, the music is also of a lofty standard. There are a few tracks from the movie that people will recognise instantly, while there are others that fit the mood and style of the game perfectly.

Naturally, there are a number of minor issues that destroy what could’ve been a perfect game. The gameplay makes you adapt to one RTS game style, the lack of an enjoyable multiplayer structure is hurtful and the few gameplay issues are noticeable. I’ve played a lot of RTS games over the past year and I’ll admit that The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II is a huge breath of fresh air for the genre despite its downfalls. While I couldn’t say that the game is better than Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War and its expansion, it does however sit in a very stable second spot next to it.
The Score
The hottest RTS game this year, and one of the most rewarding Lord of the Rings title available. A game that most RTS fans should try and look into eventually but is one that some may fear because of the game’s restrictive gameplay and available modes. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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8 years ago
cool, looks like my money didn't goto waste... at least, it won't have if i ever get around to playing the damned thing.

i kind of impulse bought the Collector's Edition, and as yet haven't played it, i got home and realised that after Empire at War, i was mostly RTSed out.

still, i loved (love) the first BFME, which is quite balanced once you patch it a few times, so hopefully this will be just as good.
8 years ago
That graphics engine wows me, it just looks so pretty to me.
Anyway, good review.
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