Mark Marrow
27 Dec, 2006

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

Earlier in the year, EA released its exceptional Battle of Middle-Earth II that, while far from knocking big-wigs such as Dawn of War and Company of Heroes from their well-deserved success, provided gamers with a superb real-time strategy experience with plenty of Lord of the Rings lore to keep fans at bay. The title managed to mix in a few of its own unique RTS spins, ending up with generally well-received review scores across the board on both the PC & Xbox 360. Several months later we have the game’s first expansion, which surprisingly popped up a lot sooner than we had predicted, but is still a worthy follow-up to one of our favourites of the year.

Unsurprisingly, the Lord of the Rings juggernaut is beginning to slow down, after its success a few years back due Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations. Funnily enough though, there are still plenty of areas to explore in the LOTR lore which would make for perfect game scenarios, and thankfully EA has done a superb job of catering fans with some background to the LOTR universe that is typically left untouched. The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II -- The Rise of the Witch-King (good God that’s long) adds a new campaign mode based around the new race, Angmar, which is led by Sauron's secondhand man, the Witch-King. The campaign mode is set after the epic battle shown at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring and follows the Witch-King's rise to power, and the invasion of Arnor. It’s a great opportunity for gamers to experience the game from the perspective of an evil race, and further understand the complex Lord of the Rings mythology.

Probably the biggest attraction to Witch-King is its unbelievably fun campaign mode that does a perfect job of reinventing some of the typical clichéd RTS scenarios of simply flooding your enemies. In fact, bar Company of Heroes, Witch-King provides one of the most distinct campaign modes for years – there’s an undeniably large amount of variety at hand. As previously mentioned, the game is based around the Witch-King's rise to power and therefore has you conquering areas of Arnor and recruiting evil creatures such as Trolls to aid you in your destruction. Instead of providing simple ‘rush-and-destroy’ objectives, Witch-King requires you to accomplish the following: defeat enemy fortresses, hold positions, capture items and secure them at your base, destroy several key targets and a number of epic-sized siege battles. It is often something that we tend to overlook, but having a game that provides this amount of variety really is a breath of fresh air for real-time strategy fans.

The game is still an epic beast.

The game is still an epic beast.
The new faction offers a distinct new spin on the game, but once again fails to cater for the different play styles for gamers. There are no real major differences compared to previous factions, besides the fact they boast a much ‘meatier’ line-up of units, so adopting different play styles for each race is completely rare and often hurts the appeal of exploring the different races available. The Angmar are a much more interesting faction compared to the others though, with its long list of variety and neat special abilities that’ll surely draw a crowd. The faction has a nice mix of units including trolls, sorcerers and thrall masters who can summon a variety of unit types (mounted, axe throwers and spearmen) instantly to the battlefield. In addition, there’s a great mix of useful and game-changing special abilities that can be used, such as summoning a massive ice wolf, an avalanche and a number of stat boosting abilities. The appealing aspect of acquiring exciting new abilities is that it adds a completely new layer of strategy and unpredictability to battles. Do you summon a bunch of creatures and freeze your enemy to the ground before approaching them or do you charge in with your army and then stun them?

Unfortunately, the new faction is extremely unbalanced in many instances, and often causes a lot of problems during multiplayer. The Sorcerers are difficult to manage, and the majority of their abilities are useless if you’re not willing to constantly micromanage their abilities. They can be powerful when used correctly, but having to move incredibly close to your enemy before using their abilities becomes an issue since they are relatively weak. Many of the other units are a tad overpowering compared to the units from other factions, and poses a bit of trouble when trying to defeat the Angmar faction in the other modes such as War of the Ring and skirmishes.

Other additions added to the game include a much-needed overhaul of the game’s War of the Ring mode. The mode is similar to Risk, where you’ll build your army and then move and conquer areas of the map, where the ultimate goal is to destroy all of your opponents by taking over their territories. The inclusion of new territories, better balancing and more consistency from battle-to-battle helps increase the appeal of the mode than previously. In addition, the game now includes a better Create-a-Hero mode and new abilities and units for the original factions.

Generally, most levels still boast a lot of detail.

Generally, most levels still boast a lot of detail.
While the game is enjoyable as sin, it lacks the longevity to continuously come back to the game. The War of the Ring mode isn’t at all that compelling compared to, say, Dawn of War’s similar Risk-like campaign mode, and many of the other areas of the game feel a little uninspiring. While they are generally quite fun to play and enjoy, they lack that special something that clings onto you, making you want to play for a dozen hours straight – there are many reasons as to why this is a problem too. The game lacks an appealing, fast-paced and accessible gameplay structure for real-time strategy fans to enjoy, and that the game runs into a few common RTS mishaps. Unfortunately, the game fails to capitalise on many of the issues found in the original: inconsistent AI issues, path finding isn’t accurate and there are still reoccurring balancing issues.

There are many areas that are still impressive though. While the graphics engine has quickly been dwarfed in light of Company of Heroes release, the game still boasts some particularly well animated visuals that look nothing but superb. Special effects are once again done well, as is the artwork that occupies the openings for each level in the campaign mode. Sound is also done nicely with a variety of uplifting tunes and familiar tracks and voices from the Lord of the Rings movies.

It’s the minor issues that hurt this game, and the fact that it fails to capitalise on some of the errors that were confronted in the original – the AI, balancing and path finding are still major problems in preventing this game from being much better. Regardless though, Witch-King is a phenomenal expansion pack to an equally good real-time strategy game. Highly recommended if you have the original package.
The Score
There's no reason why you shouldn't purchase this if you already have the original. While it could do with some improvements in areas, the experience is still fantastic. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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7 years ago
Does it get a 10 for most obnoxiously long title? I'd give it an extra 1 point for subtitling a subtitle.
7 years ago
No longer the most visually appealing title in the RTS scene but still boast some superb animation and visuals. 8.0

No longer the most visually appealing title in the RTS scene but still boasts some superb animation and visuals. 8.5

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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
  Out Now
  EA Games
  Electronic Arts Los Angeles

This expansion pack requires the full version of The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II to play.

Required System Specs:
1.6 Ghz equivalent or higher processor
512 MB RAM
3 GB hard disk space
64 MB video card.

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