The Lord of the Rings: The Battle For Middle-Earth
|The Lord of the Rings: The Battle For Middle-Earth|
|Developers||EA Los Angeles|
|Release dates||December 6, 2004|
The Lord of the Rings: The Battle For Middle-Earth was an extremely anticipated real-time strategy game. Being launched so close to the films release The Battle for Middle-Earth was heavily influenced by Peter Jacksons trilogy; it took the film's storyline over the books, as well as visual interpretations. Upon release it received very good reception from critics, considering it was a movie tie-in - nabbing mainly 8/10 scores. It was criticized for not being as deep as the Command and Conquer games, or other RTSs, but praised for great visuals and the fantastic musical score featured in the film trilogy.
Although not revolutionary, The Battle For Middle Earth featured some interesting ideas that built upon classic RTS systems. As is standard the player starts with a 'base', walled if you play as good faction and completely undefended as an evil side. You build up structures, via a number of building foundations dotted in fixed points around the base. Most are the usual to be expected, a barracks, archery range, etc, as well as resource and upgrade types. Players are expected to expand across the map, where there are expansion points primarily used for resource structures - leaving them to an opponent leaves you at a heavy disadvantage.
Units come in battalions, of five to fifteen depending on the type and faction. Combat between troops is a rock-paper-scissors affair, swords beat pikes, pikes beat horses, which in turn are felled by archers. There are of course some exceptions, like a troll unit, who is effective against swords and archers, but for the most part following this simple countering rule is the most cost effective method. Units do vary in their abilities as you would expect, Orcs are weak cannon fodder for harassing economy and bulking numbers, while elven warriors are highly elite all round units.
Heroes add another level to play, every faction has their share, from Gandalf to Gollum they all vary in special abilities with unique styles of play. These hero units are great fun to use, watching Gandalf fell the Balrog in a great magical blast of lightning, or Boromir lead a company of Gondor soldiers into a mass of Orcs, is extremely satisfying. Not only this, but without using heroes you will inevitably lose, early on they may not be that great in terms of value, but when a few levels are under their belts they will leave endless orc carcasses behind them without even breaking a sweat. This often turns heated matches into a race to gain levels in any way possible while keeping control over the map. An example would be Aragorn, my opponent sees him at a fairly unthreatening level 9, and decides to attack in full force, the fool. My army is being forced into a far corner of the fort, my farms and barracks are being razed to the ground, and all hope seems lost, but then Aragorn downs a mountain troll - just enough to trigger the next level, bang the army of the dead is summoned and turns the tide! As frustrating as this might be to my opposition, having victory so swiftly taken from him, it makes for long games that somewhat revolved around the recharging of a heroes ability. There are other special powers, too. As the player kills enemy's and damages structures you gain points, which give you access to a tree of spells specific to your faction. To gain access to the second power, you must obtain the first, and this continues to create a chain reaction of increasingly stronger spells. These range from summoning a group of elven archers, to covering the land in darkness to 'buff' your Orcs. Each spell has it's own cool down, which is constantly ticking down for the next use. Like hero abilities these come in very handy, but also remove some element of skill from the game and can often end an equal battle in one fell sweep. They are far more powerful than the hero abilities, and dot just offer a tactical advantage but can often obliterate an opponents base - once you see the Balrog fly over your walls it is clearly the end.
Campaign levels are enjoyable, for the most part, and see you switching between controlling an army (most of it) and leading a few select heroes through a linear mission, I.e. The Fellowship through The Mines of Moria. The better missions tend to be straight from the film, such as Helms Deep and Minas Tirith, while others just tend to be comp stomp affairs, quite similar to playing a skirmish against the computer. The better missions however are quite well structured, with objectives and scripted points to the mission, like when your holding out in Helms Deep you have to last a certain number of minutes until Gandalf arrives. So for the most part the campaign is very good, except when the developers are lazy and just paste in a skirmish situation. On top of it's quality the is is a long affair, spanning all three films with two sides to play, good and evil.
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