Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA LA
N Amer - 07/07/2006
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The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth II Review
Few sagas are as perfect for the real-time strategy genre as The Lord of the Rings. Large-scale battles, impeccable worlds, nearly impenetrable fortresses – these are the computer-animated beauties that entertained viewers in between its wonderful story segments. It was only a matter of time before those elements were lifted from the movie and transported to a deep, exciting strategy game. Sure enough EA followed its trilogy of console games with its first major PC effort – a strategy masterpiece by the name of Battle for Middle-earth. Its sequel improved on the now-classic formula, leading to another hit for gamers and for EA.
As a PC game, Battle for Middle-earth II uses technology that's a bit more advanced than Xbox or PlayStation 2, thus eliminating a port to either system. Thankfully the Xbox 360 is here, giving the developers a shot at reaching new potential fans. Anyone who plays it will agree: the PC version is the best, but newcomers will fall in love with the console experience.
Battle for Middle-earth II is a pure war-filled RTS. The environments are fictitious and look amazing, but the gameplay goes further than most licensed properties and should stand next to other great strategy games. The first time you send your men into battle - watch them slaughter a group of disgusting monsters, and tear down a structure – will be the initial force that drives you through this adventure. Even when you have to slowly plan an attack, or lose a couple of times because you couldn't keep up, the game never veers from its sense of exhilaration.
Battle for Middle-earth II is the opposite of other console strategy games in that it looks difficult but is actually very easy to learn. Unit selection couldn't be an easier, or any quicker. Whereas the old console ports had you dragging the D-pad or analog stick over your army (Command & Conquer comes to mind), this game lets you select a large group of soldiers just by hitting the A button. To select several groups simultaneously, hold down the right trigger and tap A a second time. From here you can send your units into battle by double-clicking on an enemy. If you order your soldiers to go past the enemy, they'll attempt to kill the monsters before continuing to your selected destination.
Numerous structures may be built and destroyed, many of which have been pulled right from the movie. Create warships to cross watery paths and engage in oceanic battles. Special powers like Earthquake allow you to demolish enemy bases, while other powers let you heal your own structures that have been damaged.
Resources are important but are not pushed as heavily as they are in PC strategy games. Command Points act as your currency, letting you build new units and other helpful pieces to aid players in this gigantic puzzle. CP is gained through fortresses and other resource-building structures. Though it's impossible to invest every cent in structures that'll lead to more CP, that's one of the elements you'll have to deal with when taking on the enemy. If you ignore CP early on and spend it all on units, there will eventually come a time when you won't have anymore. At the very least you could end up not having enough when you need it the most. Either way the game would be over.
Battle for Middle-earth II's maps/environments are unreal. They lack the next-gen polish of other 360 titles (this is a port after all), but still come out looking gorgeous. The texture detail – whether on the ground, the top of a wave, or layered all around one of the film's most outstanding structures – is the best seen in a console RTS. Each environment has been created to reflect the images of the film and/or the locations Tolkien described in his novels. There have been other great releases based on The Lord of the Rings, but none have been as eye-popping or felt as real as Battle for Middle-earth II.
You'll issue hundreds of commands throughout the journey and rarely think twice before their execution. The in-game tutorial could've used larger text (it doesn't show up well on anything smaller than a 20-inch set), but the explanations are clear. Holding the right trigger opens the Palantir, a battle window that contains the majority of your commands. When the trigger's depressed, flip through the options by pressing up or down on the D-pad. Selecting one of the available options (by tapping A) will open up another menu, and so on. It takes about five minutes to get used to this concept, and not much more practice will be needed to make selections quickly.
The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth II is a real (-time strategy) winner for Xbox 360. I love the genre, but it's not everyday that a console strategy game has long-lasting appeal. Fans will be enamored by every detail – the battles, the music, and stellar environments - while non-fans (those crazy orcs who don't like The Lord of the Rings) will still find something to love: the gameplay.
Review Scoring Details for The Lord of the Rings
PC-quality gameplay from a controller, on a console? The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth II is one of the best PC-to-console conversions. Few real-time strategy games can compare, whether they were made to played on a PC or not. The developers have done a commendable job of assigning actions to the 360 controller’s eight buttons. Battle menus are easy to access and allow for quick formations, seamless structure building, and aggressive assaults.
It’s all about the environments. You can find better-looking games on the 360, even if you go back to the system’s launch. But few titles (on any console) have applied as much attention to detail as Battle for Middle-earth II. The locales, fortresses, and the overall design of each world is nothing short of awesome.
Epic sounds (music, effects, etc.) courtesy of the movie trilogy. Crank your speakers!
You could get me a back brace? My orcs are killing me!
Battle for Middle-earth II is no pushover, but you’ll have no trouble learning the basic mechanics and gameplay controls. Very rarely is a real-time strategy game this easy to get into, especially on a console (where multiple functions must be programmed into one button).
An exclusive console port of the PC hit, Battle for Middle-earth II is an exciting and memorable strategy game with an abundance of replay value.
After conquering the solo game, go online for competitions with up to four players. Choose the map, starting loot, and other settings.
The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth II is a success not just as a great game in The Lord of the Rings series. It’s also a great RTS that strategy fans will go crazy for whether they’d like to save Middle-earth or leave the battle to someone else. Players will be kept on their toes at all times. As combat heats up, your skills will have to as well or face certain doom. The controls and easy command selection allow anyone to enter the fray, while the ferocious battles will keep skilled players at bay.
GameZone Review Detail
PC-quality gameplay from a controller, on a console?
Reviewer: Louis Bedigian
Review Date: 07/17/2006