Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth

by Wencke Schuncken
author awarded score: 85/100

Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth Review
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Electronic Arts
Format Reviewed: PC
Review by: Wencke Schuncken

Electronic Arts has golden fingers when it comes to film licenses for gaming purposes. In the beginning they started with a James Bond license and expanded it during the years. One of the best licenses bought by EA was the Lord of the Rings license. They used it to produce The Two Towers, The Return of the King and finally The Third Age. Each game was released together with the movie to reach as many gamers as possible. As all three movies and games have been released I though it was the end of the Lord of the Rings games but I was wrong. A team who also worked on Command and Conquer Red Alert 2 and Generals had the difficult task to make a real time strategy game of Lord of the Rings. The aim was to make an intense but user friendly strategy game. Did they succeed? Just read on to find out.

Real Time Strategy games are all about the choices, tactics and strategy made by the gamer. The feeling creating your own destiny by making the right choices is huge and bigger compared to shooters or several Role Playing Games. Every RTS game has a specific way of handling. Remember Shogun which was mainly a battle game? Remember Age of Mythology which required different kind of resources to build up the army to fight? No matter which RTS game you play, the gamer determines how the game will be played. That's called creating your own destiny. In Battle for Middle Earth it's all about battles and less about collecting different kind of resources. Actually only 1 resource is needed. Sounds easy, but it's not that easy. More will be explained later on this review but first take a look at the campaign mode.

For game / movie fans, the campaign mode is the best way to start your gaming adventure. The Lord of the Rings story returns and it's up to you if you want to play as the good one (Gondor, Rohan) or as the evil one (Mordor, Isengard). The good campaign is mainly based on the movie story and starts in the mines of Moria. The first level seems very simple and linear. The road to follow is steady and you cannot get lost as there's only one way to go and there are hardly any RTS elements. In the Mines of Moria you'll need to lead the fellowship safe to their level one end goal: destroy the Balrog. Between the levels a 3D Middle Earth Map will be shown and together with a small army you can visit different areas but all in all, the gamer will be pushed into one direction. All famous locations known from the movies are integrated in the game and it will put a smile on your face when you see Helms Deep, Minas Tirith and other locations. If you choose to be the evil one, you'll be on the other side and need to attack Helms Deep, defense Mordor etc. Important is the fact that the level results will be saved for future levels. This is an improvement for your armies as their experience grow during the fights and all will be saved. But this can also result in a crazy non LOTR story line. For example Aragorn could be killed during battle but can be returned in a level later on to proceed his way to Minas Tirith. But don't spoil the pleasure with this tiny fact; be glad that he can return! You're going to need him, no you need the complete fellowship as the campaigns are extensive and with 25 missions per campaign to conquer.

Battle for Middle Earth presents the real RTS elements in the Skirmish mode. Again a selection has to be made regarding which army you want to lead. I've started of with Gandalf as I really like him as a good force with lots of magic power. The number of opponents and the difficulty level must be selected before you can start your way into the battlefield. You'll start of with a basic Citadel with building structure possibilities. Not that many but enough to start gaining resources. These can be produced by building farms or slaughter houses, depending which site you have chosen to play. The gained resources can be exchanged against new buildings to develop infantry, archers and trebuchets. The buildings don't require extra training or research to up-grade. This has been made really simple and they'll improve as soon as you start producing your army, the buildings automatically upgrade. After the upgrade you have multiple options to upgrade your army with for example fire arrows or a new kind of soldiers can be produced. It's very important to keep the buildings in a good shape and to destroy the ones from the enemy. If you're playing the good one, you'll get a town centre, surrounded by walls. To avoid any attacks by the enemy it's recommended to build some arrow towers or trebuchets. Even archers can be placed on top of the walls to avoid the destruction of the enemy. The evil one doesn't have this kind of citadel. The evil "town" can only be defended by arrow towers and their evil soldiers. Move People. Get your army and start checking your world, which isn't that big to explore. The play field contains several establishments to build extra farms or a new small town which are required as there is a limit of buildings in the original citadel. But beware, on your way the enemy can show up or your army can be destroyed by evil monsters defending their cave full with resources!

Let's take a closer look at your armed forces. Most soldiers will be produced in battalions in the respectively buildings. You can combine multiple battalions into 1 army by assigning them to one group, which makes the controlling easier. Attacking and destroying of enemy soldiers increases your units experience and ranking. They will become stronger and stronger, so please try to keep them alive. Where are the hero's, you're asking? They are settled in the town centre and if you have a huge amount of resources gathered, you'll be able to buy them but they don't come cheap. Every hero has its strength and weakness and can be upgraded till level 10 to gain special abilities. As I mostly played with Gandalf and attacked many soldiers with him he gained special powers and he was able to ride his lovely white horse and could attack with special energies. Also note if you combine heroes with soldiers, the gaining of experience will increase faster. If you use special hero ability, it's only for a short term. After using a spell, it takes a while before it can be used again (regeneration). Also heroes will be visible at the bottom of the screen to get a quick overview where the hero is, when he gets attacked or in what shape he is. You want multiple heroes just like the fellowship? No worries, if you have enough resources you can buy them all!

Now you know that buildings, units and heroes can be upgraded, what about you? Are you ready to cast some spells? I'll bet you do, but before you can cast any spells to make your enemies life more difficult we need to gain power. During the game and fights your powers will be upgraded. The more power the more spells to choose from. Personally I loved to cast "the army of death" which causes a huge neon lighted army which can destroy a lot! A great visual war will take place and I love it. Actually I love all of the spells as long as the opponent doesn't use them too much. To wrap it up: use the available powers, select the correct units to attack your enemy and combine it with your own powers and perfect timing and you'll be victorious!

So you have friends who also play Battle of Middle Earth? Get connected by LAN or internet and play together! A maximum of eight gamers can battle together in one game. But you've got to start over again with your skills level. You start with level 1 again in the online / LAN games. Just conquer some battles and you're skill increases fast. Also you need to make sure that the opponents aren't the same. If you're playing with Gandalf and the opponent is also playing with him, it will be a never ending story as both have equal strengths. The online / LAN game is the same as playing the Skirmish mode, but instead trying to beat the PC you're now battling with real gamers, which I personally prefer more then playing against the PC.

The graphics, the atmosphere, the movie integration, I love it all! It's just awesome, especially when you're playing the campaign mode and start a battle a small movie will be displayed at the bottom left. Not that it distracts you; it's just another cool feature and in this way the original movie is more integrated in the game. The game is very detailed designed. If you take a look at the evil buildings, they are really frightening. Why? Because you'll see how animals are being imported in a slaughter house, the butcher is rubbing his hands (what a joy) and later on you'll see the outcome: evil soldiers. All has been made in a 3 dimensional way and for a better view you can zoom in and rotate. The special effects are being visualized in a splendid way. Note that these actions require a lot of your PC and if you're playing big battles, it could happen that the frame rate will decrease and the game starts to stutter, but it's only for a short amount of time.

End Conclusion: the controlling of the game is very easy and intuitive even if you didn't take the time to check out the battle tutorials. It's learning by doing. The up-grade possibilities of buildings, units are visualized clearly and by clicking on some buttons you'll experience the outcome. The game sound is very cinematic of course and excellent chosen from the LOTR movies. It's a challenging game with lots of possibilities for RTS fans although they will agree that the battle map is quite small. But it's a game to play over and over again and keeps you occupied for hours. Play online with real people and experience other players' strategies to increase your skills and victory is yours!