The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II Review
By Chad Montague |
There was no faulting Battle for Middle-earth for use of franchise. Out of all of the Middle-earth inspired games I've seen come out over the last few years, it captured the grandeur and epic conflict that the books and histories so eloquently detail. In this respect Battle for Middle-earth II only adds to the fun by shifting the focus to an entirely different part of the War of the Ring that fans might not even be aware of. The war in the north between the elves, dwarves, goblins, and Mordor forces out of Dol Guldur was gigantic and according to the histories held some of the biggest battles of the war. This new war sets the scene for some serious battles between the forces of good and evil in this much improved sequel.
The fight for Middle-earth is still the focus of the campaigns, but the structure has been changed pretty dramatically from the first game. Those that played the original will remember the campaign taking place over the "living-world map" of Middle-earth. It created an interesting atmosphere but dragged on by the end. EALA has moved the campaign into a more traditional structure for the sequel and it works much better this way. The exciting attack and defend missions aren't broken up with repetitive and uninteresting skirmishes.
In fact, almost all of the sixteen total campaign missions (eight each for good and evil) are well constructed and fun. Many of them provide very cool settings to play in like Rivendell, Celduin, Erebor, and The Shire and most are constructed to fit the fiction and progress the action and technology. By the end of the game there's a truckload of powers, units, and heroes at hand. The good missions really push the feeling of being cornered while the evil missions are all about attacking with superior numbers and disdain for the realms of the freemen. I know I've said it before, but it's just too much fun to run into The Shire with the goblins to not mention it again.
Preceding and following each mission is a short cutscene describing the happenings in the war, why the mission is where it is, and what the strategic value is. All of these cutscenes are a mix of art and in-game graphics with more interesting camera views. While they're relatively unimportant to gameplay, they sure can be fun to watch. Whoever put them together has a good eye for the visually dramatic and they certainly help get you excited for what's to come and feel victorious at the end.
Because the war in the north takes place simultaneously to the war in the south between the Men of the West, Mordor, and Isengard, most of the focus in the campaign is on the three new factions: the dwarves, elves, and goblins. The addition of these three new races raises the faction count to six and manages to balance out very well. Each faction brings new play styles to the game and the offer of spectacular advantages and tricky disadvantages. Players will have to contend with the dwarves slow speed and the goblin's lack of defense.
For those unfamiliar with the changes to gameplay, Battle for Middle-earth II has made some huge ones that give it an old school feel. Bases can now be built free-form instead of the set base size with a number of build plots. Now, since walls can be built and buildings placed anywhere, changes were made to what can be constructed and how resources are collected. Walls become a huge strategy for certain races (though they're usually very expensive to construct) like the dwarves. Resource buildings now continuously collect money, but have a radius around them that blocks new resource buildings from being constructed too closely together. It means that players will have to actively expand into new territory to get the money necessary for their plans. It also means those interests have to be protected, which gets more complicated the farther they are from the main base. Goblins and dwarves have a great advantage in that they can actually use their resource buildings as tunnels for traveling quickly around the map.