The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth Review
By Chad Montague |
The Lord of the Rings has been used in video games before, but never to as great an effect before the movies began releasing. The popularity of those films drove production of games based on both the movies and the books, which were sold as separate licenses. At this point, there have been several games about the different movies from Electronic Arts, but all of them let players take the role of one of the Fellowship heroes in the game without allowing players to see the bigger picture of the struggle for Middle-earth. Vivendi released War of the Ring a little over a year ago but managed to create a title that while decent, wasn't particularly inspiring, nor did it really capture the feel of the series.
Meanwhile, Electronic Arts had their own Middle-earth strategy game in the works, one that took much from the movies, and a development team going at great length to make sure it represented the movie in terms of visual style and scale. In that sense, EALA has succeeded for the most part. The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth is stylistically consistent with Peter Jackson's movies and is presented with style and polish. While that portion of the game is excellent, the rest of it is simply decent. While it's fast and can certainly be fun, there's just something missing in the gameplay to categorize it as wondrous.
Be that as it may, I still have had an enjoyable time playing Battle for Middle-earth and I think fans of the movies will as well, even if the story isn't totally consistent.
The experience is broken up into two single player campaigns (good and evil), skirmish, and multiplayer. Play the good campaign and you can force Mordor back within their borders and give Frodo enough time to destroy the Ring of Power. Play as evil and do your best to grind the good right out of Tolkein's fantasy world. There's definitely something satisfying about thrashing the hobbits and heroes of the Fellowship.
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Both campaigns take place on the Living World Map that has been much talked about by EA. It's really a gorgeous map of Middle-earth. It shows the various territories of the land including everything from Isengard to Nurn. Each of these territories has values associated with it that make a difference to gameplay. For instance Cair Andros gives +20 command and +2 power if beaten while West Emnet gives +20 Command and +10% Resources. There is only a tiny bit of strategy about which one to take at which time and the map doesn't represent a true turn-based feature since it's really only asking for a choice of battle location. In any case each of these values will be added to your total over the course of the campaign giving you bigger resource bonuses, the option to command more people, and more power points to select special powers (which are cool and I'll get more into that in a second).
Units also carry over from mission to mission along with their upgrades and experience. It's strange because some of the missions are incredibly hard if these units aren't carried over (because of big beginning rushes), but others are insanely easy if they are. Even some of the last missions such as Nurn were incredibly easy to finish in a short amount of time thanks to fully upgraded armies that had been raised to level 8-10. Even the very last mission at the black gate was pretty darn easy with the amount of ranged units in my entourage. It's nice to be able to carry units over, but when the enemy simply runs hundreds of newborn orcs at you, it's hard to lose. Strangely enough, while units carry over, heroes do not suffer any consequences. If you don't save Boromir atop Amon Hen, he still will be available for the rest of the game. If you kill Gimli and Legolas on the same level for evil, you'll have to kill them again later. I understand you want people to use heroes, but that should wait for multiplayer. There needs to be continuity in the game for special characters in single player.
Most of the territories on the Living World are simply skirmish and multiplayer maps used to create a larger and more world inclusive experience for the campaign. They're not bad, but it can get more than a little repetitive towards the end of the game since there isn't a ton of variety to the gameplay or map design in those particular levels or even very much strategy involved, largely due to the small number of units, which is a bigger problem.