RPG Index: Single player Role Playing Games

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Lord of the Rings: the Battle for Middle-Earth 2

Genre: RTS, RPG
Release Date: March 2nd, 2006
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
Score: 6/10
Similar Titles: Warcraft III, Heroes of Might and Magic

Opening screen.

From the early attempts by Melbourne House to the sketchy transitions made by EA games, the Lord of the Rings franchise has had a turbulent gaming history. I'm a little ashamed to admit how many of these titles I've actually played; despite never being able to truly enjoy the books.

The Battle for Middle-Earth 2 (BFME) is a fairly well structured attempt to port the epic feel of the films into the RTS genre. Incorporating RPG elements in a similar fashion to Warcraft III, BFME seemed like the ideal game to satisfy my appetite. Whilst I did end up playing it for a long period of time, a lot of the content seemed very dull and badly implemented. I eventually found myself merely challenging the skirmish mode repeatedly, ramping up the difficulty and increasing the opponents as I improved my skills. Although the title has plenty of different campaigns and even a War of the Ring conquest battle, they were mostly pretty boring.

Here comes the back up.

If you like RTS games and aren't averse to a little of the Ring trilogy, you're in for a treat. You begin a battle with your standard makeup; A Stronghold (Headquarters) and some builders. Barracks, Stables, and Siege works are available to build- with a few upgrade and defense structures tossed into the mix. The base creation part of the game is very similar to any other RTS. It helps to get into the game, and provides a fundamental system that doesn't fall flat on its face.

Resources buildings glean money from the area around them, and they do not stack. This means the more territory you can hold and defend, the more you can potentially earn. This is where the Battle for Middle-Earth 2 really shines. Early on in a match you have to really control the map; raiding enemy resource buildings and preventing their expansion, all the while working towards a force big enough to take on their Stronghold.

Army of ghosts will rape your shit.

There are plenty of races to choose from, and whilst some don't fit into the game fairly- you will find yourself continuing anyway. Each race brings something unique to the table, such as cheap starting infantry or exceptionally powerful siege units. Some can create lumber mills to harvest wood to exponentially increase your resource income. This brings another level of thought into fighting your war, because you have to counter the enemies advantage whilst utilizing yours to the fullest extent.

Units will fight each other in a one sided rock paper scissor conflict, until you build a huge army. It won't really take precedent in your play until a single squad of archers wipe out half of your force. If you build a mixed army and throw in some cavalry it won't be an issue. What irks me is how some expensive troops don't really do as much damage as they should when you field them, whereas a couple of cheap battalions can end up unstoppable after they gain some experience.

War of the Ring conquest map.

To summarize the only thing wrong with this title; lots of exciting features are present, but they haven't been brought to fruition fully. In other words, some aspects needed further development, to push the experience beyond a generic strategy game.

As with any game, the flaws are readily apparent and it is easy to shun and dismiss it because of them. But when you get down to the battles themselves, you can challenge yourself and get into it with a little perseverance. The enemy AI can be a real bitch to fight; after stepping up the difficulty and putting the odds in their favor it makes for some brilliant battles. However, my biggest issue is the hero system. Building an army with Aragorn, Boromir, and even Gandalf is such a wonderful concept- especially with how it is possible to level them up and turn them into titans throughout the battle. Sadly, this feature is incredibly underplayed and useless in terms of practicality. The cost of a hero unit is too expensive and usually a waste of time. Building four units of infantry would instead be far more productive and will probably win you the game at the same time.

I was bored, okay?

Broken mechanics can be very irritating when you really want to use them; I found myself making a full set of heroes, using Ringwraiths and the Witch-King and struggling to level them. Once they max out they become incredibly useful and can really devastate your opponent. Before that, they are a liability and will end up losing you the match. It is nice to play the risk game once in a while, because if it pays off you will reap havoc late game. Such a shame RTS battles are completely rush orientated, which changes a hero strategy from a gamble to stupidity.

Another slightly imbalanced but lovingly entertaining mechanic, the tiered talent system. Throughout a battle you will slowly generate points for killing enemy soldiers. This allows you to purchase abilities that can be instantly activated to turn the tide. Early on spells that heal your armies or increase their damage are common. But as you get deeper into the talent trees, you can obtain devastating attacks such as summoning a Balrog, or conjuring the army of ghosts to lay waste to everything. These abilities are really, overpowered, and it's pretty much impossible to plan against them. Some of them are unbelievably broken, and it's essentially game over if they are used effectively (the Earthquake spell can almost completely destroy an enemies Headquarters, so you can just send in a couple of units to finish it).

A fight for the ages.

Hero units may also be created. This feature is not as in depth as it should be, customizing a characters appearance is very limited. However, you can make something that is entirely yours to an extent; picking a skillset that suits your playstyle. I did make a rather vast selection of my own warriors, and they are usually quite powerful. It's inspiring to see your creation standing among Legolas, Arwen and Elrond- slaying Orcs in a true Lord of the Rings battle.

There are a plethora of maps to pick.

Buying this game at budget price is recommended, despite it being not a bad purchase; remember it's still made by EA scumbags. What you will get is an RTS making feeble punches towards breaking out of the generic bag, and succeeding at it mostly because of the Lord of the Rings franchise. However, you will not be disappointed. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, so hopefully you will too.

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