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Developer:
Electronic Arts
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PC
Release Date: March 2006

by Jason Ferguson




The Lord of the Rings video games have become a popular franchise among gamers. Among EAís Lord of the Rings-themed hits was The Battle for Middle-Earth, a PC RTS. The game was well received by gamers and critics, so it was destined for a sequel. That sequel was released in the form of The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II, in the Spring of 2006.


The story in The Battle for Middle-Earth II (BFMEII) revolves around the war between the forces of darkness and the combined might of the Dwarves and Elves. There is a good and an evil campaign to play through, each of which features several different factions. On the evil side you have Mordor, Isengard, and Goblins. On the good side you have Dwarves, Men of the West, and Elves. During your journey to the lands of Middle-Earth, youíll meet up with familiar characters, such as Aragorn, Gimli, the Nazgul, and many more! Youíll also be able to see many new characters and characters that did not appear in the films. While I enjoyed the story in the game, I was a bit disappointed to see that the two campaigns didnít really intertwine. Rather than serving as two chapters of a grander tale, each served as an independent story.


When I play an RTS, there are two things that I always pay close attention to. First of all is distinctiveness between the gameís different factions. Secondly is a good balance of power between how each faction matches up. Fortunately, Iím pleased to say that BFMEII excels in both areas. Each faction has unique structures, units, and abilities, and your playing strategy for each will have to be different. While each of the good factions tend to be similar and the evil factions tend to be similar, they still are distinct enough that no two factions will feel quite the same.


As far as the balancing goes, Iím pleased to say that BFMEII balances the game well enough that there is no ultimate faction that everyone is going to want to use in order to achieve an easy win. Each faction has advantages and disadvantages and matches up with the other factions in different ways. While the Men of the West may not be able to compete with the Goblins in speed, they can certainly beat them with defense. Youíll have to adapt your playing strategy depending on which faction you use and which faction youíre facing. Such balanced gameplay is what will keep gamers playing this for years to come.


For the most part, playing BFMEII feels like playing any other RTSÖ but in the Lord of the Rings Universe. This means the controls are pretty simple to catch on to, especially for an RTS fan. If youíve played any other RTS, youíll pretty much catch on immediately. If you have any difficulty at all, thereís a nice tutorial at the beginning of the game that will clear things up easily. The basic idea is to build up an army, consisting of units and structures, and destroy the enemy. To do so you will have to gather resources, and strategically plan each move. A mini-map makes moving units or the camera a breeze. Your army is limited by Command Points, which can be increased by building special structures. Unit selection and movement is done with the mouse, and you can easily assign a battalion into 1 of 3 different formations in order to take advantage of the bonuses associated with each. Options for each battalion make upgrading and using abilities a breeze, even in the heat of battle. Along with your basic units, like Goblin Archers, Mountain Trolls, and Giants, youíll also have a variety of heroes at your command, such as Nazgul and the Mouth of Sauron. These heroes are extremely powerful and have unique abilities. However, the game is balanced enough that you canít totally depend on your heroes to win the game for you. Additional strategy comes from the capturing of neutral structures. There are four different types of these, and each provides your army with different benefits. These points will often be highly sought after and will spark many battles.


BFMEII features some RPG-like upgrading. As your army gains kills, you will gain points that you can spend to learn new magic abilities. These abilities range from healing units to summoning a dragon to aide you in battle. Each battalion and hero gains experience and levels up through combat, and upgrades can be purchased for each individual battalion. In order to unlock some of your most powerful abilities, you will also have to level up your structures.


Aside from two different campaigns to play, BFMEII also features multiple levels of difficulty. Neither of the single-player campaigns are horribly long, but thereís enough added to keep most gamers coming back for more! There are also skirmish modes where you can play against the computer. These skirmish modes have a bit of a twist, however. Each map during a skirmish is inhabited by Gollum carrying the one ring. If you can defeat Gollum and return the Ring to your base, you unlock a special hero character. Of course, BFMEII also features online multiplayer play, which will be a major draw for RTS fans. Each of these games is highly customizable, with different maps and factions to choose from.


BFMEII features great graphics, with highly detailed environments and impressively detailed units. Locations are massive, and sometimes breathtakingly beautiful. Storming a large enemy fortification can be a bit intimidating as there are often many large structures to overcome. I never experienced any slowdown during my playtime with BFMEII, regardless of how many units on screen. This is somewhat impressive considering I played it on an older computer. The music in the game is top notch and brings the Lord of the Rings Universe to life. The tracks remind me heavily of the movie, and really made me feel as if I were experiencing the epic battles I enjoyed watching on the big screen. There are also some nice cinematics that feature some exciting events! The music was very well done and a perfect fit for the game! There is also a decent amount of high-quality voice acting, including the voice of Hugo Weaving as Elrond.


This game is also available on Xbox 360, but with the massive differences in the control scheme and interface, itís virtually a different game. Expect to see a separate review of that version in the near future on Just RPG. There has also been a recent expansion, The Rise of the Witch King. Look forward to coverage of that game very soon!


The Battle for Middle-Earth II is a solid RTS experience. With beautiful graphics and sound, balanced gameplay, and six different factions to play as, RTS fans wonít want to miss this one!


Final Grade: 88%




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