The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth
Here at Puteanus Towers we’re not afraid of a nice battle where we can take on the enemy with more than a couple of archers/tanks/robots. We’re also not afraid of some projections of the LOTR movies from Peter Jackson. And that’s why we looked forward for a while to LOTR: The Battle for Middle-Earth, a game where we could replay the great battles from the movies. And look, what is blinking in front of us ? A reviewcopy of this game ! Puteanus Towers goes crazy !
Normally I’m against talking about installation and stuff in a review, but I do want to tell you as first positive point that the game is on DVD and that you won’t need to play disc-jockey with 5 discs like with f.i. UT2004. People without DVD drive do need to make this small investment to be able to play this game though.
Playtime! We first have to choose between single- and multiplayer, but for this review we’ll focus towards the singleplayer campaigns. You wrote “campaigns”, mister Puteanus ? Yes, as we can play with the good guys (the fellowship as it were) aswell as the bad guys (the green men from Mordor and the venom from Isengard). Enrichment of the replayability is of course always fun, even if it’s only with a factor of two. Especially the big difference between both camps is greatly appreciated here at Puteanus Towers. When you play the “good” campaign you’ll mostly be working with archers and chivalry while the bad guys have orcs, archers and lancers (to get those horseriders down). Also the superpowers are quite different, they’re not just each others mirror image.
The campaigns exist out of different missions. These can be “normal” battles on the fields of Rohan or Gondor, but also specific missions that have to do with the storyline like dwelling in the mines of Moria and th defense of Helm’s Deep. The storyline missions on the good side are ok, but when you play with the bad guys you’ll get a twisted feeling sometimes as you don’t play against the storyline then. You’ll be able to kill the hobbits Sam and Frodo on the Cair Ardos, but although you theoretically will have the Ring in your possession then and the fight for Midlle-Earth should be over, you still continue playing as if nothing happened. Good for the game of course but for the true fan (as most workers here at Puteanus Towers are) this is stretching the story a bit.
A standard storyline mission is played with the heroes of that part of the story and often has a specific goal (f.i. defend Minas Tirith) and plays of course at the correct location on the map of Middle-Earth (a map that’s very nicely portrayed by the way) while a normal mission is nothing more than a skirmish battle on a location you can choose on the map yourself, of course if it is next to a part of territory that has been conquered by you already. Choosing for yourself is very nice as for each part of conquered ground you get some bonusses and therefore you can choose what strategy you’ll be using. If you play economically (gather lots of money) you’ll first want to take over parts that give economical bonusses. If you’re more for the overkill, you’ll conquer area’s that give commando points (which raises your maximum amount of units) and those that will work mostly with superpowers will take on parts that give these powers. This is again an aspect that breaks the linearity of this game, you choose on the map which battles you do first (except for storyline missions, those always come at specific points).
What we also found “different from other RTS games” is that the army you play with always gets taken to the next mission. This makes you play more carefull as you love having those experienced troops alongside yourself. At the start of a new, normal, mission this army will arrive on a place where you can start building your base. This building is done on specific parts of the map, you can’t put a farm f.i. anywhere you want. This may sound as a downpoint but it isn’t. It makes sure that you’ll explore the map as soon as possible, looking for new building grounds.
But of course we played this game mostly for the battles from the movie and we’ll be honest about that: this part disappoints a bit. The gameplay as such is ok, but here at Puteanus Towers we missed the “massive” element we saw from the movies and in the promo movies of the game that were released before the game hit the shelves. When at the Battle for Helm’s Deep over 100 orcs were on the screen at the same time, it was a lot. The atmosphere from the real movies is completely absent, although it’s brought to life a bit at the beginning of the missions. The same for Minas Tirith: there were at most 50 archers on the walls, together with some trebuchets and heroes like Ganalf. No… that’s not the “massive” we had in mind and something we did find in Rome: Total War. I admit, Rome’s engine was written especially for that, where LOTR:BfME has to do with the C&C:Generals engine (something that at times really shows). But don’t be scared by that: this game is really well-done, also during these storyline missions.
Of course you can play in multiplayer aswell, and what gets noticed most is that you need to log in with an EA account so you’ll first need to register yourself and then again do the same to register your copy of the game. A lot of administration but once everything’s set up you’ll almost immediately be able to choose your battle on the serverlist.
In short, this is a very good and well-made game where we mostly remember that it’s very easy (only on the most difficult setting it becomes a challenge) and addictive. Mandatory nurtury for any LOTR fan with a decent PC. RTS freaks that don’t really like all this LOTR stuff may rather want to look for a more advanced game like Rome: Total War or Perimeter.