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 The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-Earth II

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Number of posts : 38
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Registration date : 2006-07-28

PostSubject: The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-Earth II   17/08/06, 10:36 am



Developer: EA Los Angeles
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Systems: XBOX 360 & PC



INTRODUCTION:
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE BATTLE FOR MIDDLE-EARTH II was my first extensive experience with a Real Time Strategy game. If you are new to the genre or just generally unaware, RTS games work similarly to board games like Risk, but do so without waiting for a roll of the dice. Unlike the third person perspective THE LORD OF THE RINGS action games, this game pulls back the camera and puts the player in the entire battle. Itís a game aimed less at the button mashers and more at thinkers.

If you are unaware of the general story told in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, you probably shouldnít be on this site or playing this game. Nevertheless, this game takes place alongside the films, but with battles not directly shown. Some of your favorite characters show up and there is heavy presence of dwarves. I didnít personally see any female dwarves, but considering they are bearded, I probably wouldnít be able to tell the difference.



GAMEPLAY:
Being my first experience with an RTS, I found THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE BATTLE FOR MIDDLE-EARTH II initially difficult to control. However, after spending plenty of quality time with the game, I understand why things are where they are and appreciated the design despite some minor issues. Adapting a successful PC RTS game to a console isnít an easy task. Whittling a keyboard of 101 keys down to a controller with 10 programmable buttons must have been a stressful process. Lucky for us, having to analog sticks and a directional pad round out the control scheme.

Overall, controlling this game is initially frustrating and eventually rewarding. Because of the button limitations, each button has multiple paths of command and it will take some time before you learn where everything is. Also frustrating is the complicated process of selecting units. You can use either the Palantir to find specific units or groups of units, or you can attempt to select them with the analog sticks. Neither methods are very fulfilling, but once you realize success in this game is not entirely dependent on precision, youíll survive.

Ultimately, the gameplay comes down to building your resources, maintaining a strong defense and slamming through a strong offense. Sure, thatís pretty simplistic, but this game is just a more complicated version of the classic card game War. Varying strategies need to be applied in the single player depending on the storyline, but the only differences are what aspect you focus on first. For example, some levels require you to spend much of your time preparing defensive structures and arrangements first. Once those are finished, building an invasion army is then secondary.

The single player levels arenít short, but arenít too difficult to figure out. Correcting minor strategical gaffes are easy to repair without having to restart the level. Be prepared to invest chunks of time into each level, and expect to be satisfied with the results.
Gameplay: 7.2/10



GRAPHICS:
My expectations for the graphics of this game werenít incredibly high. I knew that this was a PC-port and that with the camera so far away, the details of the characters might not be too important. But boy was I surprised. Giving the graphics some draw distance makes playing this game somewhat like an interactive painting. You have some control over how close you can get, but donít expect to cram yourself up a Nazgulís nostril. And as one would expect from an RTS, you can put anything anywhere; destroy pretty much anything within the game.

The look of the characters and the surroundings is ripped straight from Peter Jacksonís film adaptations. Thatís one of the benefits of having a huge company like EA developing this title. Enough money is being spent to make everything exist where it should. This point is driven home quite well during the cut scenes, which match fantastically with the general game graphics and with Jacksonís vision.
The only qualm I have with the graphics and the graphics engine is the infrequent stutter caused by large armies. Once you have opened up a map wide enough and grown your army to a suitable size, you are guaranteed a certain amount of visual lag. For a game being released on the only next generation platform available, this is quite disconcerting. Is this a sign of the XBOX 360ís inability to render large armies? Not likely. Is this a sign of EAís laziness when porting there game to this platform? Also not likely. The probable cause is this new platform is still lacking some of the tools to streamline game design. Expect future incarnations to better render armies and eliminate graphical stutter. For now, these stutters are worth accepting in the midst of the overall scope of the game.

AUDIO:
Above average gameplay and good graphics are always good, but making a solid license release hinges on great sound design. This game has it in spades. The voiceover, effects, and score are lifted and adapted directly from the movies. Not only does this game sound right, the sound sells the experience. Thereís nothing quite like hearing voiceover from Christopher Lee, Ian McKellen, and Hugo Weaving to send you back to Middle-Earth. The investment of paying these actors is easily recouped within the first two minutes of gameplay.

The sound effects and score are bang on. Playing this game in 5.1 surround sound is a treat and adds a lot to the gaming experience. You can hear units far off-screen through your rear speakers, freeing you from dragging the camera to always check on their status. Quite a bonus to gameplay, something not often successfully implemented in game design.
Audio: 8.8/10

FINAL VERDICT:
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE BATTLE FOR MIDDLE-EARTH II is a worthy port for the XBOX 360 and worth several hours of your freetime. If you enjoy a challenging licensed strategy game, this will be your match. The audio and video are way above average and the gameplay isn't unbearable. My minor quibbles with framerate and slow save/load screens are easily trumped by the polish and hard work on this port.
Final Verdict: 7.7/10

STATUS OF THE MOVIE:
If you seriously reading this section, you must be living under a rock, suffering amnesia, or way too baked on pot brownies. THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy was released on succesive Christmas holidays from 2001-2003 and garnered 17 Academy Awards including Best Picture for THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING. No word on a possible prequel of THE HOBBIT.
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