Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth

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Developer: EALAPublisher: EA
Release Date: December 6, 2004Also On: None

The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth is one of the latest instalments in the LOTR franchise from EA games. BFME is the first real-time strategy LOTR game and it works well. Set out very much like the Command and Conquer games (not surprising, EALA is comprised of many former Westwood employees), the basic idea is to build up your own army and annihilate all enemy armies by destroying all of their structures.

For those of you who are familiar with the LOTR world, you will instantly recognize all the major characters and locations from the films. Throughout the game you are able to control practically every major character and all of the different races of people, from Mumakils to Ents, each with their own special abilities.

BFME has four separate teams to offer. Rohan, Gondor, Isengard, and Mordor. Each has their own unique units and styles of play. For example if you opt for the Rohan army, the majority of your army will be riders on horseback; this means you are going to be fighting differently to the soldiers of Gondor or the Mordor orcs. Depending on the team that you play, you can also summon a number of “Heroes� to help you out in battle. These include all the fellowship members, Rohan warriors such as Eomer and King Theodin, ring wraiths and the witch king, along with others. Each hero has a number of abilities that are either special moves, such as Gandalf’s lightening sword, or leadership bonuses making the surrounding units perform better in battle.

There are 2 main styles of play: Campaign and Skirmish. In Campaign mode, you are given a scenario with a number of objectives and bonus objectives for each battle. Complete all the main objectives to finish the level, and bonus objectives for the extra points. These scenarios are based around the films, with some missions being actual battles from the film, such as the mines of Moria and the battle of Helm’s Deep. Other battles are those which do not appear in the films, example Eomer and the Riders of Rohan defending their land from Isengard’s Uruk-hai. You get the choice to play the Campaign mode as either the good side or the evil side. Each side has approximately 20-30 missions to play through, although a lot of them are the same battles, but from the enemy’s perspective.

Skirmish mode is simply a “create your own battle� mode. You choose your army, the armies of all the AI sides and begin battle. The only objective in skirmish mode is the complete destruction of the enemies. The Online mode of this game really adds to the overall gameplay and lifespan. When playing skirmishes against the computer, you start to predict what it may do, and all the battles become very similar, with the same tactics beating the computer every time. When playing online, you are playing with and against other people across the world. This makes each battle completely different, since everyone have their own styles and tactics.

Installed with the game is a World Builder. This allows you to build your own maps. It isn’t very easy to use at first, but once you get used to it, it does become easier to create great skirmish maps. Another benefit of this is that other online gamers will have made maps as well, meaning that you don’t get bored with just the official maps that come with the game.

The graphics are good, the landscapes and battlefields are generally beautiful, with an adequate amount of detail, although some things like the trees can look a bit blocky when zoomed in on. The gameplay graphics are really quite good with great attention to detail. The characters are recognizable from the film and the enemies look terrifying. An example of the detail they have gone to is when you kill the balrog. This creature is a huge beast made entirely of molten lava and fire. When you slay him his body crashes to the ground scorching the earth. The only real problems with the graphics occur with the cut-scenes where everything looks slightly blocky.

The music is great throughout, providing you with the typical classical music associated with the LOTR franchise. It adds atmosphere to the battles and would make you feel a part of the LOTR experience. The narration between levels is done superbly by Sir Ian McKellem (Gandalf), setting the scene for the next battle. All the characters appear to be voiced by the actors that played them in the films and have a number of catchphrases that they say whenever you click on them or tell them to do something. This can get pretty annoying in a furious battle where you are switching between characters and all you hear is “the burden is heavy� and “What’s for lunch?� Overall though, LOTR: BFME is a superb real-time strategy game, which is enhanced greatly by the online play. A must-have for LOTR fans and lovers of the C&C; games.

Replay Value/Game Length:9.5