In the history of video games, games and movie licenses don’t go well together, unless your name is LucasArt.
To prove the point, anyone played Gods and Generals?
Buying the Lord of the Rings movie license must have cost EA a fortune and EA isn’t going to let you forget about that.
Off the bat, one notices on the box a nice shiny silver Lord of the Rings “Official Product” sticker, just to remind you that you are, in fact, buying a game that stems from the great movie trilogy Lord of the Rings.
The game comes in a whopping 4 CDs and 4.5 gigs installation requirement.
One wonders why a real-time strategy game would take up 4 CDs, but for now, it does.
The game also includes the standard game manual with controls, unit descriptions, and so on and so forth.
When you first start up the game, you can’t help but notice the clean and crisp graphics and interface.
In this game, you have the option to play the Good (Gondor/Rohan/Fellowship) Campaign or the Bad (Mordor/Sauron) Campaign, you can also take your skills online and set up theoretical battles.
The first thing that one notices when playing the game is that the graphics are quite good.
From lush elven forests to desolate Mordor landscapes, everything is well rendered and well colored.
The units themselves are nicely detailed and the animation is great, from Nazgul’s swooping down on humans to ents playing soccer with an orc, everything is smooth, and can’t help but remind you of the movie.
The sound and music are quite commendable.
Featuring the LoTR soundtrack and most of the movie’s original cast as voice actors, EA does a good job of associating the cinematic characters to the pixels and in a way, adding more life and depth, which in turn adds more enjoyment to the overall experience.
The gameplay is quite good.
First of all, Battle for Middle-Earth definitely leans more towards the single-player experience.
The only resource in the game is just resource, which is generated at a steady rate by buildings, such as the Rohan farm.
But these farms can only be built in certain designated areas.
Scattered around the map are a number of sites where you can build all your buildings, from unit producers to resource producers to miscellaneous buildings.
Holding these points is crucial to your success.
But the sites are scattered around the map, especially farm sites, which don’t come with tower sites, so defending your vast empire of farms is quite challenging.
To make the matters worse, your population limit is controlled by something called command points.
Each unit takes a certain amount of command points (Since the resource is generated and not harvested, there are no resource units) and so your army is restricted by this command point cap.
This cap encourages strategy rather than simply overwhelming your opponent with units.
Battles in the game are quite short, preventing any fine micromanagement.
This case is especially true if you are on the evil side, your orcs are quite prone to get mauled by anything and everything.
A Rohan cavalry can kill orcs in one charge.
Since your orc company is already dead as soon as combat started, you can’t really move them to the back and heal.
But the lack of micromanagement also has its upside, you actually get to enjoy watching the battle.
As I mentioned before, the animation in Battle for Middle-Earth is quite good.
From the charge of Roharims flinging Uruks around to felbeasts grabbing Gondor soldiers and dropping them, the battles in Battle for Middle-Earth feel truly epic.
Battle for Middle-Earth also features a great system of veterancy.
Some buildings become better as you train more troops from them and gain levels.
These levels increase the efficiency of the building and sometimes even unlock new upgrades and units.
Units, not just heroes can also gain experience.
As units level up, they gain hit points and damage, hero units also gain special abilities.
The units also keep any upgrades you bestow upon them so it is in your best interest to keep your veterans rather than just churn out a batch of new recruits.
The campaign is quite fun.
It is basically a narration of the events of the War of the Ring.
Interestingly, while you do have to go through the campaign in chronological order (Challenging Sauron at the beginning of the campaign and taking the ring for yourself will have to wait another day), the result of the campaign is flexible to some degree.
For example, I managed to save Boromir from the UrukHai, but the rest of the campaign was still the same.
The campaign is not so deep as to give you branches for each action you take, but it does confer to you bonuses for your actions, and it’s nice to imagine that you have changed the fate of Middle Earth.
Another interesting feature is the ability to take veteran troops to the next mission, in fact, you get to keep the army you used in the last scene.
On a side note, you can even rename those armies, which adds a bit of attachment to your army.
Most scenarios start you off with a whole veteran army and pit you against an equally veteran army.
So if you lost all your elite units at the end of the last scenario, you might want to start over again as your little orc whelpling’s might not fare very well against the cream of Gondor.
EA did a very good job to create a sense of immersion, involvement, and continuity.
While this is by far not the best RTS game, it is definitely one of the funniest.
Even though the AI is decent and nothing to brag about, I found myself thoroughly immersed in the world and enjoying every moment of the game, watching my horsemen ride down fleeing orcs and watching my balrog make mincemeat of enemy ranks.
It’s not a very deep game, but it is definitely a very enjoyable one.
Battle for Middle-Earth is just the right mix of serious strategy and enjoyable gameplay to whittle away that rainy day.