LoTR: Battle for Middle Earth Review

By Socvazius

I was hovering over my desk, working on a convoluted mess of papers that would determine my future; it was the middle of my senior year in high school and I had to prepare for college. Admission applications, scholarships, and financial aid forms pretty well became my life for a couple months as I struggled to complete everything by their deadlines. And yet, despite the copious amounts of work I forced myself to endure (I’m a sadist, what can I say?), Lord of The Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth distracted me like a succulent Krispy Kreme donut would.

The Balrog would probably make me wet myself. Thrice.

When I got my hands on a copy of BFME around winter break, I got a chance to play it for about two hours before I needed to get my college prep work done during all that free time without school; my room was party central. While I kept on all that fun work, I constantly got the urge to continue playing the game to the point that I had to uninstall the game and hide the CD to control myself, and you can’t imagine how hard it is to hide things from yourself. The game’s addictive, I tells you what.

The Battle for Middle Earth lets you take command of the armies of Rohan, Gondor, Isengard, and Mordor on the battlefields of Middle Earth. While the empires of good and evil have clear similiarities, all four of the factions are completely unique: Rohan relies almost exclusively on devastating Rohirrim charges, Gondor is heavily defensive, Isengard has a number of destructive gadgets and other large units, and Mordor just has hordes upon hordes of Orc. Think about the largest number of Orc you can think of, and double that number. That many. It’s krazy.

Ancient form of aerial vehicle transport.

When you fire up the game, the first thing you notice is Barad-dur, Sauron’s tower. Starting the singleplayer campaign will bring you to a highly detailed map of all of Middle Earth, which has some very nice looking oceans and other such environments. Each region of Middle Earth – Isengard, East Rohan, Cirith Ungal, etc – is represented by an individual in-game RTS map; you gain control or keep control of a region by controlling their respective in-game maps.

If you send an army to a region, you better be prepared to fight for that land. Most of the time, the setup is a pretty straightforward build and destroy method of playing each map, where you can end up fielding hundreds of units to fight near Middle Earth-scale battles. Each company gains experience, which increases their attack and defensive capabilities by a considerable amount; high level troops can definitely hold their own in a battle. This is one aspect of the game that lets the smaller human armies stand up against the waves of evil soldiers. It also discourages haphazard use of soldiers, kamikaze missions aren’t nearly as effective, as the experience gained in a fight counts toward making each soldier better. You don’t want to just lose soldiers all the time; otherwise you’ll be at a severe disadvantage. Your troop experience is carried over to successive battles in singleplayer. This means that you can get some very experienced armies by the end of the campaign.

See that guy at the bottom with all those arrows sticking out of him? Boy did he get screwed!

While regular unit battles are very well done and experience balances things out quite well, the heroes in BFME are too weak, even Aragorn, Gandalf, and Legolas. You have to constantly pull them out of the thick of battle, desperately trying to fend off insane numbers of troops as you try to get your heroes healed. And with 7 heroes to protect, it’s quite a job to micromanage them all. I’ve had to replay a number of scenarios some 10-15 times because I made one wrong move or left my heroes in battle one second longer, quite frustrating.

Not only do units and heroes have experience, but buildings also have it, something I haven’t seen in another RTS to date. High level buildings train units more quickly and cheaper, gaining experience through…well, training units. This strongly supports the construction of small numbers of buildings rather than some 30 buildings covering half the map like in other RTS games, consequently supporting turtling rather than rapid expansion across the map.

Gorgeous Graphics and Succulent Sound

Coo coo cachoo, that’s a big ram.

All of this gameplay is controlled by an organic, yet familiar, interface. In the build that I saw last summer, I wasn’t very happy with the interface, as it didn’t have any intuitive RTS aspects. Nearly all commands were made on the actual game map, not on a separate bar; for most gamers even remotely familiar with the RTS genre, this interface would be unsettling at best. However, the final interface setup still has the feel and look of the older build, but has incorporated some of the aspects of the traditional RTS interface, making things run quite a bit more smoothly than before.

While the game’s interface is smooth, nothing in it is as smooth (and…well, funny) as an armored Troll sending whole formations of troops sailing through the air with an uprooted tree; BFME’s graphics are loin-tinglingly good. Everything from the water quality to the arrows sticking out of soldiers exudes quality. It requires a stout video card, but my 4-year-old computer with a Radeon 9800 can deal with it fine on the highest settings.

Little do these soldiers know, they’ll be crushed by Mumakil in about 5 minutes.

Okay, this game has some sweet gameplay and graphics, but the real icing on the cake is its sound. This is to be expected from a game that takes its soundtrack from a blockbuster movie’s score, but it’s nice nonetheless. All in all, it keeps the game fairly cohesive.

Overall, Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth is a solid game. There are some things that could be improved about its gameplay, but other aspects compensate. The graphics blew me away, and the sound is a treat. I would definitely recommend it to someone who’s up for some RTS’n, especially anyone that has Middle Earth mania. I mean, heck, if it kept my attention during some spectacularly fun times of college applications, it sure as hell should keep most people’s attention for a month.

Overall: 9.1/10
Gameplay: 8.6/10
Graphics: 9.8/10
Sound: 9.0/10
Interface: 8.7/10