RTS titles are very few in number when it comes to console gaming, so it was great to hear that EA’s latest title, Battle for Middle Earth II, was being released on our beloved Xbox 360. Of course many then wondered whether or not the new game would be as good as its PC counterpart? How well would the games graphics, control system and interfaces do on Microsoft’s next-gen console? Well 360Monster went and found out the truth.
The game itself throws you right into the Battle for Middle Earth (I wonder where they got the games name…) where you must choose either the good guys or, as you’ve probably guessed, the bad guys. Once you’ve chosen a side you can then take them into a battle in the games impressively immersive single player mode.
You will find yourself fighting for the good guys as either Elves with their pin-point archery skills, the immovable Dwarves or the ever arrogant Humans. As for the bad guys, you can be the persistent Goblins, the backstabbing Easterlings and Orcs, or the tyrannical Uruk-Hai and Warg riders. Each side has strengths and weakness’ – for example the Goblins get the rock solid Mountain trolls which they can send in to, quite literally, trample the enemy. Also with elves you get their awesome archers, but the Elvish horseman lack the power of their Roherin brethren.
Once you’ve set off on your single player adventure you will start to realise just how good this game really is. Firstly there’s the fact that you have to actually use some brain power to play this game (God forbid), things like watching for where your opponents come from and what units they like to use all start to become second nature. Once you’ve figured all that out you can then start to create an army to counter the enemy and this again requires quite a lot of thought when facing more difficult opponents. For example if the opposing force mainly use swordsmen then the best thing to use against them is either more swordsmen or archers. Alternatively, if the enemy have a lot of horseman then your best bet is to send some pikemen to rip them apart.
Of course to make an army of Goblins, Dwarves, Orcs, Men, Elves or Uruk-Hai you will need buildings – and there are a lot of them. First and foremost there is your fortress. This is your base, your home and if it’s destroyed then you’re pretty much finished. You also need money to make more units and this is done in a number of ways depending on your army. The Elves use Mallorn Trees, the Dwarves have their mines, Goblins have holes – you get the picture.
Once you’ve got some cash in your back pocket, you can then start to think about building up your army and this can be done in a number of ways. You will need to build barracks, stables, fission pits, orc caves, treasure troves, warg pits, green pastures, heroic statues and much, much more. All of the buildings in the game have a very important part to play in battles, for example if you want to make your men truly rock-solid then you will want to upgrade them with forged blades, better armour and silverthorn arrows all of which can be purchased from forgeries or treasure troves. If you want to make squads of horseman then you will need to create stables and so on and so forth.
So, you’ve built a huge base and a rather scary army, but still something is missing and it comes in the form of a Hero. The Heros in the game have been made around the Heros from the film trilogy; you can summon Gandalf amongst others, all of which have their own special powers which can turn the tide in an instant. You can even summon the great Lord Sauron in a ‘One Ring’ mode online and lets just say if you manage to get him then your opponents might as well dig their own graves and sign their last will and testament as they are unbelievably powerful – even Galadriel, the good guys equivalent of Sauron, can take down a whole army on her own (seriously I did it yesterday).
And that’s not all. There’s still a few more things which if you neglect you will find yourself losing each and every battle you face. The biggest aspect of the game which some people forget to use are your armies powers. These will vary depending on which race you choose but on the whole the evil guys get their own set of powers and the same is said for the good guys. Your powers can be simple things like revealing shrouded areas which is of course good if you plan to attack the opponent, then they move on to more impressive powers like summoning some Ents or Spiders. Finally you get the real beasts like the Balrog, Watcher, Dragon, Wyrm, Sun Beams and finally Earthquakes. Personally I found that the Evil guys have the best powers. Which would you prefer?: The mighty Balrog obliterating everything in sight or some sunlight which would just give the other army sun burn. Then again the evil guys do sometimes seem a tad weaker compared to the Elves, Men and Dwarves so it could be EA’s way of balancing the army’s. Even so the powers in BFMEII can be your last order before the enemy is destroyed, or they can be a lifeline when you’re being ravaged by your foe.
The best thing about these countless buildings, units and heroes is the simple fact that your controller handles them unbelievably well. The one downfall with RTS’s on any console is usually developers making a hash of the control system, but with BFMEII everything seems to fall into place. The little things like making walls by simply selecting a wall hub, pressing the right trigger then placing your cursor where you want your wall to end is just so easy. Also your powers are nicely slotted away in the menu system and can be attained by again pressing your right trigger, pressing up on the d-pad and, hey presto, everything you need will be there in front of you. Selecting your army can be done in two ways: you can select everything on your screen by clicking the left trigger and then pressing A, or if you want your whole army at your command simply press the left trigger again and this time double tap A. [It does take a bit of practice to get it perfect though -Ed]
Now graphically the game is at sixes and sevens, for example I turned my HD off and the game didn’t look all that good, the various soldiers and buildings just looked like coloured blobs. The thing is as soon as you turn HD on, everything becomes crystal clear and its only then the game becomes truly breathtaking. Everything in the game looks so unique, so beautiful. The golden armour sported by the Elves, or the bright red beards of the Dwarves, the beautiful but deadly golden eagles and the ever deadly Mumakills all look sublime and it truly is amazing.
Not forgetting the maps which also look unbelievable and if you truly want to see how good this game really is then play at Minas Tirith, this map amongst others is truly breathtaking. Just looking at the great city will have you drooling and at times you will wonder if you are actually playing a game. The only problem I did find is that for four player games a lot of the maps are too small with only Rhun being able to accommodate the various army’s, but when its 2v2 or 3v3 most maps play very nicely.
You’re now probably half way out the door just bursting to buy the new game, but wait there are a few downsides to this game. The biggest being lag. The lag in this game at times can be unbearable to the point where you order your men to attack then the game will freeze and 20 seconds later it’ll come back with all your men on the floor dead. Online it isn’t actually that bad. For one example, the game puts a cap on how many men you can make depending on how many people are playing, so lag isn’t present as much as I thought it would be. It is in fact the campaign mode that suffers from the most lag, simple things like building units can become quite a chore at times.
The other flaw with the game is that some of your units can at times have a mind of their own. For example if you order 5 squads of archers to fire on an Ent, an odd squad will sometimes start firing at something completely different and it really can be quite annoying. On the whole the flaws are mere annoyances which you can simply have to live.
So now we come onto the online portion of the game and although the games single player mode is in depth and quite fun, nothing can beat a four way versus match online. Not only can you play in a versus match, but you can also face off in a King of the Hill style game (same idea as the Halo 2 equivalent). There is also resources race where you simply have to make more money than your opponent and there are a few more modes that test your strategic skill. There is also a ‘One Ring’ mode as mentioned earlier. If this is switched on then the game will place Gollum somewhere on the map and if you manage to kill him and return ‘The Ring’ back to your fortress you can then summon Sauron or Galadriel. You can also fight alongside your friends in a tag-team style battle and all in all the game is truly amazing online – battles will last for 3 hours or more and not once will you get bored playing. Not forgetting the fact that the game includes leaderboards and saves your stats so you can see just how many people you’ve killed, or how many matches you’ve won.
On the whole this game truly is immense; on the one hand you have a rather immersive single player mode where you have to use your strategic skill to overcome the enemy. Then online you must do the same, but this time against your friends in four way battles lasting for hours on end. You can summon characters from the films like Gandalf, Aragorn, Saruman and even the late, but great Sauron. It, of course, doesn’t stop there as you will have the mighty Balrog, the Watcher, Wyrms and Eagles all at your disposable. Whats more in HD the game looks truly stunning, each unit looks unique and they all stand out, it truly is remarkable when two great armies collide and watching the carnage will make your mouth water. The controller system is perfect, I never thought it would be so easy to navigate through the various menus, but EA have cracked it and I commend them. All I can say now is if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, an RTS fan or just a human being then buy Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II!
Over G Fighters
Originally Written By: Lee Matthews