game progresses you can choose which way to travel through middle earth. The real aim of the game is to take over as many regions as you possibly can. To take over a region you must fight hoards of orcs and the like and secure areas within each region. Once you have claimed a region you will be taken back to the map of middle earth to choose another region and the after you have claimed that region you will then have to repeat the whole process again.
As you start the campaign mode you will find a lot of the levels require you to battle your way all the way through with only one set of hero’s or units. In these levels you will not have a base where you can go to recover your team. This type of mission can lead to some very strange events like some of your hero’s ie, Aragon, Gandalf actually dieing, which certainly isn’t in the script. If one of your hero’s does die however, you will usually be forced to replay the level, but, in some cases you will find the game and the story roll on even though one of the hero’s has fallen just to reappear later on in the game. From a game play point of view this isn’t such a bad thing, but from a story point of view it is pretty disastrous.
When you actually get into the game you will start to play with the hero’s special powers. To start with the hero’s powers are not too powerful but they are still useful in the early stage of the game. As your characters gain experience each character can unlock more special abilities and powers which become even more effective. As you would expect Gandalf has some fantastic magic, but as good as the powers become you will still struggle at times during battle. This is due to the character management which can get a little tricky in the midst of huge battles. For starters you can loose sight of your hero’s. As you have to select a character to select his/her special powers this can be a problem. There are keyboard shortcuts but this doesn’t help much either, once you have clicked the special power button you will have to select an area on the battlefield to launch the power. If your character happens to be mile away from the action the special power can take ages to come as your character has to walk across the battle field to use his power in the location you selected. In other, rarer cases you will find the special attack will not launch at all as you character is so far away.
The battles in Battle for Middle Earth are the core of the game and while they can get quite hectic the actual battle scenes are very well done. They don’t project the sheer sense of scale that the movie managed to produce but still they do look very good. Surprisingly enough some of the battles in the game replicate those in the film very well, the best of which is the battle of Helm’s Deep where Gandalf and Eomer arrive to save the day with their huge army. The really great thing about the game is that you will actually play the missions which see Eomer build up his army for the huge battle at Helm’s Deep.
There are four playable armies in Battle for Middle Earth which represent the four major factions within the movies. Each faction plays a bit differently to the last; on the good side you have Rohan and Gondor. Rohan are attacking while Gondor are more defensive. One the evil side you have Mordor and Isengard, Mortors main strength is the ability to produce huge amounts of orcs and Isengard have the nasty Uruk-Hai. Each faction although different manages to feel just right in terms of power, neither of the factions is overly more powerful that the over and the look and style of each faction is also very well represented within the design of the character and the buildings they create.
Apart from the campaign mode Battle for Middle Earth also features a skirmish mode. In most RTS games it is the skirmish mode which offers the most longevity of the game and it is the same for Battle for Middle Earth. Most RTS skirmish modes tend to feature a touch more in the way of strategy and tactics than Battle for Middle Earth has to offer. The skirmish in Battle for Middle Earth will see each player build a huge army and then a massive battle of epic proportions will take place. So the victor will certainly be the player who manages their troops the best, hence winning will ultimately boil down to a battle of attrition.
Graphically Battle for Middle Earth scores very highly, everything is beautifully detailed from the map in the campaign mode to the character to the scenery. The special powers unleashed by the hero’s also look fantastic. Some of the powers are like walls of energy that will knock the enemy for six; this is represented graphically by the area being blurred. Even if you are running a fast machine you might pay for the huge attention to detail as slow down can happen at times, but it is certainly worth it as the game look absolutely beautiful.
The sound effects are also top notch as is the voice acting. Most of the narration is done by Ian McKellen which produces a very convincing setting for the game that is instantly recognisable. The music is mainly from the film which is also very handy and nice to hear, the rest of the music comes curtsey of EA and thankfully it fits very well.
Battle for Middle Earth is a huge game that will be enjoyed by fans of the films, but the real purist will not appreciate the story chops and changes. The ability to take part in either good or evil and even rewrite the story should be a great attraction to many LOTR fans. If you are not a LOTR fan you should still get some great enjoyment out of Battle for Middle Earth as it offers something for everyone, plus it is one of the best looking RTS games I have ever seen.
8.0 out of 10