Review by Ramza FFT

Reviewed: 03/27/06

The Battle Rages On

The Battle for Middle Earth II is the follow up to the highly entertaining Battle for Middle Earth. BFME2 takes the series in a new direction with a new story, new locations, new heroes, and more. The whole of Middle Earth is once again the stage for epic real time strategy battles. The result is (almost) gaming bliss.

Story - Thankfully, BFME2 does not follow the same very well known story from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. However, it is based largely off the lore and legend of Tolkien’s writing. Instead of following the fellowship along the same predictable path, the BFME2 offers players a chance to go into new gaming territory. The center of attention takes places in the northern lands of Middle Earth. The Elven and Dwarven lands have come under siege from the forces of Mordor and a goblin hoard. Players assume the role of one of these factions and fight to save the northern lands from the evil onslaught or conquer them. The story, in a word, is simplistic. Oh wait, it’s another word too: short. With only 8 missions on the good or evil side (roughly four for each faction) the campaign is over far too quickly. Suspiciously missing from the story are the other two factions: men and Isengard. With those items being said, I believe that the storyline was largely a missed opportunity. The sky was the limit content wise, but the developers settled for less (*Sigh*). Well, I feel better having said that in the public forum.

Gameplay - What is great about the BFME2 is that it is practically two games in one; I will discuss the campaign mode first. If you have played BFME, BFME2 will be instantly playable. The same great macro RTS style is intact. BFME2 also expands upon the concepts that made the first BFME great and fixes some issues with the first, but it brings up a couple of its own. The largest change occurs the moment a game mode is started; there are no more fixed building sites. Players are free to build anything anywhere on the map they please, resources withholding of course. This means that players are more vulnerable to start off, but it helps greatly online. Players cannot mass units behind their fortified walls, and it speeds up game session times. Another noticeable change is that buildings now can be upgraded through direct resource spending. Instead of buying certain amounts of units before a building could upgrade, as was the case in BFME, players can purchase upgrades when they want to, possibly allowing them to advance in tech trees faster. A further upgrade comes in the power department. The BFME 2 has expanded the selection of powers to use for the both good and evil, and it has made the evil powers, well, more powerful (maybe it was only me who felt they were lacking in BFME). Included in the new powers are dragons, arrow volleys, the watcher, defensive garrisons, resource output upgrades, and…Tom Bombadil, among others.

Much more of the core gameplay has remained largely the same with slight tweaks, which is a good thing. Heroes can be purchased and leveled up to level 10, with a number of new ones including Elrond, Gloin, Dragoth, and Shelob, to name a few. There is also a new create-a-hero mode which allows players to build a custom hero for use in skirmish, war of the ring, and online open play modes. Units are still purchased in battalions which come bigger in this game. The units, like the heroes, can also level up to the cap of 10. Also like the heroes, a plethora of new units have been added, including but not limited to, mountain giants, spider warriors, war wagons, and Mirkwood archers. As I stated earlier, there are six playable factions (up from four in BFME) in BFME2: Dwarves, Goblins, Mordor, Men, Isengard, and Elves. Each faction offers up its own style of play with unique strategy possibilities abound. All in all the factions are quite balanced from the get go. Some minor tweaks are needed to balance some things out (the specifics aren’t worth mentioning), but no overhaul is needed. For every strategy that one player uses, there is a counter for it, and that’s the beauty of an RTS.

With all the wonderful tweaks and additions, there are some new issues in BFME2. One problem is that the buildings and walls do not have enough hit points and/or defense. Players’ buildings and walls will helplessly crumble before they even have time to react. The next issue is unit AI. The enemy AI is quite sporadic, often charging blindly at a certain target or simply going the route of the pacifist and catching up on some R and R while a battle rages around them. Ally AI is not that much better. Sometimes units will refuse to move or fight. For example, battalions seem to not engulf an enemy, meaning that the front line units are the only ones fighting until they die. Another example is that sometimes allied units will simply not engage an enemy unless told to, even if the enemy is within vision and attacking range. While the issues I brought up are annoying, they are easily fixable in a patch (*Stares at EA*).

As I referred to earlier, BFME2 has another game mode called war of the ring. This mode is mostly a watered down form of Medieval Total War. For those of you that haven’t played Medieval Total War, (which I highly recommend) war of the ring mode plays out like a 2-D board game with 3-D battles. Players can build structures, units, and heroes, which take a set number of turns, and lay siege to enemy territory to claim it as there own or defend what is rightfully theirs, all within their turn. Once their turn is down, the enemy can do likewise. When attacking or defending, the battles are played out much like a skirmish game except that the units and heroes you chose to attack with will be with you from the start, likewise with buildings if playing defense. All in all, war of the ring mode is a blast. There are a bunch of different scenarios with which to play too. War of the ring adds much needed gameplay time to a game with a short campaign.

Graphics - I don’t have much to say here other than this is the best looking RTS I have seen. If your PC can run this game decently, you will know what I mean. There are no FMVs in this game, but that is ok with me. I have seen the movies enough, plus the footage wouldn’t fit with the storyline. In the FMVs place for story narrative are still-shot drawings, which look wonderful. Oh, and one more thing, the water in this game looks amazing.

Sound - Mr. Weaving (Elrond from the LOTR movies) does a great job with his voice-overs and role of narrator for the game. Along with him, the voice acting is top notch. But there are a fair amount voice-overs, sound effects and music taken directly from BFME. In other words, there isn’t a much new audio material; this is not a bad thing though. For example, the wonderfully created soundtrack from the movies and BFME is present again, and it never becomes old. All things considered, the sound is great.

Multiplayer - The multiplayer in this game is great when it works properly. With ranked ladders, tournaments, open play modes, and war of the ring and clan support, the online aspect of BFME2 will keep gamers playing long after the single player modes are exhausted. I’ve had limited opportunity to play this game online (no doubt due to my anti-virus program being hax) but when I do, it’s quite simply a blast. A final multiplayer item that is noteworthy; create-a-hero heroes can be used online in many of the gameplay modes.

Overall - Without a doubt, BFME2 is an excellent game. It refines and expands upon the gameplay concepts of its predecessor. The short and generic, yet mostly entertaining campaign mode is made for by all other elements in the game. Overall, BFME2 deserves a 9/10.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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