The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth Review

We take command in Middle-earth

Review by Rob Edmondson
Published 25th January 2005

The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth

  • Developer: EA Games
  • Publisher: EA Games
  • Release Date: 10th December 2004

With the massive success of the movies it’s been quite surprising to see that relatively few Lord of the Rings games have hit the shelves. True, EA, the holders of the official movie licence have released two slash-em-ups for the last two films, and a few games have been released by other publishers based on the books, but there has been no blockbuster hit to really satisfy the armies of fans of the series. That however, is all about to change with the big budget release of Battle for Middle Earth, a strategy game, as the title suggests, set in the Middle World universe and encompassing the major battles from all three movies with a couple of extra ones thrown in for good measure.

Unless you’ve spent the last four years on your tip-toes looking over a hedge in a muddy field collecting train numbers from the daily Gargrave to Hellyfield shuttle, I’m sure you’ve got a broad idea of how the story for this one goes. Just in case you’re unzipping your anorak as you read this though, the Lord of the Rings covers the adventures of a hobbit, Frodo Baggins, in his quest to destroy a ring of power for which the Dark Lord Sauron craves. Frodo is rushing to complete this task as Sauron’s armies are swarming over Middle Earth and slowly crushing all resistance. It is the epic Battles of the resistance that this game mainly centres on, though it does include various interludes with Frodo. The game includes two campaigns; a Good and an Evil one. While the Good campaign sticks reasonably close to the actual story with only a few minor user achievable changes such as Boromir surviving, the Evil campaign dictates a story of Sauron achieving domination.

Like the Total War series, Battle for Middle Earth is split into two game parts; a Risk style turn-based mode and the actual battle mode where all the fighting takes place. Initially there is little to do in the turn-based mode and it is only later in the game that you are given any significant option over which area to attack next. Each region on completion gives bonuses to your army such as a higher resource collecting rate or an expansion to the maximum size of your army.

The battle section has been designed to be easily accessible to any newcomer of the strategy genre and is perhaps one of the user-friendliest ones out there. With some recent games dispensing with the traditional resource collecting idea completely, Battle for Middle Earth has instead got a severely watered down system in which there is only one resource for each race. In addition, structures can only be built on certain pre-determined sites discouraging over defensive gameplay. Instead of dumbing the game down though, this all encourages the player to concentrate more on the combat side, which is by far the strongest part of the game and ensures each level can be finished relatively quickly. With many strategy titles often needing hours to complete a map, this somewhat releases the pressure and is the nearest a title of this ilk will ever get to a quick-save function. The ability to control your units is also a strong point as they’ll naturally assume a formation when you use them, reducing the need for micro-management.

It’s always easier to write about a game’s problems rather than its good points which makes reviewing Battle for Middle Earths visuals nigh on impossible. I would be hard pushed to criticise any aspect of the graphics. They are so impressive that they are even used in the games cut-scenes, which from a distance, could be mistaken for the movie. For a strategy title this is somewhat of an amazing achievement. The units and locations look remarkably like their film counterparts as well, which helps to genuinely immerse you in the world. The animations of the units are also very good with cavalry charges smashing cowering enemy lines, throwing units all around and cave trolls getting more and more agitated as they suffer.

As in the film the heroes have a part to play as well. Each battle will involve at least one of them and they level up learning new abilities as the game progresses. If however one falls in battle they can usually be re-spawned at one of your bases. This unfortunately takes an element of realism away from the game but it is difficult to say what else EA could have done. Regrettably, the heroes can at times be a hindrance as they aren’t as powerful as they may have been, seeming to die all too easily. With the need for them in later levels though, you have to keep throwing them into the combat and keeping an eye on them can prove a chore.

So far not too bad, but what’s a Lord of the Rings game without the ring? To remedy this EA have included some special powers, which you can call upon to aid you in battle. The Evenstar is available for the good people of Middle Earth and the one ring is available for the dark forces. By collecting power points (available for conquering certain regions) you can purchase various abilities such as the aid of a group of elves or the power to spy on your enemy. These powers in most cases can be executed as often as you like and in a tight game can mean the difference between victory and defeat. There is a long recharge time for them between uses though.

Battle for Middle Earth sensibly borrows most of its music from the films, which provides an excellent and moving score. EA has also got most of the main actors to contribute their voices for the battles, but sadly their phrases start to repeat all too quickly.

In short Battle for Middle Earth with its ease of accessibility, will appeal to most fans of the film with the exception perhaps, of only the hardcore strategists out there. There are two massive campaigns to occupy you and skirmish and multiplayer mode after. There’s plenty of life in old Tolkien yet!

Review Score: 8.8/10

Please note, this review was scored using our old system. For more information please see our review policy.

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