There is no denying that the Battle for Middle Earth franchise has been one of the staples of contemporary RTS gaming. Being a Lord of the Rings fan and a fan of RTS’s, I have played the series on PC before. I saw this one on the shelf at Gamestop for Xbox 360 for $19.99, and had a surge of nostalgia. How would this transfer to the console from PC? For that price, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to find out.
The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II (BME2) covers the battles in the north during the War of the Ring. There are a total of sixteen campaign missions (eight each for the Good and Evil playthroughs) that take place in exciting locations like Rivendell, Celduin, Erebor, and The Shire. Before and after each mission are cutscenes explaining what is going on in the Realm, why battles are taking place where they are, and what the strategic purposes are for those battles. These are incredibly important details for full immersion in an RTS.
RTS (real-time strategy) games, for those who don’t know, are war games in which you control fleets of minions, build up bases, construct new minions as yours are killed off, and attack, attack, attack. You build up a successful fortress and amass a giant army while traversing a large map in order to strategically eliminate your enemy’s forces. BME2 checks all the RTS boxes, leaving nothing to want. I found it was incredibly easy to control different battalions and continuously regroup them for different purposes. I was used to assigning different groups to PC hotkeys, but quickly picked up on the console shortcuts. It does take a little longer for your “mouse”/camera to span from one corner of the map to the other, but that adds a layer of strategy to the game. Takes too long to create archers and have them march from your home-base to the the battle? Begin building a base a little closer to the war zone. Of course, these bases need protection, and any troops you leave behind to handle the job come directly out of your total number of forces allowed on the map at one time. This may sound like a pain to some people, but if you like RTS’s, then you understand that while it can be a hassle, it is just that much more fun. BME2 puts the focus on building up and crushing the enemy, rather than capture points and resource nodes like other RTS giants do. This makes it feel more in sync with the idea that this is a war against an evil that must be eradicated.
The cutscenes are done with in-game graphics, which are unfortunately very dated. There were a few times when I would catch some lag – mostly when I had all my forces battling a huge enemy force all at once. It wasn’t a nuisance though, and it usually cleared up after a few seconds. The story is fantastic, sticking to the LOTR books and histories, and the narration and voice acting do much to keep you enthralled.
Here’s where BME2 starts to take a turn for the worse. While the gameplay is very fun, there is no incentive to crank up the difficulty each time you play. Achievements that can be earned in the campaign can all be acquired by playing every mission on easy. Getting all the campaign achievements is a cake walk, but here’s the kicker: half of the earn-able achievements are linked to online multiplayer challenges, and the multiplayer is completely non-existent. I’m unsure if the servers have been shut down or if there just simply isn’t anyone playing this game anymore. Either way, I couldn’t connect to the EA servers at all while I was playing through this one. Being a bit of an Achievement Hound myself, this makes me just a little upset. While the campaign is incredibly fun, it is relatively short. With no reason to go back and replay it several times, this leaves the game as a whole feeling pretty devoid of content. Obviously, choices were made about the construction of the campaign based on the idea of having a large multiplayer aspect to BME2. With that aspect removed, it makes for a disappointing discounted purchase.
This is the first time that I have played such an excellent game that turned me completely off. There are so many other games out there for $19.99 that are well-rounded with high replay values. BME2 just doesn’t fit in with them, since half of the game and achievements are missing. If this had been priced at $12.99 or so, I would have thought it was worth my money. Only hardore fans of both LOTR and RTS gaming should bother picking this up as a “bargain” game – and even then I would urge you to wait and see if the price drops. I suspect that most of the cost is simply because of the name-brand title… but I digress. This is one game that should be left on the game store shelf for a while yet.
The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II for $19.99 is Not Worth It.