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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II
(hx) 07:27 PM EST - Mar,13 2006

The Battle for Middle-earth II is the sequel to EA Games' real-time strategy game based on The Lord of the Rings movies. Unlike to the first game, which mostly followed events from the movie, Battle for Middle-earth 2 takes us on a journey across the Northern realms of Middle-earth. Frodo is moving closer to Mount Doom and the massive armies of darkness begin their march towards the lands of the West. At the same time, Sauron musters a great force to vanquish the dwarves and elves.

In single-player, you can choose to play Good or Evil single-player campaigns with eight missions in each campaign - 16 missions altogether. The Good Campaign puts you in command of an alliance of Elves and Dwarves defending the northern regions of Middle-earth. If you choose Evil, you will control Sauron's vast armies of orcs, trolls, Corsairs, and Nazgul - as well as a huge horde of goblins and a host of corrupted creatures like giant spiders, drakes, and giants. Instead of defending the North, your's mission will be to conquer it. Unlike the original game, there is no dynamic campaign map in this mode instead you simply go from one mission to the next in a completely linear fashion.

There are three entirely new factions: Elves, Dwarves, and Goblins. Each new faction has a bunch of completely new units ranging from Elven cavalry to Dwarven axe throwers to Goblin Half-Troll Marauders. They also added new units to existing factions - like Corsairs and Black Riders for Mordor, Wild Men for Isengard, and Dunedain Rangers for our Men of the West faction.

More about factions: Elves are fast, stealthy, and superb in battle. Their archers are without peer. They can call on Eagles and Ents as allies and use elemental powers to summon floods, whirlwinds, and sun flares against their enemies. They are led by heroes such as Elrond, Glorfindel, Legolas, and Thranduil.  Dwarves are tough, slow, and excellent builders. They are especially good at cracking enemy bases. Their allies include the Men of Dale and their battlefield powers include the ability to generate earthquakes and call in massive catapult barrages. Their leaders are Gimli, Gloin (father of Gimli), and King Dain of Erebor. Goblins are aggressive, able to spread out and dominate territory quickly, and have excellent siege capability in the form of rock-throwing Trolls and Giants. The Goblins are allied with huge dragons, the tentacled Watcher in the Water, and other creatures that can be summoned on to the battlefield to terrible effect. Goblin heroes include the Goblin King and the flying Dragon Lord. Men of the West faction combines the Gondor and Rohan sides from the first game. They are a 'bread and butter' side with well rounded capabilities. They can build sturdy castles, field competent infantry, and call in powerful Rohirrim cavalry.  Isengard:faction feature the same powerful Uruk warriors and heroes like the original game, as well as new allies like the Wild Men of Dunland and new heroes like Sharku the Warg Rider and the treacherous Grima Wormtongue.  Mordor forces have been bolstered with versatile Corsair infantry, mounted Black Riders, a new Mouth of Sauron hero, a Shelob spider-hero, and the powerful Mouth of Sauron.

In addition to the Good and Evil campaigns and skirmish mode, there's the War of the Ring mode, which is a turn-based strategy game in the style of the classic board game "Risk". Your main job is to manage territories and move armies around the map. If you want to claim a territory that another army has already claimed, a fight is initiated, and you are given the choice to either carry out the battle in the style of the traditional game, or have the computer resolve the battle automatically. Your goal is to eliminate every opponent on the map. Of course, there is also Skirmish mode where you can just choose to enter a battle.

The gameplay itself is largely unchanged from what we saw in the original. The battles can be quite massive, with hundreds of units hacking and stabbing each other on screen. The combat is really satisfying; there's a lot of great formation support and special attacks. Naval battles are a nice addition although you do not get to play much with them. Bombard ships are overpowered if you control the seas and the enemy structures are near the shore.

My only complaint is that the walls are easy to destroy and which means walls are only necesary to keep out a small attacking force (which you archer towers should be able to handle) while your main army is away from your home base. So, despite the wall building could have been a truly strategic part of the game, it feels rather like a waste of time.

One of the most significant changes made in The Battle for Middle-earth II relates to construction and resource management. You are no longer limited in where or how you construct your cities -- like it any other real-time strategy games, you can build wherever you want. Resources are collected automatically once you build mines, Mallorn Trees, or lumber mills.

Another added feature in The Battle for Middle-earth II is the ability to create your own hero. The create-a-hero feature allows you to construct customized units that can be used in both the War of the Ring campaign as well as in the multiplayer and skirmish games. Each hero type gets 10 points they can allocate into a selection list of about 15 different powers. Available hero powers vary depending on the hero class you choose, which determines what factions the hero can fight for. In the game, once you build/purchase your hero unit at the main base, he/she starts at level one. By killing enemy units for experience, the hero will slowly unlock the abilities you designed them with.

Overall, I think The Battle for Middle-earth II is a great game. The good and The Evil campaigns are not really long, but the War Of The Ring game mode will surely add hours of fun with the game. Once you are tired of the single player part of the game, you can start playing online for countless hours of entertainment. The community base is big enough to keep you busy for a while. I'd recommend the game. Worth the time and the money.

related links: demo, trainer +3, patch v1.1, Middle-earth Vault, BFME II Filefront, BFME II Levels-4-U.

System requirements: WinXP, 1.6 GHz equivalent or higher CPU, 256MB RAM (512 MB of system RAM for online play with 3 or more players), 64 MB GeForce3-class video card, Sound card with speakers or headphones, 8x speed or faster CD-ROM drive or DVD-ROM drive (for the Collector's Edition), 6GB available hard disk space, 56.6 Kbps or better modem for 1v1 online play / Broadband connection for online play with 3 or more players

* the game only officially supports  cards with ATI (Radeon 8500 or greater) and Nvidia chipsets, and the Intel GMA 900 and GMA 950 products. The GeForce 4 MX is not supported.



snd: 4/5 - sounds of battle are top notch, wonderful soundtrack
gfx: 4/5 - pretty good, re-worked engine, impressive water effects, limited camera (camera angles are too close during the real-time combat)
playability: 5/5 - simple&fun + highly addictive, huge battles, enough content to guarantee hours - over 40 maps and War of the Ring mode, create-a-hero feature, improved Worldbuilder tool, improved multiplayer (much more balanced than it was in the first game), AI and pathfinding problems, generous load times
genre: real-time strategy
release: March 2006
developer: EA Los Angeles
publisher: Electronic Arts
Excellent
Overall: 85%


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