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The Battle for Middle-earth II-The Rise of the Witch-King
(hx) 03:53 PM EST - Feb,17 2007

The Lord of the Rings - The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-King is an expansion pack to their J.R.R. Tolkien based fantasy RTS game (it seems to be one of the longest ever official titles for a game). As the title suggests, The Rise of the Witch-king, allows players to explore the evil side of Middle-earth. The centerpiece of The Rise of the Witch-king is the new Angmar faction. This is a creative interpretation of the country to the northeast of the Shire created by the Witch-king some 2,000 years before Frodo's adventure. Angmar's purpose was the destruction of Arnor, the great kingdom of the DunÚdain, Aragorn's people.

The game's single-player campaign, which runs around eight missions, begins about 1000 years after the Battle of the Last-Alliance and spans about 500 years. During that time period, the Witch-king gathered a massive army and destroyed one of the greatest kingdoms of Men, the kingdom of Arnor and ancestors of Aragorn. In the missions, you will be responsible for build up the Witch-king's army and carrying out the systematic destruction of Arnor. You will be taken to locations that were never before visualized by the films such as Carn Dum and the Barrow Downs. It's a remarkably different perspective on the events of The Lord of The Rings and will be appreciated by both Tolkien fanatics and those whose sole exposure to Middle-earth was through the Peter Jackson movies.

The campaign, at least on normal difficulty, can be quite hard in places, and you might be surprised to find yourself repeating a few of the missions. Overall, it is an adequate diversion, which will take about 5-6 hours to complete. Once the campaign is over, solo players can also enjoy a much-improved War of the Ring mode. This turn-based tactical game of territorial conquest was introduced in the original product.

The single-player skirmish mode lets you pit all the factions against each other, and you can play with up to seven other AI factions. Multiplayer, well, that's where it gets interesting.  It supports online skirmish for eight, and that's certainly where the bulk of the action will be found. As before, you can face challenging campaign missions, with modes such as Competition, Control Point, King of the Hill, and Hold Out.

Let's outline some of the new stuff:
  • Angmar faction and heroes - The game adds a new faction in Angmar with five heroes (the Witch-king, Rogash - Troll of the North, Morgomir, Karsh and Hwalder), eight base units and six summoned units, seven structures, four fortress expansions, six fortress upgrades, five wall upgrades and nine spells that are associated with Angmar. The new Angmar faction details the fall of Men after the One True Ring was originally lost. This splinter group of humans falls prey to Sauron's influence, enlisting wolves, trolls, slavers, and evil sorcerers to their cause. To its credit, this faction isn't just a reworked version of the Men of the West. They're a totally unique addition, especially in terms of gameplay. Angmar is a troll-heavy faction, so instead of horse cavalry, you get to stampede the enemy with formations of trolls. To fully experience the evil side of Middle-earth, gamers can now play as the Angmar faction in skirmish, multiplayer, and War of the Ring modes.
  • New Hero classs - The game has a new hero class - the Olog-hai. These are trolls, and EA has introduced a new variable hero cost, which essentially means that customization will cost the gamer a lot.
  • New units - Some excellent new units, including Snow Trolls that hammer through enemy ranks like legions of charging cavalry, coupled with an array of imaginative new Heroes provide plenty of variety. Other interesting units include the Thrall Master, who can summon an army type (orcs, spearmen, dire wolf riders) in an instant, making them extremely versatile. The sorcerers are interesting too, but fragile and require some close micromanagement.
  • New structures - The map has been redesigned for more accuracy including a bunch of new territories, regions (Gondor, Mordor, Rhun) that grant bonuses when all territories included are captured, heroes can move across two spaces of allied territory each turn, buildings produce resources which rules unit production, and historical scenarios with set sides and locations. Finally, units created in the real-time portion of the game carry over to the strategic map. Armies can move up to two spaces at a time across friendly territories that make the pacing much better. It's still got one or two pacing issues, like having to rebuild a base in a territory when it's re-invaded, but the War of the Ring mode is much more playable than before.
  • Upgraded "War of the Ring" Mode - Now offers upgraded army persistence, a new siege dynamic on the Living World Map, and unified territories that serve as major control points.
  • Improved Create-a-Hero system - Instead of a flat fee for custom heroes, you can create heroes with different numbers of powers. The more powers, the more expensive the hero will be in-game. A new hero type, the Troll class, has been added as well with a different power tree. Troll class grants you more creative freedom for your heroes in addition to new weapons and armor that will allow you to have even more choices in customizing your favorite heroes. More visual options are available, but not so many that players will notice a huge change. Truthfully, the new power-purchasing system should have been added with a patch, so that people with the original game could receive this fix. In any event, the new system here is much welcomed and makes player-made heroes more balanced and interesting.

Overall, for those of you who were fans of the original from a single player aspect, Rise of the Witch King doesn't really add that much more such it should grab your attention. On other side, this expansion pack increases the longevity of the original and more importantly improves on it, to make the whole experience of Tolkien's world feel even more complete. The strongest point is still multiplayer, with a huge online mapping and modding community meaning that there won't be a shortage of new battlefields to fight on and new ways of playing anytime soon. So, is it worthy of your purchase? If you are a hardcore fan then go ahead and get it :-)

related links: cheats, trainer +3, get DVD

snd: 4/5 - great voice work for the new units, no real new music that plays during the game
gfx: 4/5 - no real difference from its predecessor, surprisingly boring trolls, Arnor faction in the campaign is little more than a re-skinned Men of the West faction
playability: 4/5 - huge battles, a short campaign, new Angmar faction, new units, great improvements to Create-a-Hero system, upgraded "War of the Ring" Mode
genre: real-time strategy
platform: PC-DVD
release: November 2006
developer: EA Los Angeles
publisher: EA
Overall: 74%

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