The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth 2: Review

I’ve probably put in a good 20 hours already and even as I type this am eager to fire it up again and wage another war.

The Good: BFME2 proves that RTS games can be played on a console with a controller. Beautiful visuals and perfect, on queue audio make the experience that much better. Ability to battle it out as good or evil and 2 full campaigns makes for a lengthy and full single player experience. 5 multiplayer modes adds to the already tremendous replay value.

The Bad: Framerate slowdowns during large scale battles are a bit of a drag. Pixellated unit shadows look gross up close. Long load times for pretty much everything.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been getting a daily dose of BFME2. It’s been a while since I was really hooked on a game as I am with this one. I find that some times up to an hour after finishing a battle, I’m still thinking about it. How I could have done things differently or how awesome it was when I flanked the opposing army and totally caught them off guard. It really leaves you feeling satisfied watching your horde celebrate as that final building crumbles after an hour long battle.

I knew BFME2 was going to stir up mixed reactions within the console gaming community, and it surely did. Those who have played RTS games on a PC, for the most part seemed content with the control scheme and overall feel of the game. While those hardcore console gamers really didn’t know what to make of it and often resorted to a frustrating rant before writing the game off entirely. I can’t say I’m surprised. The RTS genre isn’t for everyone and there is most definitely a pretty steep learning curve if you’ve never played one before. Not only do you have to learn the mechanics of the game, but the controls on top of it. And speaking of controls, as I mentioned previously, they really did a solid job of capturing the fundamentals and presenting them in a quick and organized fashion. After playing through the tutorials, you find yourself with a firm grasp and ready to command your army. And once you’ve got a few battles under your belt they will feel totally natural.

I started off by playing through the Good campaign. And I’m glad I did, as it’s definitely the easier of the 2. I’d recommend the Good campaign as a starting point for most gamers. It’s a little slower paced to start, but this gives you plenty of time to build your skills and learn the controls from back to front. During each campaign, you have Powers at your disposal. You “purchase” Powers with points you earn as you play through the game. It’s a tiered system in which you work your way down from 5 point Powers to the greatest being 20. Some of the more basic Powers in the Good campaign include Heal (self explanatory) and Elven Wood, which creates a lush forest environment within a selected area that gives +50% armour to allied units that are within it. When you get down to the bottom of the ladder, you’ll have access to the good stuff – Earthquake, Flood, Sunflare and Barrage. Barrage is definitely my favourite to unleash on enemy units. It hurls flaming boulders to the selected area and annihilates everything in it’s path. On the evil side you have Tainted Land, which is basically the equivalent to Elvin Wood. And War Chant that gives a boost to your allied units’ damage and +50% armor. The greater Powers of evil are far more devastating than that of the good. Dragon Strike, Summon Balrog and Rain of Fire are the 20 point Powers and will unleash hell on enemy units, quite literally. The BFME2 gameguide over at GameSpot has all of the Powers listed for both the good and evil campaigns.

Visually, BFME2 stands it’s ground with the PC version. It’s not until you get up close that you notice a difference. And even then, it’s really only the shadows that look sub par. Often “shaky” and pixellated. But any Xbox 360 should be used to this by now as it’s a common trait in just about every game I’ve played on the console. Even in 720p, shadows don’t look nearly as good as they could. At first, I was finding it a bit hard to distinguish my units, but this really depends on your army. The Elven units don’t look all that different, where as the Goblin Warriors and Archers are very easy to tell apart from the full zoomed out view. As are the Dwarves and Orcs.

The sound is very well done. When you select a unit, they respond with a common phrase or in the cases of the trolls and giants, will roar and it’s awesome every time! As you would expect, the music is of the epic orchestral variety that I never seem to tire of. Perfectly queued to pick up when the action does.

Gamerscore whores will be stoked with the Achievements in BFME2. While there is an Achievement for every battle in both single player campaigns, they require you to complete all of the objectives, plus bonus objectives. Not that this is very difficult, but often requires you to take a little extra time to hunt down that last Goblin cave or seize every Signal Fire. The evil campaign gets a bit tricky as there have been a few times not every bonus objective has shown up on the task list until the battle was won. So be sure to manually save part way through, just in case.

When it comes to RTS games, online is a completely different animal, and BFME2 is no exception. There’s no taking your time and constructing your army exactly how you want it. Your enemy is not going to wait for you. It’s definitely a rush from beginning to end to see who can build up their resources and construct the largest/strongest army the quickest and unleash them on their opponent. You really need to know the different unit types and what units they’re strong against. The beginning of the battle is often a guessing game as you don’t know what your opponent is up to until you meet them on the battlefield. But once you do, it’s time to start building your second wave and prepare another invasion/line of defense. I haven’t played a whole lot online at this point, but I’ve had a lot of fun with the few games I have played and will definitely be playing more.

BFME2 is not for everyone, so it’s best to give it a rent or check out the demo on the Marketplace before you buy. And if you’ve never played an RTS game before, be sure to bring your patience along, as you’ll probably need them while you get your bearings.

I’ve probably put in a good 20 hours already and even as I type this am eager to fire it up again and wage another war.

Rating: 4/5

The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth 2