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The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth II

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The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth II is the second game in the series. It has 3 new factions. Gnomes, elves and dwarves. Rohan and Gondor have been combined to form a faction called väserns people.

Gameplay

BFMEII is a real-time strategy game. Similar to The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth, the game requires that the player build a base with structures to produce units, gather resources, research upgrades, and provide defenses. Units are used to attack the enemy and defend the player's base. Players win matches by eliminating all enemy units and structures. Unlike the first game, the player can build an unlimited number of structures on the map, allowing for more freedom in base building and unit production. Players can build fortresses to defend their base. They can also construct arrow and catapult towers on building plots around a fortress to provide defensive support, and build walls adjacent to fortresses in any direction and length to provide basic protection. The game's HUD, called the Palantír, shows the player's hero units and their abilities, a mini-map, and objectives.

Units are classified into one of several classes: infantry, ranged, pikemen, cavalry, or siege. Each unit class has unique strengths and weaknesses, emphasizing the importance of properly matching up units in battle to increase their effectiveness. Hero units are unique in that only one of each can be created; they consist of characters from the novel, such as Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Saruman, Nazgûl, and Shelob, or are created via the game's Hero Creator. If the player kills Gollum, a non-player character, they are rewarded with the One Ring. The item can be used to summon one of two ring heroes, Galadriel and Sauron, depending on the player's faction. Ring heroes have extremely strong armor, making them among the game's most powerful units.

The newly introduced War of the Ring mode combines turn-based strategy elements with real-time skirmishes. Middle-earth is divided into territories; players can construct buildings to produce troops only in a claimed territory. During each turn, the player can move their armies into neutral and enemy territories to take control of them. While neutral territories are conquered by simply entering them, enemy territories must be wrested from the other player by defeating them in a skirmish. Troops can be garrisoned in conquered territories to defend against enemy attacks. When the player chooses to attack another territory, or one of their territories is being invaded by an enemy, they can either simulate the match and let the computer determine the outcome, or play the match by commanding the units in real time. The winner of the skirmish gains the territory, and all surviving units gain experience points. To win the game, players must either control the enemy's capital territory, or take over a given number of territories in Middle-earth.

BFMEII introduces three new factions with unique units and heroes: Goblins, Dwarves, and Elves. Rohan and Gondor are combined into one faction called Men of the West. Along with Mordor and Isengard from the first game, there are six playable factions. The troops of Gondor provide a solid offense and defense with standard infantry and archers, and the Rohirrim of Rohan act as elite cavalry. The Elven archers are effective at inflicting damage from a distance, and their support units, the Ents, can perform a combination of melee and siege attacks. Although slow and expensive, Dwarven infantry, pikemen, and axe-throwers are very powerful and well-armored. A collection of wild creatures and beasts of Middle-earth make up the Goblin faction, including Goblins, Trolls, spiders, and dragons, which are effective in large numbers. Isengard troops are highly-trained Uruk-hai under Saruman's command. Berserkers are used by Isengard as one-man armies that move extremely fast and deal significant damage. Additionally, Isengard is the only Evil faction that can build walls. Mordor forces are a mixture of Orcs, Men, Trolls, and Sauron's lieutenants. Similar to Goblins, Mordor Orcs have tough armor, making them useful for absorbing enemy damage while stronger units attack enemies. Trolls form the core of the Mordor forces, having strong melee attacks and the ability to throw boulders.

Release

The game was released by EA Games on March 2, 2006 for Windows and July 5, 2006 for Xbox 360. Electronic Arts released a Collector's Edition that includes a bonus DVD with supplemental high-definition media such as the full original music score; in-game cinematics and trailers; the documentary The Making of The Battle for Middle-earth II; and The Art of the Game, a gallery featuring hundreds of cinematic paintings and concept art created for the game.

It was given generally favorable reviews, receiving an aggregated score of 84% at Metacritic for its Windows version. Praise focused on its successful integration of the Lord of the Rings franchise with the real-time strategy genre, while criticism targeted the game's unbalanced multiplayer mode. BFMEII was given the Editor's Choice Award from IGN. At the end of its debut month of March 2006, BFMEII reached fourth in a list of the month's best-selling PC games, while the Collector's Edition peaked at eighth place. In the second month after the game's release, BFMEII was the 12th best-selling PC game, despite a 10% slump in overall game sales for that month.

After playing the game, PC Gamer found little fault with it, calling it a very well-balanced game overall. The magazine also was pleased that the game's "production values [were] sky-high", with which GamesRadar agreed, explaining, "It's not often you come across an RTS with production values this high; every part seems to be polished till it shines." When compared to its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth, GamePro was convinced BFMEII had improved upon the original in several fundamental ways. GameSpot believed that BFMEII offered better gameplay and a much broader scope that encompassed more of Middle-earth.

Several critics praised the game's real-time strategy elements and graphics. IGN considered the high quality of BFMEII proof that Electronic Arts was truly interested in building great real-time strategy games. Despite a few minor issues, GameZone was happy with the gameplay of BFMEII, believing that the game did a good job of enabling the player to experience the turmoil of the fantasy world. They also admired the game's conversion for the Xbox 360 version, calling it "one of the best PC-to-console conversions" and praising the developers for a "commendable job of assigning actions to the 360 controller’s eight buttons". The graphics were appreciated by ActionTrip, which found it "really hard not to drool over this game", commending the game's design and art team for doing a fabulous job on every location that appeared in the single-player campaign.

Playing within the The Lord of the Rings universe was appealing to a number of reviewers, which found that it generally increased the game's entertainment value. PC Gamer shared this sentiment, calling Lord of the Rings "arguably the best fantasy universe ever", and GameZone asked the question, "What self-respecting Tolkien fan can be without this title?" The results also pleased 1UP.com, which was convinced that fans of The Lord of the Rings could not afford to miss purchasing the game. Game Revolution complimented the game's merge with the Lord of the Rings universe, observing that the franchise's mythology and the game's frenetic battles came together in a very satisfying bundle. The integration of The Lord of the Rings into a video game satisfied Game Informer, and the magazine predicted the game would be "another winner for Electronic Arts".

Despite positive reactions, reviewers brought up several issues with the game. The British video game publication PC Gamer UK was unhappy with the game, claiming that Electronic Arts chose to release a formulaic game because it was a safer choice than taking BFMEII in another direction. PC Zone agreed with this view, claiming that although the game looked impressive, it took a by-the-numbers approach towards the real-time strategy genre in a "mindless sort of way", concluding that "in no way is it anywhere near the game we hoped for." The game's multiplayer portion disappointed GameSpy, which found it too unbalanced compared to the heroes, whom they considered to be too strong. Eurogamer considered the game to be of average quality, noting that there were no truly redeeming qualities.

Electronic Arts announced on July 27, 2006 that its EA Los Angeles studio would be releasing an expansion pack to BFMEII titled The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-king. It was slated for release during the 2006 holiday season. The game, produced by Amir Rahimi, promised players the opportunity to fight in wars that precedes the events of the Lord of the Rings novels. The Rise of the Witch-king adds a new single-player campaign, new units, a new faction, and improved features. Its story follows the Witch-king of Angmar's "ascent to power, his domination of Angmar, and eventual invasion of Arnor, Aragorn's ancestral home". The game was sent to manufacturers on November 15, 2006, and was released on November 28.

Development

Tolkien Enterprises granted the publisher of BFMEII, Electronic Arts, the rights to develop The Lord of the Games video games based on The Lord of the Rings books on July 22, 2005. This agreement was complementary to a separate arrangement made between the two companies in 2001. That agreement gave Electronic Arts the rights to build video games based on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The new deal gives Electronic Arts the opportunity to create video games with original stories tied closely with the Lord of the Rings universe. In the same announcement, Electronic Arts revealed two games that its EA Los Angeles division would be developing with the license: The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II for Windows—a sequel to The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth—and The Lord of the Rings: Tactics for the PlayStation Portable.Electronic Arts announced on November 10, 2005 that Hugo Weaving, who played Elrond in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, would reprise his role as Elrond and be the lead voiceover talent in BFMEII. During his voiceover session, he noted, “I always find voice work really fascinating because you are working on one element of your make up as an actor—focusing more intently on one part of your toolbox if you like—in a way so everything seems to go into producing that vocal effect. It really isn’t just an effect, because it actually comes from a source which is a true continuation of that character.”

Electronic Arts reported on January 13, 2006 that an Xbox 360 version of BFMEII was under development, and it was promised to feature a "unique and intuitive control scheme" developed by video game designer Louis Castle, co-founder of the real-time strategy developer Westwood Studios. Players would be able to play online via the Xbox Live service. Castle was excited to port the game to a console, stating, "Living these cinematic battles in high-definition with stunning surround sound, all from the comfort of your living room couch on the Xbox 360, is an extraordinary experience. [...] Adding the ability to battle it out with friends via Xbox Live is also really exciting."

The game's water effects received substantial upgrades because of the large role naval battles play in BFMEII. The developers endeavored to make the surface of oceans and lakes look realistic by using techniques similar to those applied in films when creating computer-generated ocean water. The digital water simulates deep ocean water by reflecting its surroundings on the surface, and wave technology was used to create large waves along coastlines to immerse the player in the game experience. Lost towns, corals, and fish were added underwater to add to the effect. Water was chosen as the first graphical component of BFMEII to take advantage of DirectX 9 programmable shaders. These additions were part of an overall Electronic Arts strategy to continue the Lord of the Rings experience that began with the trilogy film series.

As cinematic director of BFMEII, Richard Taylor was responsible for designing the game's opening and closing sequences, as well as campaign and mission introductions and endings. As the first Electronic Arts video game to be given free rein on material from The Lord of the Rings universe, several lands, characters, and creatures from the books appear visually for the first time in the game's cut scenes. Taylor considered it essential to use good graphical and audio combinations when telling a story, and he was pleased to have Weaving on the project as the primary storyteller.


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