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

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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth is a PC real-time strategy game developed by EA Los Angeles. It is based on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, in turn based on J. R. R. Tolkien's original novel. The game uses short video clips from the movies and a number of the voice actors, including the hobbits and wizards. It uses the SAGE engine from Command & Conquer: Generals and was released on December 6, 2004. The sequel, The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, was released on March 2, 2006.

Gameplay

The game retains the basic mechanics of real-time strategies. Warring factions gather resources, then use them to construct military bases and armies on-site. In Battle for Middle-Earth, buildings may only be constructed on the building slots of predefined plots. Plots range from farmhouses to full-fledged castles, with different slot arrangements and available buildings, and plots can be purchased when they're in the sole presence of a side's forces. The only resource are the nebulous "resources," which are produced inexhaustibly in dedicated buildings.

Four factions on two sides wage the War of the Ring: Representing the Free Peoples are the horse-lords of Rohan, and Gondor with its forges and battlements. The Forces of Darkness are the fighting Uruk-hai of Isengard, and Mordor's orc hordes, bolstered by Haradrim, Mûmakil and Trolls.

Keeping with the trends of contemporary RTS titles, basic units operate in groups, significant characters are represented by "hero units" as popularized by Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, and the destruction of units gathers points for the purchase of special abilities. There is also a unit limit.

Unit strengths and weaknesses form a sort of rock-paper-scissors system. Cavalry beats archers as they do not have a lot of time to fire and are than forced to close quarters fighting,Pikemen beat cavalry, swordsmen beat pikemen and archers beat swordsmen. Fire beats Ents, etc. Units gain experience and levels, becoming hardier and more dangerous. Squads replace lost members when rank 2 or higher without losing experience.

Most normal units have purchasable upgrades and may also have abilities such as changing formation, changing weapons, combining with other squad types, Ranger stealth and orc cannibalism. Heroes are unique, far more potent units (and Hobbits and Gollum) that lack upgrades but do have multiple, elaborate abilities, and can be purchased back if killed. Most hero abilities require certain experience levels. Good has the advantage in the quantity and quality of heroes; Gandalf at the peak of his strength is an anti-army device. Buildings also gain experience and may become able to build new units, research new upgrades, or bestow better passive bonuses such as a reduction in cavalry build costs.

The player's special powers are purchased from a small tree. They can be utilitary (Vision of the Palantír, reveals an area), supportive (Healing), or able to call in temporary units (Summon Eagles, Summon Balrog). They are usable indefinitely once acquired, with recharge times but no cost. Both factions on a side share the same powers, and the tree is much larger (and slower to climb) in campaign mode than it is in skirmishes. Good has some powers that boost the ability of a single hero (Power of the Istari, Andúril). Evil receives aid in resource harvesting (Industry, Fuel the Fires).

A feature used in the game is Pie menu which makes gameplay easier especially for novices.

Campaign

Good and evil have a campaign each. They take place on an animated map of western Middle-earth, where each battle represents the defense/sacking of a territory. Armies and characters move on the map, and moving the cursor over them shows snippets of the movies (whereas battle cutscenes use the game engine).

Some, mandatory missions represent important events. Between these the player must take enough nearby territories in skirmish battles, variations on the theme of building a base and killing everyone. Each territory provides a permanent increase of power points, the unit limit, and/or a multiplier for acquired resources. Units, their upgrades and purchased powers also persist between battles.

The good campaign follows the story of the Lord of the Rings movies with an emphasis of traditional, scripted missions, from Moria to Lórien, the fight at Amon Hen, the Battle of the Hornburg, the Ents' conquest of Isengard, the siege of Osgiliath, Sam's search for Frodo in Shelob's lair, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and the Black Gate.

The evil campaign begins with Isengard's betrayal and then continues with Saruman's conquest of Rohan signified by the fall of Helm's Deep and the deaths of heroes such as Théoden, Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn. It then switches to Mordor's assault on Gondor and concludes with the successful destruction of Minas Tirith and total victory for Sauron.

Reception

The critical response to Battle for Middle-Earth was fairly positive. The video-game review aggregator Game Rankings displays an average critic score of 82.5%, with about two-thirds of the reviews in the 80%s.[1] IGN praised the game for its visual flair and impressive audio, but pointed out its lack of depth in gameplay, giving out a score of 8.3 to the "decent, if not spectacular, game."[2] GameSpot, with a score of 8.4, also commented on the visuals and sound effects as well as its focus on large-scale battles that "befits the source material", however, mediocre AI and the simple gameplay relying on long battles of attrition were criticized.[3] Gamespy gave 4 stars out of 5, calling the game "a perfect example of a license enhancing the final product."[4]

Awards

Battle for Middle-earth won three notable awards: the E3 2004 Game Critics Awards award for Best Strategy Game, the 2005 GIGA Games award for Best Strategy Game, and the GameSpy award for Best of E3 2004 Editors Choice.

References

  1. The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth Reviews Game Rankings, retrieved on Jun. 7, 2008.
  2. The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth Review IGN PC, Dec. 3, 2004, retrieved on Jun. 7, 2008.
  3. The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth for PC Review Gamespot, Dec. 7, 2004, retrieved on Jun. 7, 2008.
  4. Gamespy: The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth Review Gamespy, Dec. 3, 2004, retrieved on Jun. 7, 2008.

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