The One Ring
Wagner and Tolkien have a lot to answer for in terms of heroic fantasy. Without Wagnerís Ring Cycle and Tolkienís world we wouldnít have a slew of warriors, elves and wizards across numerous entertainment media.
Peter Jackson kicked things up numerous notches when he made his movies of Tolkienís celebrated works, behind him EA were eagerly watching the development of the franchise and they leapt like Shelob herself upon the biggest fantasy world ever developed and marketed.
They have created several games based on the Lord of the Rings and two heavy RTS titles, both on PC. Well now itís the turn of EALA to slip the One Ring upon their finger and bring us the Xbox 360 version of Battle for Middle Earth II.Story
EA have opted to set this in Tolkienís world and not based on any of the books or movies, theyíve set several side-battles and developed areas of Middle Earth that were left to the imagination or hardly detailed. Of the two paths (good and evil) available to you on the game each gets a lavish arty introduction that melts into real-time engine graphics seamlessly and provides the background to the singleplayer side of the game.
Once again without spoiling the story Iíll simply say itís pretty good and fits in with Tolkienís mythos quite nicely.Gameplay
There are noticeable differences between the PC and the console version of this tricky but rewarding RTS. However those of you looking for a smooth ride had best beware, at the time of this review there were noticeable frame-rate issues and stuttering in the game and one can only hope EA patch this via Live.
That gripe out of the way under the hood of this title is a very competent but complex control system. On one hand you can muddle along just knowing how to move, select and control your units and generally play like this. On the other hand you can really go to town trying to learn the complex extra controls that allow you to manage your units and refine your strategy. These are controls that are designed to be more like a game of Street Fighter
than a typical RTS.
If you have time to make or print out a cheat sheet then youíll be able to access these commands with only a little bit of fiddling, otherwise the fun quickly turns into frustration as you struggle to execute a combination of triggers and buttons that allow your units to do something like this:RB+LB+A double tap - Adds all units by type from army to current selection LT+double tap A - selects entire army LB plus single press A - Adds waypoints to a waypoint path.
EALA replaced the unit lasso style from traditional RTS with things like this and modifiers, it can get confusing quickly without the previously mentioned cheat sheet and even then in the heat of battle in an online game youíre more likely to just sit back and twitch as you push the wrong combination.
I canít fault them for trying to replace the keyboard and mouse but to be honest there are reasons why we donít see many console RTS games.
The game focuses on a drab of resource management and building up the various army units, each one has strengths and weaknesses just like weíve come to expect from other RTS games. Pikemen are good against Cavalry and so on.
The game has a basic and advanced tutorial that leads you nicely into the various concepts and strategies behind the armies: how to build up a working base and defend it with a mix of towers, walls, various kinds of soldiers/archers and special unit powers.
There are land and sea battles in the game and it follows the PC version in that respect.
There are also heroes to unlock in the singleplayer game.