More RPG-ing in Middle Earth
This review originally posted at MentalGamers – http://www.mentalgamers.com/game_reviews.php?r=6
EA were kind enough to send me out a copy of this hotly awaited title, so without further ado, here’s my review of The Lord Of The Rings: Battle For Middle Earth II.
Let me start by saying that when the original LOTR:BFME came out I went and bought myself a copy after buckling to pressure from my online buddies. Generally speaking I don’t play RTS type games because I’m no good at them – I’m an FPS kind of guy through and through. But I set out on the single player campaign and I loved it, to begin with. After a while though I was playing what felt like the same mission over and over again to get command points so I could purchase better powers. So I was keen to see what, if any, changes had been made since the original.
With BFME II, you’re not exactly getting a new game here. The developers have taken comments and suggestions about the original and worked them in, the graphics have been tweaked and made prettier, but underneath it all its not much different except for a few things which I’m about to cover. The game is still (obviously) based on The Lord Of The Rings, but now instead of just being centred on the action in the films, the whole of middle earth is included. This means we get more locations, and more importantly more races to play as, there are now six to choose from, and of course more heroes to go with those races.
Like I was saying, a lot is unchanged – The game is still based on the C&C Generals engine, and your aim is still the same. If you are unfamiliar with this style of game, basically you build your base, train units, gather resources, then go find the enemy base and bring it crashing down. The more resources you gather the more money you will have to spend on units, buildings, upgrades etc. A new feature of BFME II is that the resource gathering has changed somewhat. In the first game you built farms that would generate income for you, and with the predefined bases there was not much more to it than choosing how many you built. Now each faction has its own particular type of building for this (Mines for dwarves, strange trees for elves etc), and you have to plan where you place them as their productivity goes down when they are near others.
Going back to the graphics for a moment, they really are very pretty except for one thing – the shadows. When I installed the game it auto-detected my hardware and set itself up accordingly. In my case this meant everything was set to ultra-high. I was therefore quite disappointed when I saw the horrible blocky shadows around my units. If you’ve ever seen a poor quality Divx movie that goes all blocky in the dark bits – that’s what the shadows looked like. Whether that’s just to do with my hardware I don’t know, but I know of others who have commented on this too. On the other hand, the water looks very nice in fact pretty much everything else is beautifully done, so I can almost ignore the nasty shadows.
Speaking of water we come to one of the games new features – Naval units. You are now able to build a ship yard and churn out various water vessels to carry troops across rivers or bombard the enemy. A nice touch in my opinion as it adds a bit of variety to the game, although you won’t really see much of this feature early on in the campaigns.
One of the biggest changes made is that the old base-building system of preset “plots” for your buildings is gone in favour of a much more versatile free building system. You choose where you want your fortress and then choose where to put your outlying buildings. Of course with huge sprawling bases you need to be able to put walls around them, and that’s exactly what you can do. You build a wall node, then build your wall from there to where-ever you want it. I think one of the things that put me off the original was the lack of variety in your bases. I don’t play RTS games often but when I do I just can’t help but go out and build a big base, in fact I take pride in my base-building. It not only feels good to have a solid well thought out base but it feels right to build them that way, like you’re giving yourself the best shot you can. In BFME this was largely taken away from me as every base looked the same, just you maybe had one or two buildings swapping places from time to time, but no more – I can build to my heart’s content.
The single player campaign is slightly better than in the original in my opinion. One of the things that annoyed me before was the repetition of it all. There were “storyline” missions that had to be completed to progress but there were also “optional” ones that would get you extra command points, resources etc that would then stand you in better stead for the big storyline missions. The only problem being that these optional ones were basically the same battle over and over again, and that’s pretty much what made me give up on the game. BFME II’s SP campaign is linear, but I think that’s a good thing as it cuts out the repetition, although in this type of game every mission is sort of the same – build a base, defend it, churn out troops, destroy the enemy. But so far I’m a lot more satisfied.
What else is new then? Well here’s a big one – There’s a completely new game mode for you to try. War of the Ring mode I can only liken to a very complicated game of Risk (Come on admit it, you’ve played that old board game right?). Essentially you have a map of Middle Earth and depending on the rule set you choose you have to perform a certain goal, be it destroying your enemy’s fortress or conquering Middle Earth completely. The learning curve for this mode seems to be pretty steep (or maybe I just suck) but from what I’ve played of it it?s an immensely enjoyable addition. And for the hardcore RTS people, you can choose to resolve each conflict in real-time, although this is likely to make your game last days rather than hours. This game mode is also available in multiplayer, and luckily you are able to save progress and continue at another time.
On to multiplayer – well all I can say is I wish I had actually bothered to try it in the original, but I didn’t so I can’t really compare. All I can say is I played a skirmish 2v2 where me and a friend played as Mordor and Men of the West against two other folk as Elves and Isengard, and I absolutely loved it. I said earlier I’m not much good at these games, but with a good ally coming to my rescue when I needed it we soon overpowered them and it was an experience I will surely try again. People may disagree with me here, but I feel there are certain balance issues at the moment with the Elves being way overpowered in my opinion. They move faster than anyone else, they rain down devastating arrows constantly, and when you go to attack any of them harassing your base they run away and you can’t catch them. Hopefully this can be addressed in a patch as I’ve heard a number of people talking about it as well as observing it for myself.
My final comment is about another new feature. Build your own hero allows you to… well it does exactly what it says on the tin. Choose a race, choose a sex, choose clothes, hair etc, and finally choose attributes from a set number of available points. You can then show of your hero against other folk online. Unfortunately I have to say I am disappointed – Its just not customisable enough for me as you are limited to what I think is a very small number of features. Having seen the levels of customisation of characters available in other games like this I was hoping for more, but its still a nice touch none the less.
In conclusion: Fans of BFME are going to love BFME II as well as general RTS fans. It?s also fairly easy to get into from a new player’s perspective although expect to get hammered online for your first few battles. It?s not really my cup of tea, but I’m not going t
o mark it down for that as its still a beautiful looking slick game that despite my initial feelings, I am definitely going to play again.