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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II Xbox 360

Published by Electronic Arts
Developed by Electronic Arts
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £49.99

The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II, an introduction.

There has been a great deal of excitement surrounding the Xbox 360 version of The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II. The excitement is not so much because of the game but more for what it could signify. RTS games have previously been seen as PC only titles. The lack of a keyboard and mouse control system has led to many simply dismissing consoles as being unable to handle such a game and previous attempts to put RTS games on consoles have had disappointing results. Of course with the Xbox 360 we have a console that's more powerful than any other console before it and games can be played in HD resolutions meaning that it's possible for the game to look every bit as good as a PC version. On top of this the developers of The Battle for Middle-Earth II have been claiming they have come up with a control system that works really well and for the first time they've made a RTS feel right at home on a console.

What's the game about?

The Battle for Middle-Earth II is  very similar to the PC version of the game that we reviewed earlier this year. The single-player Good and Evil campaigns have been included. There's also a single player skirmish mode (which features all the playable maps from the first game) and a wealth of multiplayer modes (King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, Resource Race and Hero vs. Hero) to take onto Xbox Live. When the original The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth was released for PC, EA only had the rights to base their game on the movies and not the books. Whilst this was fine to an extent it meant that there was always going to be areas of the story that could not be covered sufficiently for fans of the books. With The Battle for Middle-Earth II that obstacle has been removed as EA now have the rights to publish games based on the literary works of Tolkien and The Battle for Middle Earth II provides a more complete experience.

What's good about the game?

Whilst The Battle for Middle-Earth II is an enjoyable game the most impressive aspect of the game has to be the control system that works superbly. Never once did I find myself wishing for a keyboard and mouse. The upshot of this is that now other developers of RTS games can see that RTS games do work, and work well, on the Xbox 360 so we are bound to have more titles on the console in years to come which has to be good news. The control system is actually very intuitive. The crosshair remains in the centre of the screen and you move the camera forward, backwards and sideways with the left analogue stick. The right analogue stick is used to rotate and zoom your view (pressing it will realign your view). Units are selected and actions performed with the A button (holding the LB whilst you press A allows you to add other units to your selection). Holding the left trigger down and pressing A will select all of your onscreen units whilst holding the left trigger down and double tapping the A button will select all of your army. The right trigger expands the Palantir and by using the directional pad you can switch through various menus. B cancels actions, Y jumps to an event and X allows you to follow a selected unit. RB plus A selects all units of the same type on screen and RB  and a double tap of the A button allows you to select all units of the chose type in all of your army. You can switch through groups, heroes, builders etc. with the directional pad. Essentially you can do everything you can in the PC version and it all works wonderfully well.

Naturally with this being the Xbox 360 version you also have achievements offering points to improve your Gamerscore. There are 35 achievements in total and a grand total of 705 Gamerscore points up for grabs. Achievements include Istari Power (earning your first power for your hero) 5G, Defend Erebor (complete Good Erebor with all bonus objectives) 20G, The Hobbit and the Troll (win an online game against someone 20 places or higher than you on the leaderboard) 50G and Servant of the Secret Fire (complete good campaign without a hero dying) 80G.

What's not so good about the game?

I was disappointed to find the War of the Ring mode, that was in the PC version of the game, had not been included in the Xbox 36o version. Personally I thought it was a really enjoyable game mode , online and offline, and I actually preferred it to the included campaigns. The game still isn't as deaf gamer friendly as it could have been. It's also a little disappointing to see the frame rate drop in busy scenes.

How does it look?

The Xbox 360 version of Battle for Middle-Earth II is pretty much on a par with the PC version running at maximum detail when played on a HD display. Even when running the game on a standard TV  the game still looks impressive although, everything can look a little cluttered. The frame rate is fine most of the time but, as we mentioned earlier, during large battles it does noticeably take a dive although in fairness it doesn't cause any real problems. Load times are respectable. The presentation on the whole is pretty impressive and the HUD has been kept uncluttered thanks to the expandable menu system known as the Palantir.

How deaf gamer friendly is the game?

The PC version of The Battle for Middle-Earth II was not very deaf gamer friendly and whilst the Xbox 360 version is slightly better it's still far from being satisfactory. The main cutscenes in the game are not subtitled meaning that you’ll miss out on chunks of dialogue that carries the story forward. During the missions, objectives are shown in text and they can be recalled by pressing the Back button. Comments that your units make when you issue orders to them are not subtitled. Any important dialogue that occurs during the course of a scenario is shown in text. The tutorials are not subtitled but they do have barebones text instructions. That said the Advanced tutorial does appear to have some text dialogue subtitled, which is slightly better.

Final thoughts.

The Xbox 360 finally has its first RTS and it's an enjoyable one. The highlight of the game has to be the control system that proves once and for all that RTS games needn't be just a genre for PCs. I was disappointed to find that the War of the Ring mode has not been included in the Xbox 360 version as I'm pretty sure it would have been very popular in both single-player and Xbox Live modes. It would have also been great if the game had been subtitled. The Battle for Middle-Earth II is still a very enjoyable game and aside from the absence of the War of the Ring mode it's every bit as good as the PC version. Perhaps more importantly though EA have showed RTS games can be just as good on next generation consoles as they can be on the PC and that opens up huge possibilities for many of the RTS series that have only been on the PC to date.

Overall Game Rating: 8.0/10

Deaf Gamers Classification:

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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II represents an enjoyable first RTS on the Xbox 360. The omission of the War of the Ring mode is unfortunate but without a doubt the highlight has to be the excellent control scheme that shows that future RTS games will be absolutely fine on next generation consoles.