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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II PC DVD-ROM

Published by Electronic Arts
Developed by Electronic Arts
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £34.99

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

The movies may have come and gone but The Lord of the Rings franchise is as strong as it ever was. The reason for this of course is that the real source of its popularity is the classic trilogy of books that never cease to sell in large quantities every year. When the original The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth was released 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. This time around though, that obstacle has been overcome and The Battle for Middle Earth II should provide a more complete experience.

What’s the game about?

Like most sequels in the strategy game genre, The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II is a game that builds on what the original offered by giving you more content and more ways to play the game. The game offers a good and evil campaign, a skirmish mode and a War of the Ring mode, which is kind of a lightweight Total War game in that you move your armies about on the strategic map and whenever your army and your enemies army meet in a region a battle will ensue. Multiplayer gaming is also supported with network and Internet play both being offered.

What’s good about the game?

The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II is a much more complete game than the original. The main reason for this of course is that EA have managed to secure the rights to enable them to base their games on the books and not just the movies. As a result of this agreement the developers have been able to include content they were not able to do the first time around. You’ll also find characters such as Tom Bombadil, a key character in The Fellowship of the Ring, included in the game and very powerful he is too. Playable races now include Men, Elves, Dwarves, Isengard, Mordor and Goblins and because the developers have had access to the full literary works to base their game on, you’re going to see characters and locations in the game which would have been previously impossible to include and this helps to make the game a more complete experience.

The campaigns are OK and passable but it’s the War of the Ring mode that’s going to keep players busy more than anything else. As we mentioned earlier the War of the Ring mode is essentially a turn-based mode with real-time battles. Each turn consists of three phases. There’s the tactical planning phase where you get to build structures and armies as well as move your forces from one region to another. Secondly, there’s the battle phase where the battles take place (should opposing forces meet in a region). Finally, there’s the retreat phase where defeated forces must evacuate and the region is claimed by the victor. If the battle involved you and an allied race you’ll have to decide who claims the region. Battles can either be resolved in the usual RTS style or you can opt for an auto-resolve, which carries out the battle automatically giving you a speedy resolution. You do also have the option of retreating from battle, although you do take damage for this course of action. When played in single-player mode the War of the Ring mode can see you taking on up to five AI rivals. Online though you are limited to one against one battles. The mode has plenty of scenarios for you to tackle, which are split into War of the Ring (where you have to capture the enemy’s capital), Sole Survivor (an elimination mode), One to rule them all (a fixed number of regions need to be captured) and Stronghold (where you have to capture certain regions and hold them for three turns). Whilst the War of the Ring mode doesn’t have the complexity of the Total War games it’s still an addictive experience and I personally enjoyed the mode a lot more than the included campaigns.

What’s not so good about the game?

The biggest problems with The Battle for Middle Earth II, as far as deaf gamers are concerned is that the game isn’t as deaf gamer friendly as it could have been (more on that in a moment). The single-player campaigns are not that great to be truthful. The War of the Ring mode, whilst very enjoyable may seem a little too simplistic compared to games such as Rome Total War. The positive aspect of the mode’s simplicity though is that it’s accessible for those who don’t normally go in for the heavier nature of the turn-based strategy games, which is probably a good thing. Finally, as we’ve mentioned below, you’ll need a great PC specification to run the game in all of its visual glory.

How does it look?

3D RTS games have really come of age over the last few years. Over the last year or so we’ve had some great looking 3D RTS games and The Battle for Middle Earth II is certainly one of the best looking titles in the genre. To have the game looking its best though, you’ll need one heck of a PC. Our PC was quite a bit in excess of the minimum requirements and yet at times we were reduced to a slideshow when running the game at full detail at a screen resolution of 1280x960 (the native resolution of our TFT, 1280x1024 was not supported by the game). We had to drop down to medium settings (which don’t look that great in all honesty) to get the game running smoothly. Our PC (AMD 64 3200/1GB RAM/ATi X800XT) isn’t the most capable PC setup you can buy these days but I was surprised how it struggled with the game. The main problem seems to be that when you run the game on the higher settings more than 1GB of RAM is required. Still if you can run the game on it’s highest settings, you’ll be in for a visual feast.

How deaf gamer friendly is the game?

The Battle for Middle Earth II is not that great in its support for deaf gamers to be perfectly honest. The main cutscenes in the game are not subtitled meaning that you’ll miss out on the chunks of dialogue that carries the story forward. During the missions, objectives are shown in text (they can be recalled too). Comments that your units make when you issue orders to them are not subtitled. Any comments that key characters make during the course of a scenario are not subtitled either. Even the tutorials are not as good as they should have been for deaf gamers. The tutorial for the War of the Ring mode is subtitled completely but the other two tutorials are only partially subtitled and therefore are not as helpful as they should be.

Final thoughts.

Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II is not only a bigger game that the original but it’s also a better game. The campaigns still aren’t as enjoyable as they could have been but they are certainly good enough to hold your attention and the War of the Ring mode ensures you’ll keep coming back to the game long after the campaigns are finished with. It’s also great to see that the War of the Ring mode can be played online (albeit as a one-on-one game). Like the original Battle for Middle Earth title the game is not great for deaf gamers and whilst the game can still be enjoyed it’s a shame that deaf gamers receive a diluted experience. On the whole though if you enjoyed the first game you’ll really like what The Battle for Middle Earth II has to offer and if you have a better PC specification than ours you’ll probably be able to play the game in all of its visual glory too.

Overall Game Rating: 8.0/10

Deaf Gamers Classification:

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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II manages to be a bigger and better game than the original. The War of the Ring mode is the highlight of the game and is more enjoyable than the two campaigns which are distinctly average affairs. The game should have been fully subtitled though.