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the lord of the rings: the battle for middle earth-- a review


Long-time readers already know that I'm not much of a gaming fan. I don't even bother with most games, and the only ones I've played with interest have been those of the Doom/Quake series and the C&C series (and Myst too). I didn't play Doom/Quake for that long, probably until I got bored of fragging zombies with BFGs, but C&C games only got repetitive after several months.

Not that I have a lot of time to play games anyway, but over the years they have gone from entertainment to a good way to get everything off my mind for a while, along with books and movies. (Not all entertainment guarantees that--neither do all books or movies or games for that matter. :))

Enter The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth, which I talked about in September, when I found out it was going to be released. It was finally released last week (it was delayed from its original November release date) and I got it on Friday.

First I thought: "Wow". Then "D'Oh" after I was killed.

The "Wow"/"D'Oh" sequence continued for a while, until I figured out how to actually win one game. Aside from a couple of skirmishes, I've been playing the "Good" Campaign (essentially playing the story of the books--there's also the "Evil" campaign in which you control the forces of Sauron).

The game is astonishingly well done. Great interface (the first consistently good use of circular menus I've seen anywhere), well-balanced sides, excellent graphics and sound, plus you get to actually play a story that you know, with the characters you know.

The simulation of combat is great, both on foot and horseback--A high point is to use an army of Rohirrim to run over an incoming band of Orcs. :)

The resource gathering system (a weak point in many RTS games) is good as well, and it fits with the story. Sauron's and Isengard forces, for example, obtain resources by chopping down woods, while the Good guys (Gondor, Rohan) do it by farming. (Tolkien was probably the first Fantasy/SF writer to worry a lot about the ecology/technology balance, and he mostly put technology in the hand of the bad guys).

Aside from the usual armies, there are also "heroes" which are the characters of the books. Heroes have powers that activate with rank (regular soldiers only increase in ability to what they already do). Sometimes they deviate from the story, but that's not a big deal (in Moria, Gandalf can survive against the Balrog, for example). Then, at crucial times, the action is mixed with sections from the movies for what you're doing (say, the arrival of the Elves at Helm's Deep while preparing for the defense). This is getting pretty close to a a mix of RTS with action RPG.

Anyway, if you like wargames (or even Role-Playing Games), you should check this game out (if you like C&C, it's almost guaranteed that you will like this game too--there's even an option to activate a C&C-like input interface).

PS: it is sad that Electronic Arts treats its employees badly. The games these people create are excellent, and they deserve better.

Posted by diego on December 14 2004 at 5:18 PM

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