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Real-time Strategy



Electronic Arts



EA Los Angeles



T (Teen)



December 2004



- Great way to re-enact the large scale battles of the Lord of the Rings films

- Stripped down interface allows novice players to get into it

- Good meld of the film source

- Ability to play from the bad side



- Continuity problems out the wazoo

- Didn’t actually hold my interest although it has its moments



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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth

Score: 8.2 / 10


After playing Lord of the Rings: The Battle For Middle Earth (BFME) I firmly believe that a Masters of the Universe real-time strategy should, nay, must be created. Like Tolkien’s Middle Earth Universe, the He-Man Universe is ripe for licensing and branding. At least that was my thought after putting in a few hours with BFME.


battle for middle earth review          battle for middle earth review


At it’s most basic description, BFME lets you play some of the large-scale confrontations found in the recent movie trilogy, from both good and bad sides of the story, and even a few skirmishes that were merely alluded to.


Thanks to a highly detailed game engine, the battles really do feel epic in scope. The battle at Minas Tirith is especially a highlight with an incredible number of units – big and small – slaughtering each other on a huge battlefield. Everything runs beautifully but be warned, you’ll need some good hardware to make everything flow smoothly. On the default settings on my computer the characters moved so slo-o-o-o-o-wly I could almost see the review score plummeting to 4 out of 10. After turning the details down to the lowest settings and resizing the resolution to 800x600 the game moved at an acceptable speed though some of the whiz-bang detail was lost and the animated menus turned to static backgrounds. It’s a small trade-off in the grand scheme of things because it still maintains the look and feel of the films.


Besides, are graphics the be all, end all of a strategy game? (They don’t hurt but they are appreciated.) No, it’s all about strategy.


If you’re looking to introduce a buddy to a the strategy genre, BFME is it. It’s a stripped down strategy affair making it a good intro to the genre. (I’m also playing Hearts of Iron II at the moment, which is definitely not for beginners.) All conventions are accounted for: resource collecting, the “tank” rush, base building, etc. with the occasional mission running a small squad through a tricky situation, like the Fellowship’s sprint through Moria. Base building is a little out of the ordinary, especially considering past real-time strategy games from EA. You can’t 




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just build anywhere you please or make a truly monolithic base. Instead you have a limited number of plots to start with – the number of plots is fixed but the buildings you create are up to you. On most maps you’ll find flags that brings up three more plots for you to build on. This strips out much micromanagement. Resource collecting is done the same way – build a farm and watch the resource points roll in – no peons to order about. Creating new units is also handled easily.



As BFME sticks mostly to the content of the films (even if it does take liberty with the actual events, like Gandalf taking care of that nasty Balrog no prob) the unit types are limited. On the positive side, these units can “level up” and be carried forward to the next battle. While it doesn’t totally eliminate the idea of producing cannon fodder it does make you think about strategy. Carry enough units forward through the game and some battles can almost be turned into cakewalks. (The reverse is also true – no experienced units and battles can quickly be turned to routes.) The hero units such as Aragorn and Sauroman can be levelled up to 10 and gain access to some pretty kick-ass abilities. Gandalf in particular shows much more magic ability here than in the films, but often losing a hero is no big deal. For example, if Aragorn bites it in one mission he’ll suddenly be included in the next.


battle for middle earth review          battle for middle earth review


In the transition between battles, your perspective switches to a detailed map of Middle Earth. From this vantage point you choose which province to attack/defend next. There’s really little tactical thought that needs to go into this selection, but there are considerations. Gaining control of a province imbues extra bonuses for use during proceeding battles, like +10% more damage or +10% more resources. This can affect the ease of some battles but it doesn’t feel very tactical.


There are multiplayer options available and connecting and playing aren’t a problem but it doesn’t have the same allure as playing the single-player game.


For hardcore strategy gamers Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth is a visual and aural feast but low on actual strategy since battles almost always descend into attrition. Pus, I think the inevitable actually happened – I’m burned out Lord of the Rings games. However, if you’re a moderate fan of the genre and want a game that looks good and will take 30+ hours to finish with a good challenge, BFME is tailor-made for you. And it can also be fun.


- Omni

(January 24, 2004)


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