Friday, August 04, 2006

VG REVIEW: The Battle for Middle Earth II

The prevailing wisdom is that strategy games for the PC — "Civilization" and "Age of Empires" being two big examples — don’t translate well to the console market. Too many menus, too much micromanaging, too much in general.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II," proves such notions are false, however, as it is able to translate the hardcore strategy experience to the Xbox 360 with nary a drop in quality.

The basic machinations of the game should be familiar to anyone who’s either played anything in this genre, or seen the films. Here you create and control vast armies and battle an equally vast and imposing enemy.

The neat trick is you can play as elves or orcs. Both battalions pretty much operate identically, a fact that lends emotional disconnect to the game. Regardless of whose side I was on, the opposing armies never felt like more than bowling pins that needed to be knocked over.

As with most games of this ilk, sharp strategy is necessary for success. You’ll need to build and maintain various structures like barracks and fortresses in addition to learning how to outflank your opponent. Special "hero" characters and experience-earned magic powers can help turn the tide of battle as well.

Of course, a game like this screams out for an online component and EA is more than happy to comply. A variety of Xbox Live game modes are available, including "Hero vs. Hero" and the old reliable variation on capture the flag.

The only real problem with the game is the map. Located in the bottom left corner of the screen, it’s too small to help you navigate the various levels, and the game never lets you pull the camera far back to figure out where you are. So the game can seem a bit disorienting at times, especially during the heat of battle.

Nevertheless, "Battle for Middle Earth II" remains a highly entertaining achievement. Tolkein (and Peter Jackson) fans will be happy weaving swaths of destruction across Middle Earth. Strategy fans will be pleased with a game that finally makes a successful leap from PC to console.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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