LotR: Battle for Middle Earth is a great real time strategy game allowing the player to relive many of the exciting battles from the Lord of the Rings, including the epic standoffs at Helm's Deep, Minas Tirith, and the Black Gate.
I honestly thought I was a bit tapped out on the whole LotR scene, after years now of the
barrage of elves and hobbits and Elijah Wood everywhere you look, but playing this game I
couldn't help but get swept back into the story, vicariously reliving some of the most
exciting battles from TTT and ROTK. I found myself playing for hours on end leading the
horsebacked men of Rohan against Saruman's forces, or the knights of Gondor against the
orcs of Mordor and the evil men of Harad. In addition to endless supplies of orcs, there
are huge trolls, giant Mumak elephants, and ringwraiths on the side of evil. On the side
of good, Gandalf has amazing wizard powers at his disposal, and Legolas and Aragorn are
fantastic fighters. Towards the end I found myself leading an unstoppable army of archers
shooting flaming arrows, that, while a bit slow on foot, proved to be a formidable match
for almost any enemy.
The graphics and gameplay are excellent. The game is built on top of the Command &
Conquer engine. I very much enjoyed the individual soldiers' reactions to events on the
battle field, especially the cheering whenever victory--even if temporary--was at hand.
While the units, structures and upgrades prove to be a bit simplistic towards the end of
the game, it is kind of nice spending more time on mastering a smaller set of tools than
remaining completely overwhelmed by a complex web of dependencies, like in some games I've
played (Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds comes to mind).
What proved to be a huge plus was having the voices and physical likenesses of many of the
major actors from the Jackson movies, including most notably Ian McKellen as Gandalf, who
narrates the whole time, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, Orlando Bloom as Legolas, and so on.
Beforehand I hadn't really thought of this as that important, after all, we'd all read the
stories before Peter Jackson came along, but this ended up making the game seem that much
more real and immersive. Compare this to some other games where they get some guy that
almost sounds like the guy from the movie (again, Galactic Battlegrounds comes to
mind, with a lame Ewan McGregor wannabe playing Obi Wan), which makes them seem totally
cheesy. At the end of a long battle, there's something very satisfying about hearing
Gandalf, err, Ian McKellen speak, "Hope remains".
The music is great, much of it is straight from the movie soundtrack, and some of it is
original. I finally realized that most of the LotR soundtrack is actually really, really
good--there are just a few songs I can't stand (especially that one that reminds me of the
Imperial March). The background music fits so perfectly it remains completely
unobtrusive, so much that I found myself not even aware of it most of the time until a
climatic moment would occur--like when the enemy's destruction is at hand--and suddenly
the music would swell, the soldiers would cheer, and my victory would seem that much
sweeter. Very nicely done.
It could be that a person can only take so much elf and hobbit in his or her lifetime.
And while many of us have loved seeing our favorite tale, The Lord of the Rings,
displayed so magnificently on the screen, a part of us is saddened that this wonderful
thing we love has suddenly become a capitalistic juggernaut. But still we run out and buy
the latest LotR game and--sometimes--enjoy every minute of it. This is one such game.