Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies are remembered best by many people for their medieval battles between armies. Hell, the last Hobbit focused particularly on that. Here we have a PC game based on these movies that focuses on those battles by utilizing the real-time strategy genre. And it does a good job of it, too. It’s a fun war game that remains true to the spirit of the story, and adds a nice choice you may have not been expecting.
Plot: 7 out of 10
That choice is between two different main games: the Good Campaign and Evil Campaign. The Good Campaign is what you’d expect: an adaptation of the movies. we go from the mines of Moria to the final battle in which the armies of Gondor and Rohan battle the forces of the dark lord Sauron until the Ring is destroyed, as per the movie. Mostly it stays true to the source material, the admittedly big exceptions being defending Galadriel’s country from an attack early on and the fact that you have a chance to save Boromir from being killed in Amon Hen and keep him around for the rest of the game.
The Evil Campaign focuses on the uruk-hai (and warg-riders) of Isengard and orcs (plus trolls and evil men) of Mordor. Similar to the Good Campaign, save that the bad guys win. You defeat main characters numerous times but they always seem to survive and escape to fight again. Not really hard to believe, seeing as how real battles in war have far more survivors than most would assume. The missions are mostly the as in the Good Campaign. One notable break from this is that because the heroes are defeated in Amon Hen and thus can’t break Saruman’s control of Theoden, a mission has you storming the Rohan capital.
Lest anyone think Frodo, Sam, and Gollum are forgotten, each campaign has a post-breaking of the Fellowship mission involving them. One is Sam saving Frodo when he is captured by orcs, the other is the devious Gollum killing Frodo and Sam and getting the Ring.
Graphics: 9 out of 10
For their size (it’s hard to richly detail models as small as figurines), the characters are very well-done. The landscape is nothing less than excellent, and the accurate facsimiles of what we saw in the movies bring it all together.
Sound: 8 out of 10
Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) are narrators for their respective Campaigns. McKellen is in full-on “do I really gotta voice a video game” mode, but Lee is as great as ever. This makes the Evil Campaign probably a little better. Thankfully most of the voice cast is more akin to Lee than McKellen, at least, as far as this game goes.
As for music, the soundtrack is great! Some songs are recycled from the movies, but there are some unique songs that hold their own. The Good songs have a happy and positive feel. The Evil songs are gruesome.
Gameplay: 8 out of 10
The Battle for Middle-Earth centers around you building up the army of your country and sending it into action. Of course, they don’t work for free, so you have to create Farms, Slaughterhouses, and/or Lumber Mills to make money.
There are four countries you can choose: Gondor, Rohan, Isengard, and Mordor. They have different attributes. The two good countries are centered around healing and main characters who are built like tanks, while the evil countries are built around wiping out the opposition with superior numbers (just like the movies).
Each opposing unit you kill counts towards what are known as Powers. Powers give you an edge when activated, then becoming nonfunctional for a while. Gondor and Rohan have mostly healing and unit summoning Powers. Isengard and Mordor favor Powers that make them easy money, strengthen units, and reveal unexplored areas of the map.
The countries are fairly well-balanced and fun to play as. The economy-building and unit generation also work out well. These qualities make for a solid strategy game.
Challenge: 8 out of 10
A modestly challenging and fun game improved by the amount of playtime that two Campaigns provide. The missions that represent the huge battles are significantly tougher than the others, but for pivotal moments, that’s to be expected.
Overall: 8 out of 10
Truth be known, even this may be a little harsh because of the simple fact that The Battle of Middle-Earth 2 is a great improvement. Sadly, these games sell for generally outrageous prices on Amazon and Ebay. I don’t know why. Is it because of the surprising direction they take LOTR? If you can get a decent deal, go for it!