Brilliant RTS game by the makers of Dune 2 and C&C
This RTS game is based on J.R.R. Tolkien's famous books but also the excellent Peter Jackson movie trilogy. Everything about this game screams "high production values"! The gameplay, the graphics, the music and sound effects... Almost perfect. I say "almost", since I guess the perfect game does not exist and probably never will. Having said that, this is easily one of the most enjoyable games I have ever played.
Gameplay: the gameplay is excellent. This is a real time strategy game, meaning you have to build armies and conquer Middle Earth, loosely following the events as seen in the movies. Or you can choose to play the evil side, and conquer ME with the armies of Isengard and Mordor. It’s easy to learn how to play the game, also helped by an excellent non-interactive tutorial that shows you the basics. The controls are intuitive, through a combination of mouse and keyboard controls very similar to most other popular RTS games out there. In the game you will command large armies as well as “hero” characters such as Frodo and Gandalf, but issuing move and attack commands is easy, so even people new RTS games should have no problems getting into it.
I am guessing this was the idea – targeting a broad audience - since some of the game’s concepts such a resource gathering and even base building are somewhat simplified. For example, resource gathering is just a matter of building farms (or “slaughterhouses” if you play the evil side) and making sure they’re not destroyed by the enemy. Also, the aforementioned base building is done in a different way than in most other RTS games. You can only build on specific building sites on a given map, so you can’t just build anywhere, and you only have a limited number of spots to place buildings on, so you will have to make choices as to what structures you need most in a given situation.
Graphics. The game looks absolutely gorgeous. The world of Middle Earth has been translated in a beautiful 3D world, divided into territories, or lands if you will, which have to be conquered. You view the world of Middle Earth through a beautiful animated 3D map, where you send your armies to the various territories to be conquered. Each of the many lands is unique, so no 2 lands look the same. They’re all beautifully detailed and fully 3D, allowing you to rotate the view and zoom in, so you can admire the incredible detail: magnificent landscapes with flowing water, rocks, forests, animal life, etc.
Your units and buildings themselves are just as detailed, and are instantly recognizable for those who have seen the movies. Zoom in on a unit and you can see the details on soldier uniforms, for example. They also move very realistically, through the use of motion capture.
Music & sound: the music from the actual movies (composed by Howard Shore) was used for this game, with (I think) some additional music on top, so if you liked the movie soundtrack you should like this as well. I certainly did!
Not only that, but the game also features the voices of many (though not all) of the actual movie cast, providing a wonderful sense of “being in the movie”, as it were. Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee, among many others, reprised their roles for the game, and also serve as the game narrators, providing you with info on your progress - McKellen if you play the good side, or Lee if you play the bad guys.
As good as the game is, there are some gameplay issues.
The game limits how many units you are allowed to build, 300 at maximum if you play the good guys, and 600 at most on the evil side (they have more troops but they are weaker). At the same time you get to bring your existing troops that you had built in previous missions, so often you cannot build any new troops unless you somehow get rid of your existing ones, forcing you to intentionally play bad, by getting some of your troops killed by the enemy. At least on the evil side you can actually send your own troops to the slaughterhouse, allowing you to build new ones!
Also, as fun as the game may be, it does get repetitive after a while. There is little variation in gameplay, although you do get a number of missions in which you get to guide the Fellowship through a level. This provides some welcome change from the usual base & army building.
Finally, hardcore RTS gamers might find it too limited and perhaps not very challenging.
The Bottom Line
This is an excellent RTS game for people who enjoyed the Lord of The Rings movies. Even people who do not normally play a lot of RTS games it should be easy to get into.