Have You Played… The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth?

lotrbfme

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

In an alternate universe, Total War: Middle-Earth II just emerged from Creative Assembly, and Monolith have just released Warhammer: Shadow of Warhammer into the world. In this universe, my most recent memory of a Tolkien strategy game is 2004’s elegantly titled The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth.

It wasn’t very good. It wasn’t all that bad either, as far as I recall, but my memories of playing it are so vague that I can only assume it was actively forgettable. It had some of Howard Shore’s music from the Peter Jackson films on its soundtrack and that made it feel like an adaptation of those films rather than the books.

The missions were a blend of scripted sequences and base/settlement capturing/building, and contained nothing surprising for a veteran of the genre. And I really really really hated that there were hobbit characters as heroes, because the war-like nature of the game meant they could take loads of damage from entire armies of trolls and orcs and then they’d eventually die and respawn after a while.

That’s fine if your Gandalf but it’s not how hobbits roll.

Much as I’d like to see a Total War take on Tolkien at some point, I’m never convinced that the actual wars and battles are the interesting part of Lord of the Rings. It’s about the things happening around the wars, isn’t it? The resistance and the espionage. The quiet war rather than the blood battle.

33 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    wsjudd says:

    FYI,

    That’s fine if your Gandalf

  2. Xocrates says:

    It wasn’t the greatest RTS ever, but I did enjoy it quite a bit, and it did plenty of interesting things.

    And let’s face it, being able to have a horde of rohirrim riders trample an orc army while Howard Shore blared in the background made the price of admission more than worth it.

    Playing the campaign as the bad guys was bit dumb though, as the game was more interested in allowing you to replay the big setpieces as the other side, than in making sure it made a lick of sense. I think you kill the fellowship at least 2 or 3 times.

    I never did play the sequel though, as many of the back of the box “improvement” list essentially read “removed feature of the first game that made it different”.

    • Justoffscreen says:

      See I think I had the most fun with the Evil campaign- you only even have a couple missions involving the fellowship- one where Sam and Frodo escape across the river where you command Lurtz killing most of the fellowship and one where you take control of Shelob and catch them in the caverns near Mordor. The rest deviates from the main story of the movies and ends with you summoning Baelrog all over the map and trampling everything with mercenary oliphants. It’s good destructive fun.

      I especially enjoyed the persistent unit feature where more expensive units like the oliphants and trolls get upgrades through combat and you can bring them along to future missions.

      • Xocrates says:

        Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t say it wasn’t fun, I’m merely remarking it was really dumb how stuff like Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas still appear with the ghost army at Minas Tirith even though they were dead since the start of the campaign.

  3. CyborgHobbit says:

    My friends and I really sunk our teeth into The Battle for Middle-Earth II. I was the worst of the bunch, but when my fully upgraded Lorien Archers with Mithril Armor and Silverthorn Arrows showed up, people noticed. Also, nothing was more fun than building an Ent Moot and summoning Treebeard and co. for a siege force.

  4. welverin says:

    “Much as I’d like to see a Total War take on Tolkien at some point, I’m never convinced that the actual wars and battles are the interesting part of Lord of the Rings. It’s about the things happening around the wars, isn’t it? The resistance and the espionage. The quiet war rather than the blood battle.”

    They are not, as evidenced by the fact Tolkien left most of the actual battles of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

  5. JakeOfRavenclaw says:

    I was young enough when I played this that I have no real sense of how the game mechanics hold up, but the visuals were the star of the show anyway–lots of great little details straight out of the movies, including fell beasts picking up and dropping enemies, the army of the dead swarming over mumakil, burning ents putting themselves out when in water, etc. Summoning the balrog caused a shockwave that would blast enemies into the air, so of course I had to summon it right in the middle of Rohan’s army during one of the late story missions. Dropped my FPS to almost nothing, but so worth it.

    I never did play the sequel. Would definitely give it a try if it ever pops up on digital distribution, though unfortunately that seems unlikely at this point.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Neurotic says:

    I seem to remember PCG shrugging at the first one, and smiling at the second one.

  7. Zorgulon says:

    This released pretty much when I was young and excited enough to lap up any LotR-related game (FFX clone The Third Age, anyone?).

    The mechanics were forgettable, but the real appeal was having armies you recognised from the film, with Uruks and Mumakil etc. It did that well enough. There was a second game, but I don’t believe I played that.

    Along similar lines, did anyone play Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds, the entertainingly cynical Age of Empires 2 clone?

  8. Pilgore says:

    I think I’ve played maybe 500+ hours of this game as a kid. Could not get enough of it, I used trainers and cheats to create ludicrously long matches and role played stories and battles with the hero characters.

    I also love how everything is slightly miniaturized. Everything seems to scale like in the films but if you look closely, mountains buildings and monsters are all slightly off.

    *pops 10 balrog summons*

  9. fish99 says:

    Not sure LotR would make a good Total War game since no faction should be able to compete with Mordor in terms purely of military strength. You’d have to pretty much discard most of the lore and realities of that world to make it a workable game.

    Maybe if you weren’t Mordor your initial goal would have to be to get hold of the ring. Gondor with the ring could potentially have toppled Mordor.

    Not denying it would be somewhat funny to let you conquer Middle Earth with an army of Hobbits.

    • Werthead says:

      In Third Age: Total War, orcs have lots of numbers (their unit sizes are twice the size of any other faction, so you’re pretty much always outnumbered) but their morale is awful. If a unit thinks things are going against them, it’ll rout quickly, so the best tactics to use against their hordes are to whittle them down from range and then use hammer and anvil tactics to try to trigger a mass panic of the entire army. This gets harder when tougher units (Uruk-hai, Trolls, Warg-riders) start appearing in their army.

    • Sirius1 says:

      ” You’d have to pretty much discard most of the lore and realities of that world to make it a workable game.”

      I think that particular ship has already sailed.

      • Kamestos says:

        Yeah, since Shadow of Mordor/War this ship has sailed, traveled to other galaxies, created new civilizations and ascended to godhood.

  10. Werthead says:

    “Much as I’d like to see a Total War take on Tolkien at some point”

    There is one. It’s called Third Age: Total War, and it’s a professional-level mod for Medieval II. It’s superb, easily the best Middle-earth strategy game ever released (which is a surprisingly long list, going back to War for Middle-earth in the 8-bit era). What they did with the notoriously limited engine to bend it to the Tolkien lore is nothing short of remarkable, down to having a Fellowship of the Ring sub-quest and having absolutely vast armies for Mordor which you can overcome with some good tactics. There’s also some very cool stuff, like how if you unite Eriador under Aragorn’s leadership it then transforms into Arnor. The custom maps for places like Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith are also very impressive (not so much Weathertop, which is a bit silly, almost breaks the engine and the AI can’t work out how to attack it).

    Battle for Middle-earth was mediocre, but it was really just a dry run for Battle for Middle-earth II, which was a bit stronger. Unfortunately both games were really just Command & Conquer: Generals with a Middle-earth skin and horses instead of tanks. It didn’t really work. Although being able to summon Tom Bombadil in the second game and watch him slaughter hordes of Orcs en masse by screaming “RING-A-DONG-DILLO!” at them was…memorable.

  11. Bobtree says:

    No, but I loved C&C Generals so much that I probably should have. Hopefully it gets a digital release some day.

  12. wombat191 says:

    If it’s the game I remember then I did have a good time turning Sam and Frodo into a red smear with a cave troll and burning Middle Earth to the ground with the forces of darkness.

    Aww you brought a ghost army? *POOF* I will summon a Balrog in the middle of them and kill them all !!!

  13. Carra says:

    It was OK. I remember premade bases where you had five building slots. And armies like in Total War: not one archer but a batallion of archers.

    • empty_other says:

      And custom maps. I remember defending my walls at Helm’s Deep for maybe a minute before they blew up, and a VERY small group of elven archers holding the inner Citadel against the combined might of two other players for two boring hours.

  14. Skeletor68 says:

    I loved this game. Particularly playing as Saruman and having persistent units.

    ‘You are weak!’

  15. Imperialist says:

    Idk, to me it was pretty fresh for the time, where C&C and Starcraft ruled the spotlight. Like Warcraft 3 did, it brought heroes to the battlefield and they were awesome. Few things in RTS gaming really awe me as much as getting Gandalf maxed out and using Word of Power to screen-wipe pretty much all the units. I see alot of people calling it “mediocre” but, surely they are thinking of the “War of the Ring” non movie licensed game that was pretty much the definition of average blandness? BFME had a pretty healthy following, and its sequel was even better in most ways. Id play it again in a heartbeat.

  16. Agnol117 says:

    I enjoyed this game and the sequel so much when I was younger. I seem to recall the Minas Tirith level from the first game being basically impossible to lose. Build trebuchets (or were they catapults? I can’t remember) on every possible spot, build a secret gate at the back of the walls, then delete your main gate (which the game allowed, because there was still technically a way for the Mordor units to enter the city) then sit back and watch as absolutely nothing could get close enough to actually find the secret gate. Tons of fun.

  17. dkfgo says:

    BFMEII was one of the greatest RTS I have ever played. The trampling mechanic was amazing at the time, and the heroes were cool too. The only issue I had with it was how unbalanced it was. Elves and humans were great, dwarves were ok and the rest was garbage (at least that was the meta between my friends).

  18. zombiewarrior07 says:

    Well, I dunno about you guys, but Total War: Middle Earth II (if done to a high standard) would be my ‘dream game’, something I would play until they pry my cold, dead fingers from the keyboard / controller. Just sayin’.

  19. HigoChumbo says:

    While the game overall was indeed a bit bland, for the time, the way the pulled off monstrous units and heroes/spells and their interactions with lowly soldiers was great.

    It’s a 2004 and in many cases those interactions were better than those of 2016’s Total War Warhammer. For instance, aerial units in BFME would properly interact with foot soldiers, circling around the air, adapting their flight path to the enemy soldiers location and then diving down to actually pick one of them up, lift him into the air and letting it fall back to the ground. In Warhammer when that happens is nothing but a glorified, scripted, melee animation. My memory of it is not that fresh, but I seem to recall heroes and spells being more gratifying as well.

  20. mac4 says:

    Sure have. All three games are still available through link to t3aonline.net ; that is meant I think to keep the multiplayer mode alive, but the games as such are also there. They require some tweaking, that gets explained there and/or isn’t hard to figure out with a little web searching.

    I loved the first game; maybe not as involved as a Total War, but devising the best strategy to get your troops fully upgraded & keeping them alive throughout the campaigns is actually pretty challenging. Took me quite some time of on-and-off gameplay. Being something of a Tolkien fan surely can’t hurt ;)

    What #2 and the Witch King extension lack, to me, is precisely that upgrading isn’t as involved, and troops don’t carry over across levels. Meaning the game becomes pretty much a bum-rush affair; if you can’t win a map in one go, retreat, respawn, rinse & repeat.

    The latter two also suffer from an odd difficulty peak, where most of the initial levels work out far too easy, then the final stages suddenly become next to impossible. (In fact in the Witch King I got stuck at Carn Dûm, on hard difficulty, where I know what needs doing but just can’t get it done. Guess I should redo the whole thing on easy difficulty just to make it past there, not the most enticing of prospects. As said, those earlier levels are by-and-large not very hard to begin with. Resetting difficulty mid-game is not an available option.)

    The War of the Ring part, meanwhile (sort of a freeform scenario) I haven’t tried my hand at very much. Without a pressing goal — other than conquering the map of course –, I suspect it wouldn’t be very compelling to me to catch my attention in single-player mode for very long. Maybe in multiplayer, if in fact that part of the game does allow for it. (The two forms are more intertwined in the original game, for some reason they’ve been separated from the campaigns as such in the latter two.)

    What is nice about the Witch King of course is getting to play with a very different time and place in Tolkien’s universe.

    All in all, yes, still very fond of them, certainly the first installment.

  21. Dewal says:

    I had never played a Total War game before and it was my first time playing with persistant armies and it felt awesome. And I loved the physics of rocks/calvary/trolls rolling through ennemy patrols, the powers of some heroes that felt unique (like shockwave attacks that them units flying), putting fire to ents, making oliphants loose control…

    Some events where scripted and on a timer (battle of Helm, Minas Tirith & Black Gate) so you had to choose carefully which territories you wanted to conquer before going, as they gave different bonus once you got them, and then choose which army was the best to achieve the mission.

    And the small – heroes focused – Fellowship missions that were fun from time to time.

    In retrospect, it was like a small scale Total Warhammer. But for the time I think they did things pretty well.

  22. mac4 says:

    Thanks for the TW Medieval II Tolkien tip above, btw, wasn’t aware of it. Sounds great.

    I’m sure we’re all aware of the Tales of Middle Earth mod for Age of Empires II: The Conquerors? link to aok.heavengames.com . Quite enjoyed it, I think, though not sure how “complete” it in fact was. And looking now, it seems dubious if it’s been worked on since c. 2013. See also link to moddb.com .

    I also seem to recall it would mess with your existing AoE II files to the extent where you’d need to reinstall to play the game proper again. So don’t try playing both at once.

  23. uteki says:

    It was one of my favourite strategy game! Maybe part of the reason is I really like Peter Jackson’s lotr film adaptation and really glad that the game developer stay true to the franchise. So yes, it is indeed feel like “an adaptation of those films rather than the books.”

    Not ground breaking, but solid, fun game, at least for BFME2.

  24. Borsook says:

    This piece is pointless, written by somebody who does not remember the game. At the time it was a really good game, with cinematic feel (and yes, it was made on film and not book licence, these two are separate), it had a very interesting base building with limited slots but with fortifications, nice unit grouping. It was then something fresh and different from all the RTS being released.

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