Skip to main content

Memory Leaks: The Lord of the Rings: The Battle For Middle-Earth

⚔️ And my axe...

The Lord of the Rings movies hit theaters in December 2001 and were an unparalleled box office success. Naturally, there was a desire to capitalize on that success with tie-in video games, which started to arrive about a year later. The first few to hit the scene were about what you'd expect: over-the-shoulder hack-and-slash affairs that were just a little too dark and drab because that was the tone of serious video games, but then in 2004 we got something different: a campaign-style RTS that allowed you to play through the events of the movies as either good or evil. And it was The Lord of the Rings: the Battle for Middle-Earth.

How I Remember It...

As someone who was obsessed with The Lord of the Rings in 2004, I think it's safe to say that I played most of the games that were attached to this IP. And I was mostly disappointed, because I don't care for hack-and-slash gameplay all that much. When BfME came out, the big selling point on the box was that you could re-mix battles. You could summon ents to the Battle of Helms deep, for example. And while this was true, it was also the least interesting part of the game.

Indeed, the real selling point of the game is that the RTS format is the perfect way to tell this story. Rather than just following Aragorn as he wallops orcs in yet another dungeon, BfME is much more about moving armies around and taking control of territories. There's some hero management, especially on the Good side, but for the most part it's about managing your resources, balancing income against unit-generation so you can take down the enemy encampment. Will you need ballistas to deal with fortifications? How aggressively should you defend your own camps? What's the right mix of cavalry and infantry? How much should you explore in order to find extra resources? Should you upgrade your units or not?

This is a key decision because upgrades are expensive but upgraded units will self-heal and follow you from mission to mission. There's also an upgrade tree for your army to unlock special abilities like summoning ents or wraiths or using the Eye of Sauron to strike fear into your enemy. There's also unit composition to worry about. You can combine two simple units of the same type. E.g., a unit of swordsmen and a unit of pikemen become a single unit with pikes in front and swords behind. Or maybe you want pikes and archers. There's a decent mix of armies to keep gameplay fresh. Gondor and Rohan have more defensive structures--Morder and Isengard camps don't have walls at all. Rohan's armies are more focused on cavalry, obviously, whereas Gondor is more about infantry and siege engines. Mordor has extremely cheap units until you start buying mumakil. Isengard's probably the most middle of the road: expensive but tough units, including cavalry and decent siege tech.

Of course, the other big selling point of the game is that it has two campaigns, a good one and an evil one. The good campaign starts in the mines of Moria, fighting off the Balrog as a tutorial. You then proceed to Amon Hen where the Fellowship splits and the focus shifts to Rohan fighting off Saruman's armies. Over the course of the campaign you hit the major battles: defending Helm's Deep, sacking Isengard, defending Minas Tirith, and finally attacking the Black Gate itself, which is one of those "try to stay alive long enough to not lose" missions. This is, of course, tempered with the odd digression to Frodo and Sam sneaking through Ithilian or past Shelob. If I had one complaint, it's that the good campaign veers unnecessarily from the source material. I mean, you can't succeed against the Balrog if Gandalf dies--that's not canon! The evil campaign starts with you defeating the Fellowship in Amon Hen and then goes progressively off the rails from there. Burning the Westfold, obliterating Osgiliath, sacking Helm's Deep and Edoras, getting the ring from Shelob, and finally staging an epic siege of Minas Tirith. It's, honestly, more fun than the good campaign.

The game spawned a sequel in 2006 that's more refined and flexible. I think it's better loved overall, but I prefer the original as it's focused more on the battles of the War of the Ring rather than peripheral stuff like Galadriel cleansing Dol Goldur. Unfortunately, this is one you can't play legitimately anymore, as EA lost their license for Lord of the Rings games in 2010. Much like Goldeneye 64, the other movie tie-in video game that's actually really good, due to the complexities of film licensing, it's abandonedware. Which is not to say that there aren't ways to play it or places to download it from, and it's certainly not like I've done that, or would do that again, or am doing that right now.


In MEMORY LEAKS, Kurt is going through his favorite video games. See more posts.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

On Getting Laser Eyes

Last week I got Lasik. I was looking forward to not having to deal with glasses getting smudged by my kids or slipping off my face. I figured that not needing them would be pretty convenient. However, the words I heard over and over from other people who'd already done it were: "life-changing." That seemed to be overstating a bit. Convenient, yes, but life-changing? I didn't get it. I get it now. I've had some kind of vision correction, either glasses or contacts, for the last thirty-odd years, which is nearly as far back as I can remember. And what I hadn't realized was the extent to which this had become part of my identity. It's not that I thought glasses were cool because I wore them--although I did and they are. It's that the ability to see was, for me, artificial and temporary. And my vision was pretty bad, so my natural state was one of... not so much "blindness" as "isolation." There was a layer of vagueness that sat bet

Sentinels of the Multiverse: Definitive Edition: A Thoroughly Unnecessary Review

 Time to save the multiverse A couple years ago I was blogging about my love of tabletop games and described Sentinels of the Multiverse  as being either my first or second favorite, depending on what day of the week it was. Then last year they announced a new "Definitive Edition" of the base game with expansion content to follow. This would be a ground-up rethinking and rebalancing that would, amongst other things, be mostly incompatible with the existing content. Of which I have a lot. This has been a "shut-up-and-take-my-money" IP for years now, so it's not like I  wasn't  going to buy it, but I was at first trepidatious. I mean, was this even necessary? And then I saw an interview with the creators where they talked about what they were trying to accomplish with the new edition, and I was on board. And then the Kickstarter launched and more information was available and I got excited. After all, as I mentioned in the above-linked write-up, the oldest Sen

100 Album: "Game Of Thrones Season 3 Soundtrack" by Ramin Djawadi

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the  explainer  or view  the master list . Artist:  Ramin Djawadi Title:   Game Of Thrones, Season 3 Soundtrack Released:  2013 Genre:  DAH duh, duh-duh-DAH duh, duh-duh-DAH duh He's not as big a name as Hans Zimmer or John Williams or the various Newmans out there, but Ramin Djawadi is easily the most interesting composer working in television right now (with due respect to Bear McCreary). Soundtracks, especially television soundtracks because they're produced so quickly, have a tendency to serve more as a wall of atmosphere than anything else. But Djawadi's work here and on Westworld  has generated some amazing musical themes. There's a strong undercurrent of leitmotif informing the way the music flows together and the themes those motifs are built around are damned  catchy--which you know if you got the joke in the genre description above. While all of the soundtracks for GoT  are very listenable, this is m