The Lord of the Rings: the Battle for Middle-Earth II Preview (Xbox360)

I’m generally a console gamer; however I realize that some games are better left to be played on the PC. RTS games happen to be a perfect example of those types of games, with a lot of great titles out there on the PC and a pile of crappy console ports. When I heard that The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II was headed for the Xbox 360, I’ll admit I was skeptical. Still, as a Lord of the Rings lover, an RTS player and an Xbox 360 owner, I was also pretty excited. Recently I had the chance to sit down and spend a good deal of time with the game and I’m glad to say that I was thoroughly impressed.

Archers trying to take down giants All out war!

If you’ve already played the PC version of the game, then you’re pretty familiar with how this game works. If not, then all you really need to know is that this is a solid but fairly traditional RTS title set in the Lord of the Rings Universe. You’ll be able to take command of a large variety of heroes from the trilogy and command massive armies in epic battles! You’ll be able to pick from several different factions, including Isengard, Mordor and the Men of the West, and visit familiar locations throughout Middle Earth! The experience is likely one that hardcore Lord of the Rings fans will enjoy. To get more familiar with the game, make sure to check our Strategy Informer’s review of the PC version of the game here.

With a console RTS, the biggest thing everyone is going to be worried about is the control scheme. The 360 version of the game revolves around a “universal action button”, this is the “A” button. This essentially replaces the left click of the mouse and is used to select units, and assign units to move and attack. In other words, as Louis Castle said, “one button to rule them all!” Simply hovering your cursor over a unit will select them, and the camera can be zoomed in and out allowing you to select more units at once. You can zoom in close to grab a single guy, or zoom way out and hover over many! This can save a lot of time because you don’t have to click every single unit you want to select.

A naval battle Charge!

Controlling the game is easier than it sounds, and it was no time before I was gathering resources, building up my army and battling the cheap opponent who’d decided to rush me (yes, I’m bitter). If you want to select specific units, you can hold down the “A” button and the cursor will transform into a paintbrush of sorts. You can then drag it across any units you want to select. There are also quick keys that allow you to make other selections, such as selecting all of the units on screen, all of the units of a single type on screen, or all of the units of a single type on the whole map! They really put a lot of effort into the game to make sure that the selection process was simple and straightforward so that gamers would be able to effectively command their armies even during the most chaotic of battles. To show their attention to detail, they made sure to keep the “select all units on screen command” from selecting your worker units because they know everyone will want to select everyone and just throw them into battle. Losing all of your workers in this way would be a pain…

The game completely gets rid of a dashboard, which many RTS fans might think is insane. Instead, there’s an easy to access and navigate menu that allows you to use unit abilities, change attack styles and set hot keys for different units and locations. The hotkeys didn’t seem quite as quick as I would have liked them to, so I really didn’t use them much. Actually, it didn’t seem like anyone that was there playing got much use out of the hotkeys, even the experienced Battle for Middle Earth II players. However, perhaps the fact that we were able to micromanage without the hotkeys is a testament to how well the game controlled. The lack of a dash also keeps the screen open and clear. The user-friendly camera also made seeing the world of BFME2 a pleasure, with easy to control viewing that really brings gamers close to the action.

The game features several multi-player modes, some of which will be all new to PC gamers. You can play in modes such as deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and king of the hill. I was able to give many of these different modes a try and found the Xbox Live experience with the game exciting with gamers never knowing what will happen next! With Xbox Live and the variety in gameplay modes, BFME2 will feature limitless replay potential.

Easily my biggest complaint with the game was with the mini-map and the inability to click a specific location on the mini-map and travel directly to it. PC gamers will sorely miss this feature, and without it you’ll often find yourself scrolling through the screen as you explore. The hotkeys lessen the problem a little bit. For example, pushing in on the analog stick will take you directly to your main base, and pushing “X” will take you directly to any action. However, if you wish to send your units into uncharted territory you will have to scroll through the map to go ahead of them and click the area first.

Bombardment One angry troll

After my experience with BFME2, I’m even more excited for the final product. As a strategy fan I’m glad to see that we finally have an RTS to look forward to on the consoles. Make sure to watch out of The Battle for Middle Earth II on Xbox 360 when it comes out next month and stick with Strategy Informer for further coverage.

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