The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-King Exclusive Impressions

We take the first look at this upcoming expansion pack for EA's strategy game that draws upon the <i>Lord of the Rings</i> novels and motion pictures.

You could say that the stars were aligned for the 2006 real-time strategy game The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth II. After all, the game combined all the joys of building up tiny little armies of elves and dwarves and goblins and using them to crush your enemies along with the full lore of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world of Middle-earth, as represented both in Tolkien's novels and the award-winning motion-picture adaptations. The same team at Electronic Arts Los Angeles that worked on the original game is now developing an expansion pack, The Rise of the Witch-King, which will add a substantial amount of new stuff, including additions to different gameplay features, a brand-new single-player campaign, and a new playable faction.

According to producer Amir Rahimi, the upcoming expansion will attempt to fill in about 3,000 years of history from Lord of the Rings lore--three millennia that have been hinted at, but never fleshed out, by any interpretation of Tolkien's works. Specifically, the expansion pack covers everything that happened after the dark lord Sauron was defeated by the human warrior and king known as Isildur, and before the wizard Gandalf returned to the Shire to pay a visit to a young Frodo Baggins. According to the story in the expansion pack, Isildur did defeat Sauron by cutting off the evil warlord's hand, which severed his ties with the mighty "One Ring." But he then took the artifact for himself, and was later waylaid and killed by orcs, and his corpse--and the ring--sank to the bottom of a river.

The upcoming expansion pack for The Battle for Middle-earth II will add a new campaign, a new playable faction, and much, much more.

A thousand years later, the evil influence of the ring brought forth the nazgul--the spectral horsemen that serve the mighty Witch-King. The Witch-King was, of course, the terrifying being that rode a winged Fel beast, splintered Gandalf's magical staff and flung the wizard from his horse in the extended DVD scenes in the motion pictures, and then was ultimately defeated by princess Eowyn in the third movie. In the game, this powerful being instead rides a horse (this is 2,000 years before the events in the motion pictures, after all), and rules the kingdom of Angmar. Angmar borders Arnor, one of Middle-earth's mightiest kingdoms of men split into three parts, and the new single-player campaign will actually place you in the spiny armor of the Witch-King himself in a centuries-long campaign to topple the humans.

Yes, you'll be playing through the single-player campaign from the perspective of an evil army for a change, and your enemies will be an earlier (and larger) faction that resembles the Men of the West from the original BFMEII. Rahimi describes the Witch-King's armies as a "slow, strong, powerful evil faction capable of building walls"--essentially, an evil counterpart to the sturdy dwarves, and something that has been missing from the strategy series so far. Apparently, the faction will possess several sturdy, powerful units that can be accessible for beginners, though it will also have a few units with highly specific abilities that will be very suitable for veteran players who are willing and able to micromanage their armies to victory.

The expansion will attempt to add something for everyone--fans of Tolkien lore, hardcore strategy fans, and even newcomers.

Experienced players will probably enjoy playing with the new sorcerer and thrall master units. Since, according to the game's story, the Witch-King seized control of the mostly human-inhabited region of Angmar by means of intimidation, the faction has several units who either act as, or command groups of, miserable slaves. Sorcerer units begin their careers with a handful of magic spells (and they can learn additional ones to further specialize), yet the units are surrounded by a handful of apprentices at all times. Each time sorcerers cast one of their more-powerful spells, such as the soul-freeze spell that temporarily renders a target invulnerable to damage but unable to move or attack, several of their apprentices' souls are torn from their bodies, killing them instantly. Yes, the entourage of the sorcerer is gradually replenished over time, but the cost of using higher-level magic poses an interesting strategic choice. For example, throwing around your most powerful magic can severely hinder your opponents, but it also deprives the sorcerer of a bodyguard to soak up damage.

Likewise, the new thrall master unit will be highly appealing for veteran players who like to outthink their opponents. The new unit begins its career alone on the battlefield, but possesses the one-time ability to more or less instantly summon any basic-level infantry unit available to the faction, including infantry, pikemen, and cavalry. As such, experienced players will be able to have their thrall masters hang back slightly from their main forces, scout out the composition of the enemies' armies, and summon the appropriate army type to counter their foes (such as summoning pikemen to counter enemy riders, for instance). You'll even be able to use the faction's abilities in various combinations, such as using the sorcerer's soul-freeze spell to immobilize enemies until you can bring in a thrall master to summon the appropriate counter-unit. In the meantime, you'll be able to commission a new troll hero unit (a highly requested feature from the fan community), troll-powered siege engines, bands of snow trolls (which act as cavalry), and devastating new top-level magic spells once your hero reaches an experience level of 25. These spells include "avalance," an overwhelming siege spell that levels most enemy structures, and "shade of the wolf," which summons a gigantic spectral wolfman that seizes and tears apart enemy infantry to replenish its own health.

The Witch-King rises later in 2006.

The expansion will also make numerous improvements to BFMEII's core gameplay, such as, in Rahimi's words, "making sieging more fun and more relevant" by rebalancing the game so that general hero units can't deal siege-based damage to enemy walls and structures (an issue in the previous games that made siege weaponry less useful in battle). The expansion will also let you command your armies of mixed troops to march together, in formation and at the speed of the slowest unit, so that you can keep massive forces together without having to chase them down. It will also offer smarter artificial intelligence for skirmish mode; rebalancing for its various custom hero options to cut down on exploits; and the ability to carry over armies persistently from battle to battle in an improved version of the semipersistent War of the Ring mode (the hybrid turn-based/real-time mode introduced in previous games that let you attempt to conquer Middle-earth from a board-gamelike interface before jumping into real-time battles).

If nothing else, it seems like The Rise of the Witch-King will offer plenty of new toys for fans of the Middle-earth strategy series to play with. The new story and campaign should offer Tolkien fans plenty of new lore to explore, while the new Angmar faction should appeal to both beginners and battle-hardened regulars. The expansion is scheduled for release later this year.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II - The Rise of the Witch-King

The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II - The Rise of the Witch-King

Discussion

58 comments
OnHighToTheLow
OnHighToTheLow

Re-installing it on Win7, this is an awesome game, it makes me wish they had made another expansion. IMO this game is on par with C&C.

ExpertKiller285
ExpertKiller285

Another patch with more heroes for the factions would be cool, at least. I wonder what else EA should add....

Whiskeylt
Whiskeylt

vonstilton i was disapointed by bfme 2 for one reason me and my friends all bought it to play together we discovered that we couldnt and units walk past your army to try and kill walls in 3 hits Posted Sep 2, 2006 12:50 pm GMT HAHAHA u re wrong it's easy to play with spmeone but if u don't know how it's your problem. I liked the game but there should be a button called "stop" or "hold ground"

andybright
andybright

Personally I would have preferred much earlier history, detailed in the Silmarillion. They could have dragons, balrogs, Sauron had the ability to transform into a werewolf. Then you had the human heroes Beren, Turin, Hurin, Tuor, Huor. The Noldor, the Teleri and maybe even the Vanyar could have played parts, as well of course as the dwarves. Feanor, Finrod, Fingon, Fingolfin and Finarfin - not to mention the sons of Feanor. There were countless battles, tons of material that could have been used. In the last section of the Silmarillion you had the rise and fall of Numenor, and of course the Last Alliance and the defeat of Sauron. I suppose some would say this deserves a separate game of its own - but if that was the case I would have preferred they return the style of the original BFME. I liked that you couldn't sprawl buildings everywhere, that you were forced to hold specific areas, that the Fortress walls could be manned by archers, and the story like progression. Sure you didn't have the freedom of BFME II but I got a better sense of accomplishment winning some of the larger battles, like Helms Deep or Minas Tirith. But there you go, the defeat of Arnor is a good addon, but it would be better if it could be played from either perspective, rather than limiting you to one side. In this history, Arnor had split into three separate realms, and a good campaign could have included uniting them to defeat the Witch King, rather than have Rivendell save what was left of the Dunedain after the first two realms were utterly defeated.

Scout013
Scout013

.....holy crap the WITCH KING!!! HE IS SO FLIPPING AWSOME!!!!!!!

Jarla
Jarla

First of all, I REALLY hope you're thinking about changing the way troops (archers particularely) stand ontop of i.e. walls, not having them running down all the f r e a k i n ' time. My second wish actually has something to do with the first one, make something called a STAY WHERE YOU ARE button, a "Stand Still"-modus. It is highly annoying that Murkwood Archers for example move forward as the see the enemy, revealing their position and eliminating the chance for a 'sneak attack', as we call it. The stand still button would come in handy at this point. It would also solve the problem on the walls. Although, this is a problem which may be fixed in a patch, to the game, which would in this occasion be perfect (the sooner the better). But my God, the Witch King looks cool. Way to go!

spoon13
spoon13

If there is goin 2 b a nu faction then they better even it out with the others...else they will bring out(and we will have to buy) another expansion like 'galadriels journey!' The old games fine, it just had a real problem with the rush thing. Also how can one hero take down a fortress, whilst being attacked by like 10 units???? I like the 'super' hero powers (whirlwind, word of power, etc) but they really should have weakneses so that a rank 10 elven archer can't take on the entire of saurons army:)

vonstilton
vonstilton

i was disapointed by bfme 2 for one reason me and my friends all bought it to play together we discovered that we couldnt :( :( :( and units walk past your army to try and kill walls in 3 hits

Icepick_Trotter
Icepick_Trotter

CHRIST! I JUST HOPE THEY FIX THE COUNTLESS BALANCE ERRORS THAT MADE BFME 2 UNPLAYABLE!!! WHO CAN EXPECT PEOPLE TO ACTUALLY PLAY A GAME MULTIPLAYER WHEN THERE ARE FACTIONS THAT ARE DIRECTLY MORE POWERFUL THAN OTHERS?!?! WHAT WAS EA THINKING WHEN THEY MADE THE ELVES AND THE PAPER-STRONG WALLS AND STRUCTURES THAT COULD BE BROUGHT DOWN IN SECONDS BY A SINGLE HORDE OF GOBLINS?!?!? DOES ANYONE HERE KNOW WHAT I MEAN FOR GOD'S SAKE?!?!? Sorry for the yelling but i HAD to take that off my chest...

m1n1J
m1n1J

hmm im looking forward to this actually, mainly because of the whole campaign mode i mean...for ages the main stories of the previous melenia have only been hinted at, i cant wait to see the landscapes of agmar and alike...tehe :D cant wait :)

mrsquitifitch
mrsquitifitch

this ruless its gonna be released on PC and probably as a single game on 360 ^^ i like the thought because i have both :D.......they realy made it a better game and i love there is a good evil faction now those other evil factions sucked!

M3PHISTOPH3L3S
M3PHISTOPH3L3S

I hope you allow normal units to reach rank 10 now :)

pathock3
pathock3

Basicly every problem I had with the first game is being ratified. Right on EA! I'm buying both when this is released.

MartyredShadow
MartyredShadow

If fortifications are actually useful this time, I'll get it. Otherwise I'll pass. (I'm VERY reliant on turtling. Which was why I couldn't win any 1v1 games in BFME.)

Krusher222
Krusher222

Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet… The new units/movements/powers and scenes look awesome!

hafaholo
hafaholo

The witch king rocks! I hope you can play as him! I am so going t obuy this game !!

SladeMcGowan
SladeMcGowan

"The rock and pool is nice and cool...so juicy SWEET!"

rokkuman09
rokkuman09

Lord of the Rings yay!!!! I love Lord of the Rings!!! I collect anything LOTR i'm obsessed [goes off in corner] [mmyyyy preecciioouuss] (hes talking to his pc)....anyway i'm done with my little Tolkien OCD seizure there......looks kuull

djebrada
djebrada

The new faction looks way too overpowered. Lets hope they balance this game properly. And someone pls give them poor goblins some better heroes! I love their pike men but everything else is weak. And pls do something about those dc noobs! Oh and make weather hills flat pls (something like a weather plains map). And make a feature for those no rush games like a game timer and a temporary wall that you cant cross. that would be nice. SO MUCH TO FIX. SO MANY FINGERS TO CROSS!

reinchester
reinchester

First: Cool Second:Fortresses and walls will still be to weak for any use, except for mordor, isengard and dwarves because of their final uprgrades. Third: I want a new war/starcraft !!!!!

XJRockcrawler
XJRockcrawler

how many of you people saying 360 is crap actually have one, or much less have even played it? probably none. This WILL be on 360, this is EA we're talkin about after all, all about the almighty $.

ben-dover
ben-dover

Can't wait and will not wait

VDrakula
VDrakula

one more stupid expansion

george33387
george33387

I like that heroes and units won't be able to throw down a fortress on their own. Lets hope that fortresses will take back their glory and their important role in defence that the lost since Age of Empires 2 : The Age of Kings

bcfish
bcfish

Whoo-hoo! I'm such a BFME fan, the sooner this expansion comes out, the better! Thank you EA (I can't believe I just said that!)!

andersalsen
andersalsen

Sounds really cool! Lead the troops of the witch king, yay!!

obotex
obotex

excellent.... cant wait for this game!!!!!!!

thebuft
thebuft

please come out on the 360

08willej
08willej

come out for the 360 PLEASE BFME2 was SWEET!!

rodders1991
rodders1991

this game looks good but it just looks too much like the first one but i do like the sound of the improvements like soldigers not being able to do sige damage nw i like that hope it is a good game coz i like the series

02EclipseGT
02EclipseGT

lol :P They wore the 360 out already its becomeing old news. But when you try BS on the internet thats what you get.

Seth6666
Seth6666

OMG shut up about the 360 its crap!!! grrr it better not come out on it i sware to god! RTS n not ment for xbox n stuff its mean for PC n PC only

seracrux
seracrux

i hope that they are able to fix the War of the Ring mode and improve the hero creation system, I mean at least add more options to customize the hero's looks

the_real_VIP
the_real_VIP

I'll wait for the Deluxe Edition. That's what EA always does.

richard-hull
richard-hull

I am a big fan off the games, and this looks brilliant, especially the part about the thrall master, you will really be able to use more strategy in the game, and the screen shots look cool.

_Sam_
_Sam_

This looks good

dergy
dergy

seems pretty sweet. now only if LOTR's would go away and we could get a new fantasy series...