The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth Updated Impressions - E3 2004

We sit in on a new demonstration for EA Games' upcoming strategy game.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth
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E3 2004 is underway, and EA Games is showing its upcoming real-time strategy game The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth. EA has unveiled a number of new game features at the show, including the "living world map," which is essentially a huge map of Middle-earth that you cannot only scroll through, but you will also use it as your primary interface for directing your armies to their next skirmish. Your armies, which will remain persistent between different battles in the single-player game, will appear on the map as a tiny icon that you can move from location to location; should you be opposed by an enemy army, you'll see your enemies appear as another icon on the map, similar to the encounters in a console role-playing game. In the case of a battle, the two army icons will clash, followed by a brief cinematic sequence that shows your armies preparing for battle.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

We were shown the armies of Mordor (equipped with orcs, trolls, and giant mumakil elephants) readying for battle at a central camp. Surprisingly, the game has practically no real interface to speak of; your base will simply consist of a number of unlabeled (but distinctive-looking) buildings that you can hover your mouse over for information. You can click on the mouse once to pull up a set of intuitive circular icons to either train units or to perform other activities. We watched as the orc army was attacked by a pair of ents (huge, walking trees) that were routed by a continuous stream of fire arrows. The ents were later joined by a band of human reinforcements from Gondor, who shouted an alarm when sighting a small band of orcs, and then they dispatched the orcs with ease. The reinforcements then stood forth and cheered at their victory. Unfortunately, the soldiers were later sent flying with a few clubbing blows from an angry troll; they then retreated in terror. A wave of Gondor reinforcements attempted to stand against a mumakil elephant (mounted with a huge basket from which archers fired arrows) that trampled many of them. The soldiers were able to set the gigantic basket on the beast's back aflame with fire arrows, and eventually killed it, though the mumakil's carcass collapsed on top of them, killing several more.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

We then watched a separate battle at Minas Tirith, which was also prefaced by a brief cinematic sequence that showed the women and children of the town fleeing from a battle already in progress. The goal of this particular mission was to reinforce an attacking army of orcs and trolls and breach the walls, either by smashing them down, placing siege ladders against the walls onto which orcs could climb, or breaking down the gate with a huge iron battering ram swung by a company of trolls. The orcs seemed to be winning the battle until reinforcements from Rohan (the nation of human horse riders) arrived, signaled by the green flag of the nation swooping across the screen. The riders crashed through the line of orcs, led by King Theoden (whose slightly larger horse and golden armor distinguished him on the battlefield). The king was quickly removed from the battlefield by a flying fell-beast (the dragonlike mounts of the ring-wraiths), and he was then dropped onto the battlefield from a great height. The human armies retaliated by summoning the Army of the Dead, a host of screaming green spectres that slaughtered all orcs in their path. However, the remaining human armies were finally decimated with the summoning of a balrog who used a powerful spell that sent a shock wave across the battlefield, obliterating any nearby soldiers and terrifying those that remained. The balrog can apparently use its wings to fly or leap across short distances, and it also has a fire-breathing attack that completely destroys low-level infantry with a spectacular visual effect (a heavy blurring imposed on top of the flames to indicate the intensity of the fires). Only one Gondor soldier remained to challenge the balrog, which grabbed up the hapless wretch and crushed him with a single hand before moving on to the city. The defeat of the city was punctuated with a final cinematic sequence that showed the armies of orcs and the balrog putting a torch to the crumbling city.

The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth seems to be coming along extremely well, and its highly streamlined interface may very well prove to be easier to use for real-time strategy beginners. The game is scheduled for release later this year.

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