There can only be one...but hopefully more console RTS games.

User Rating: 9 | The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II X360
Many of my friends who are not as fortunate as I too have a high powered rig to play PC games on have been jealous of some of the great games I am able to play. One of them, being geeks that they are, is the LOTR Middle Earth series. When we found out it was coming to the 360 we all had our doubts having been burned on console RTS games before. Granted, there have been some decent original RTS games on various consoles but never one of the true A++ titles. We watched the development of the 360 version wondering if it would be severly dumbed down as is often the case with PC ports. The control scheme also seemed circumspect. Now I have it in my hands and have to admit most of the doubts have been put to rest...but not all.

First, you may wonder why if I have this game on a PC would I want to play the 360 version. Well there are three reasons:

1) I am an achievement whore
2) I can finally play with my friends who don't have those high powered rigs
3) I want to support sales so that other RTS games come to the 360 and PS3

All good reasons to me.

The gameplay is not dumbed down in the way Battlefield 2 was when it came to Xbox and 360 from the PC. It seems that many publishers think that the console crowd has the attention span and skillz of a gnat. LOTR:BFME II is even more complex because you cannot rely on nifty icons on the screen to click on or shortcuts on the keyboard. However, most of the commands are intact including creating battle formations on the fly which I never thought would make the cut. Granted, when the swords, axes and arrows start flying you have to be quick on the controller and toggling through options but no one can ever say the game is boring. You are constantly working on building up your fortress with walls, towers and other adornments while you need to recruit your armies and gather resources. All of this once you get the hang of the control scheme is right in your hand within easy access. Controlling the camera is actually a lot better than with a mouse or arrow keys. EA has actually pulled off the compexities of a true RTS without sacraficing much and this they deserve big kudos.

However, as every hobbit knows, the dark eye of Sauron is always watching and this game is not free from all evils. While its easy to get your armies together its not as always easy to get them to go exactly where you want them to especially in the heat of battle. I am used to being able to give a command to a unit and not have to babysit but I sometimes found the units staying put where I left them instead of protecting my Inn from that big troll throwing rocks. They also do not easily run when you want them to. At times, I had to keep on click on a spot to get them to get a move on. They also are not always that bright but you can toggle their stance to try and keep them from doing to many stupid things like a single unit running over to try and take Legolas down on their own. Not going to happen.

The single-player mode for better or for worse is fully intact as well. It really is a decent romp through middle earth with nice acheivements to earn and has both good and evil campaigns. Multi-player is just an awesome experience with lots of great modes that offer the more typical modes where you build up your forces by gathering resources and also the quickies where you can just get down to kicking butt. Where else can you finally see Gimli kicking Legolas's butt or vice versa.

The graphics are surprisingly good and almost match those that are on my PC which it better since the 360 is supposed to be more advanced that most PCs on the market. The environments looks sharp whether you are zoomed in our out but the shadows are terribly pixelated to the point that they would have probably been better just leaving them out.

Actually, maybe if they had forgotten about shadowing each character it would have stablized the other problem with it which is the framerate. I cringed when I heard from previews that there were problems with it staying at 30 frames per second. It almost made me consider giving this game a pass. Fortunately, it is not nearly as bad as the doomsayers will have you believe. Yes, its there at times when a lot of units are tearing each other apart but not the point that it is unplayable. Plus, when the battles get that heavy you are probably just throwing as many units at each other as you can and finese is not an a priority.

I would not even be surprised if they continued to try and fine tune gameplay with updates on Xbox live as there was already an update issued today. Patches are now on reality on consoles so some out of the box issues may not always be permanent ones.

Yes, the game is not as smooth as it was on the PC but it is darn close. Whether or not you have played it on PC being able to play it on Xbox live is a lot better. If you are new to the RTS genre please go get this because it is a totally new game experience where planning and action go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Its not going to be boring or going to be overly complicated and I am sure you will find yourself hooked after your first online battle.