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Littered with heroes, quests, battles, hacking and slashing, the scope is vast, and has, of course, already been liberally exploited. But a real-time strategy game? Of course. Around this time next year, that dream will become a reality, as EA unleashes another LOTR game on what they hope will remain a Tolkien-crazed public.

The more you think about it, the more obvious a genre the RTS is, with the LOTR universe boasting an array of different units and a slew of readymade scenarios, such as the battles at Helm’s Deep, Ithilien, and Minas Tirith, for instance.

It’s actually something of a surprise that no-one thought of it earlier, although Vivendi is working on a similar concept based on the original books. In the hectic world of RTS games, one name stands head and shoulders above the rest, resonating down the years on the success of a flurry of quality titles.

However, Westwood is no more, the Las Vegasbased outfit now sadly closed, much to the chagrin of many a press trip veteran. Whether through the books or the films, remember how exciting that was? The sense that you were there, the wondering what was going to happen next as you turned to the next chapter. Imagine if you could immerse yourself in this world, if you could get in there and actually play a part, command the battles. What would you do differently, if you were there?

Understandably, much of the action is derived from the second film, featuring as it does the epic closing battle. The game will also draw heavily from the forthcoming The Return Of The King, which is already being touted as featuring the most spectacular battle scene ever filmed, namely the attack on Minas Tirith, which will also play a big part in Battle For Middle-Earth.

As Skaggs says, “Our goal with this game is to create some of the best fantasy battles ever seen in a game. You get to control the films. The sense of being able to control the battles and doing it for the first time is going to make a lot of, not only fans of the fiction, but game players very excited. How thrilling is that? Very thrilling indeed, judging by the demonstration to which we were privy. Despite only being in development since March of this year, much of the combat seems to be in place, and we witnessed an almighty ruck between a firm of trolls and some of the Ents’ top boys – the Ents, of course, being those ludicrous walking trees from the second film.

In a merciless onslaught, the trolls actually uprooted static trees and used them to club their mobile counterparts about the trunk and branches. Hoisted by their own petard, the Ents retaliated by grabbing handfuls of rocks and hurling them at their troll aggressors. When they ran out of rocks, chunks of masonry were dislodged from nearby buildings and used as impromptu missiles, as were a couple of passing orcs.

The Lord Of The Rings is, of course all about large-scale battles, and this will be reflected in the game. In various demos, we witnessed , and finally units on screen, the latterexample maintaining a frame rate around the 40 per second mark.

Technical issues aside though, simply controlling such a large number of units would appear to be an impossibly unwieldy proposition, something of which Browder is fully aware.

As he says, “How do you control this kind of battle? Animals will also feature heavily, and Browder says, “We’ve had games before with birds in them, people have done games with sheep in them.

We want to make that stuff really matter and make the world part of the experience. For instance, the huge Oliphaunts will effectively be used as transporters, enabling you to load them up with troops and take them across the battlefield.

And if you chuck a few archers in there, they should be able to use the extra height to their advantage and pick off a few foes en route. Other wildlife includes the Wargs, those wolf-type orccarriers that crop up halfway. The game will also support as many aerial units as the fiction allows, including, of course, the Fell-beasts, those great big flying dragons.

Attacking buildings will involve going at them with catapults and battering rams, as well as attempting to scale the walls, although the inhabitants will naturally fight back with a variety of weapons and traps.

There will also be some resource management, with wood required to spawn Uruk-hai, for instance, and also liberal use of magic, including the ability to change the weather in order to hamper the enemy. Multiplayer is also receiving a great deal of attention, and the plan is to steer away from pseudo-Deathmatch maps and develop a more story-led campaign in keeping with the fiction.

It’s finally happened. LOTR: The Battle For Middle-Earth is a bold step away from the predictable mainstream RTS formula that has been prevalent in so many games of this genre for far too long, melding the best of the mainstream and hardcore markets in one exquisite, shiny package.

Based on all three films from Peter Jackson’s titanic trilogy, this is a work of supreme detail and quality, shoehorning many of the celluloid adventures’ best merits and moments into two campaigns Good and Evil of equal excellence, tension and entertainment. As you’d expect from a high-budget game based on one of the most accomplished trilogies ever created, TBFME simply brims with references and content from the films. From the voiceovers well, most of them anyway and storylines to the map of Middle-earth and the replication of each character and unit, it’s authentic enough to satisfy Tolkien fans, yet rarely ” overwhelming to a Lord Of The Rings newcomer.

From the very first time the sprawling map of Middle-earth unfurls on your monitor, you’re left in no doubt about the game’s quality. The boxy, clunky interface of RTS games of old has been replaced by a beautifully streamlined and intuitive control system that disposes with the tedium of manually upgrading buildings and the necessity to construct just one unit at a time.

Every command is now just two or three mouse clicks away, while troops now spawn in squads. Well for starters, raising an army takes a fraction of the time than in many other RTS games, giving you more time to concentrate on combat and conquering your opponent.

And that’s got to be a good thing, right? While the two campaigns are fairly unique in terms of storyline, both feature the same three mission categories.

The simplest of these are the Fellowship missions, which task you with either leading the Ring Bearer Frodo and his protectors safely through dangerous territories such as the Mines of Moria, or if you’re playing the Evil campaign , thwarting the Fellowship’s progress. These are quick-fire missions that are usually over within minutes, more action-based than strategic and usually bereft of any type of resource management. Defensive and offensive siege missions require you to either fortify your defences before repelling an enemy assault, or mass your forces and storm an enemy stronghold.

The defensive levels are without question the most emotionally enthralling sections of TBFME, with your outnumbered forces struggling against seemingly insurmountable odds. Things reach a feverish climax of adrenal gland-drying carnage towards the game’s latter stages, when you get to relive the visually spectacular battles of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith.

During the few precious moments you’re given before the enemy swarm upon you, you must frantically line your walls with archers, identify the different tiers of each fortress so you can fall back and regroup when things are looking bleak and plug any holes in your defences.

Suddenly, the uneasy calm is broken by war horns, heralding the arrival of the enemy and the commencement of hostilities. Men quiver in fear as the enemy approaches, just one example of the many emotions depicted by the game’s intuitive Emotion engine. Your ears pound with rushing blood, bellowed war cries and finally, the clashing of steel as baying orcs and Uruk-Hai scale the walls with siege ladders and pound at your buckling gates with fearsome battering rams.

And save for a few clumsy moments especially if you’re attacking when your troops won’t do as you tell them to, there’s very little to find fault with in these encounters. The third mission type – basebuilding and conquering – is also the most common.

It’ll be instantly familiar if you’re an RTS fan, tasking you to build bases and expand your holdings on the map to try to strangle your opponent’s resource gathering capabilities and ultimately eliminate every enemy unit and building from the level. These maps are dotted with designated base-spawning areas, some of which enable you or the enemy to build mighty fortresses that you can pack with an array of buildings, while others act as smaller outposts with only three spaces on which to erect new structures.

With the location of your bases out of your hands, you’re literally forced to explore each level and track down new building sites, then defend them against enemy onslaughts, a feature which really bolsters the game’s strategic depth.

Once you’ve built a base, you can start producing units and upgrades, such as improved swords, armour and shields. The more units or items a building produces, the more experience it gains. Once you’ve used a building enough, it automatically upgrades to the next level, unlocking new units and power-ups for you to explore and construct.

It’s a beautifully simple interface, and with little micro-management clogging up your time and attention, there’s plenty more scope for concentrating on the action-haemorrhaging battles. But first, a complaint. There’s one very major fault with some of TBFME’s base-building missions, something that’s blighted these types of games for a decade and that sadly hasn’t been fully rectified here.

With resource gathering still playing a major role in proceedings farms and blacksmiths for the Good side, lumber yards, furnaces and slaughterhouses for the Evil side , these levels can at times deteriorate into wars of attrition, with neither side being able to seize the initiative. Either that, or they’re just too damn easy. When the former happens, missions can become ultrafrustrating and repetitive, with enemy attacks concentrated on the same few locations with exactly the same types of unit.

By the time you do finally manage to prevail, you’re just relieved that the mission is over, rather than feeling any sense of satisfaction. What’s more, in these situations, you rarely if ever feel as though you’re being out-thought by the Al, which seems to prefer relying on brute strength rather than guile. Oh, and while I’m pointing out negatives, sometimes the Al units can stand around and watch you destroy their base without reacting – though admittedly, this is a rarity.

For starters, mastering combined arms and height advantage, as well as utilising each unit type’s strengths, weaknesses and formations which you can combine with those of other units to gain an extra advantage are now essential skills for you. Cavalry are excellent against infantry and archers, their charges sending stationary foot soldiers carving through the air and thudding violently onto the floor. But try charging headfirst into a well-organised group of pikemen, and you’ll find horse kebab on special at most local taverns before the day’s out.

Archers are nippy and great at range, but virtually useless up close, while infantry can wipe out a group of pikemen without suffering many losses. Believe me, just throwing all your men into battle and hoping they beat the Al won’t get you very far here. The sheer scope of some of the battles is immense, with scores or even hundreds of troops clashing at once. In fact, with the exception of Rome: Total War, there are few other RTS games which come even close to achieving the sheer brutality and believability of virtual warfare as TBFME, though some of the sieges, such as Helm’s Deep, could have done with being a little larger in scale.

What’s more, with each level also featuring at least one of your favourite heroes from the films to lead your troops into battle see I Can Be Your Hero, Baby’, , you’ve got a formula for some of the most captivating battle scenes ever found in an RTS. And what of the units, which have been lovingly recreated from the films? Watching a sea of charging cavalry is an awesome sight, their hooves kicking up dust and rumbling like thunder as they gallop at the enemy before hitting them like a tidal wave.

Uruk-Hai pikemen march with spears, roaring gutturally and lowering their giant toothpicks at an angle to impale advancing foes, while their crossbow-toting counterparts can upgrade their projectiles with fire.

Cave trolls lumber around dumbly, picking up felled tree trunks and scattering their opponents with fierce swipes, while Balrogs are immense beasts of fire and shadow that can take to the air and call upon an array of arcane powers. And let’s not forget the graceful multi-talented elves who can become invisible in woods and fire their projectiles devastatingly far, or the gigantic Oliphonts giant elephants with their spike-covered tusks. Best of all though are the Ents.

Slow and cumbersome but powerful, these walking trees can kill dozens of enemies with one giant kick or slap, and should they come into contact with fire, run manically with arms flailing to the nearest water source to douse themselves.

The Battle For Middle-Earth is simply spilling over with attention to detail, making it one of the most charming and charismatic strategy games ever created. Zoom into the breathtaking visuals and you’ll find Uruks being pulled out of Uruk Pits in muddy jackets, cows being herded into slaughterhouses and coming out the other side as giant slabs of meat and farmers tilling the land on farms. The presentation is almost above reproach though sometimes units can act somewhat erratically , and coupled with the spine-tingling soundtrack lifted straight from the films, the whole package becomes a mesmensing ride of highs, lows and numerous thrills, with the odd frustration thrown in for good or should that be bad measure.

Without question, The Battle For Middle-Earth is a triumph, a game which not only manages to unite the mainstream and hardcore markets, but one which sets new standards in presentation and polish.

Despite its innovations, it’s accessible enough for casual gamers to master in minutes, yet it still manages to cram in just about enough strategic depth to seduce you if you’re a hardcore strategist. Sure, sometimes it can get a tad repetitive, sometimes levels can be a bit of a slog or sometimes a little too easy for RTS veterans , but mainly, this is a thrilling, beautifully-imagined piece of programming that does the films proud.

Even if you’re not a fan of the trilogy, you shouldn’t hesitate in checking this out, though you’ll undoubtedly get more out of it if you watch the films first. Apart from units, heroes, buildings, storyline, missions and resources, what else is different between playing as either Good and Evil?

Funny you should ask, because both sides possess two equally powerful, though very different super weapons, which gain in power as each campaign progresses.

The foul forces of Isengard and Mordor can call upon the Power of the One Ring, which among a host of other dark powers, enables you to mat the earth with vines that entwine around enemy troops to slow their progress, and summon Balrogs.

To counter the Ring, the armies of Rohan, Gondor and The Fellowship have access to the Evenstar, which enables you to heal your men and summon huge, near-invincible armies of Oathbreakers undead warriors to bolster your forces.



One moment, please


I thought that the first game was great, but Battle For Middle Earth 2 is bigger, better, and more badass in every way that you could imagine. Say what you want about EA, but I do not think they get enough credit for what a great job they did with the Lord of the Rings license and this game is a shining example of that. One of the coolest aspects of this game was that EA went all out with the licensing for this game.

It is not just based on the movies or the books, but actually features locations and characters from both. This is truly impressive and at the time it was released I would say this was the most comprehensive collection of Lord of the Rings stuff any game had seen. Battle For Middle Earth 2 features some really cool characters and locations that did not make it to the silver screen.

The presentation has that EA polish that you would expect. From the characters, the locations, and especially the soundtrack everything has an authentic Tolkien vibe to it that I really do appreciate. The production values of this game are sky high and it makes you feel like you are in these heated battles. The only disappointment I have is the create a character option.

While you can level up your character and improve them and make them a formidable warrior. The aesthetic options are sadly greatly lacking in this mode. Battle For Middle Earth 2 features two blockbuster single-player campaigns for you to sink your teeth into. You can play the good campaign which centers around an attack on an elf sanctuary and a bad campaign where you are helping Sauron destroy the forces of good.

Each campaign will get you heavily invested in what is going on thanks to its great storytelling. As a big fan of The Lord of the Rings, I found both campaigns to be very enjoyable, but I did prefer the good one, but only just. There is another really cool game mode that is called The War of the Ring.

This is like the board game Risk where you have a large map and you are trying to conquer it. The game still has the RTS battles, but there is more going on now. I had a blast playing this with one of my friends as we had a game that lasted for ages as we both were trying to take control of the land. You can also play this mode in single-player and I even found the AI to be a fun challenge as well.

I will say that the core gameplay has not been radically changed. You still have your various factions with a few new ones added in. You can build various things on the battlefield such as bases which is much easier to do than in the last game. The actual battles are a great deal of fun you have your units, heroes, and so on, and deciding what to do and when to do it really is the key to giving yourself the best chance of victory.

Overall, I found the gameplay to be challenging, but also very rewarding. It does have a fair bit of a learning curve, but I felt that the game did a great job of explaining everything to me as I was playing. I had a great time with Battle For Middle Earth 2 and think it is a truly outstanding sequel to a game I already liked.

It is so improved over the first game that as good as that was, it kind of makes it redundant. As in all honesty, if you are new to these games, I would recommend skipping the first and coming straight into this one here.

It is one of the more fun and accessible RTS games I have played and they really do utilize the Lord of the Rings license as well as they could have.

How Did It all go so wrong? Just 15 months ago we were extolling the virtues of The Lord Of The Rings; The Battle For Middle-Earth, one of the most entertaining and accessible RTS games we’d seen for years, a strategy game that tried something a little different and succeeded admirably in almost every department. A sequel was of course, inevitable, welcomed, highly anticipated, an opportunity to take this bold new RTS franchise to even greater heights.

Tragically though, that hasn’t happened, as TBFME2 not only lacks the original’s charm, but also fails to live up to its potential on virtually every level. Before its release, we were promised that TBFME2 would have two big selling points: the unification of the book and movie rights under one banner both of which are utterly under-used , and the ability to build your base anywhere on the map, a feature that manages to strip this follow-up of its predecessor’s uniqueness.

Not the best of starts, then. Still, it’s early days yet. The two story-driven campaigns good and evil take place in the north of Middle-earth, where dwarves and elves battle the forces of Sauron. Aided by heroes – most of which you won’t recognise – you lead your forces through eight piss-easy missions that feel so scripted they make WWE seem spontaneous.

Here’s the thing. The beauty of the original was its freeform nature and strategic depth, two attributes that this follow-up is utterly bereft of. More often than not, missions lead you by the hand from point A to point B, where you have a scrap with some enemies, before moving you on to point C for a slightly bigger ruck.

And that’s about the size of it. Sure, there are some tactical subtleties to employ, such as flanking and height bonuses, but with battles often proving to be utterly one-sided affairs in your favour , most missions just end up feeling like strolls across a map with a few fights thrown in for good measure.

So how about the new enemies – of which there are plenty – surely these guys should spice things up a bit? Well, not really. As visually impressive as they are – in particular Sauron’s new servants which include spiders and dragons – they’re all still pretty easy to beat and often display the tactical awareness of an under five’s football team.

And don’t even get me started on the naval battles. There isn’t a word in Elvish, Entisli or the tongue of man that could do justice to how just bad they are. The game sparkles with EA’s usual veneer, with some impressive visuals and truly gargantuan battles adding real beauty and bite to the proceedings. The story – what there is of it – is fairly entertaining, while heroes have an excellent array of visually spectacular skills that can be used to turn the tide of battle. What’s more, you can also harness the power of the One Ring or the Evenstar depending on your allegiances , with a multitude of defensive and offensive spells available to you, including meteor showers that turn enemy units into paste and humorous yet deadly appearances from Tom Bombadil.

The two story-driven campaigns seem hollow and overly scripted, and at around five hours each, are far too short. Battles seldom feel like desperate struggles or brutal skirmishes and rarely require much strategy. You also can’t help but feel that the game’s been somewhat dumbed down, as though attempting to appeal to a mass-market audience with its sheer simplicity.

What’s more, the dual licences feel utterly under-used, the voice-acting is a shadow of the original’s and the build-anywhere feature just makes the game feel like a myriad of other mildly entertaining yet eminently forgettable RTS games that have come and gone over the last few years.

However, in no way is it anywhere near the game we hoped for. What a waste. With Rome: Total War and Star Wars: Empire At War proving just how effective a marriage between turn-based campaign and real-time battles can be, EA LA obviously thought it’d better try its hand at doing something similar.

So, it set about dividing Middle-earth into some 40 provinces, and you must conquer them all or just a specific few if you’re pushed for time and become the supreme ruler of Middle-earth.

Sounds great in principle, but once you start playing, you quickly realise just how unwieldy and ugly the campaign map actually is. In fact, it’s so clumsy that it feels more like an afterthought than a well-planned feature. Quite frankly, EA LA shouldn’t have bothered.

Battle tor Middle-earth II lets you create throngs of elven archers, dwarven axmen, rock-throwing cave trolls, human cavalry, Uruk warriors, and more to dash on ancient battlefields. It’s a tad more epic than the whole scooping-water-out-of-the-ocean-with-a-spoon thing when you’re sticking your blade in one goblin at a time But, as in any real-time strategy game, before you get your troops, you first have to collect resources and construct production buildings.

It’s not a complicated process, although BFME2seems to assume its players have seen some RTS action in the past Within the first few missions, you’re already managing multiple menus, heroes, units, buildings, and powers, and you can’t slow down the game to think or breathe. The tutorials, as helpful as they are, don’t really prepare newbies property for army-commander duties in Middle-earth.

Veterans, however won’t have any problems with the campaign. When everything starts kicking in–the controller shortcuts, unit abilities and weaknesses, what buildings produce what, etc.

The battles don’t take place on generic tiled landscapes. Rather, each campaign mission plays out in wonderfully designed stages created specifically to capture your imagination: Cities shine with waterfalls and statues, docks bum from naval bombardment, and the fortress of Dol Guldur intimidates with its skyscraping towers and obsidian walls.

The different factions Isengard, elves, goblins, etc. And the corpses should be piling up plenty on Xbox Live: Multiplayer offers lots of maps, a couple of first-person shooter-influenced modes see sidebar , and generally smooth play fit only crashed on us once during our playtesting , though the four-player cap and inability to team up against CPU opponents kinda stinks of dwarf breath.

Though Patrick may feel otherwise, I gotta say I think EA did a commendable job adapting the complicated controls of this keyboard-first game to the tight quarters of the controller. In mere minutes I was managing resources and calling out orders with ease. So it wasn’t the controls that made this game hard to play–it was the resolution. Icons, percentage numbers, and other onscreen displays are tiny, which leads to big frustration when you’re trying to set up your base. This also has an effect on your ability to distinguish who’s who among your units–expect a lot of zooming in to make sure you’ve selected the archers, not the swordsmen, and zooming out to issue the attack or new position command.

But I do love that, instead of pushing you through the narrative of the books and movies again , the campaign parallels those events by focusing on the obscure War to the North, explaining why the elves and dwarves were missing in action–a treat for any Tolkien nerd. With BFME2, EA makes a noble effort to buck this trend with the controller, but the game has way too much to do and not enough buttons to work with sony, Jay.

BFME2’s Xbox-level graphics also hurt, and the entertaining, Risk-esque War of the Ring mode from the PC version is gone, so single-player just isn’t as fulfilling though I can’t say I miss that mode’s dull multiplayer variant.

But while the solo campaigns offer familiar RTS missions, the game presents them with a very solid eye for the Tolkien feel–what can I say, it’s fun to crush Rivendell. Also, multiplayer features a nice slew of achievement-friendly Live modes, which play into the best reason to get this version: to have an achievement list that reads like Gandalfs resume.

The Lord of the Rings is one of those franchises that you can’t help but think of in videogame terms. Fun to a degree? Sure, but it left many fans disappointed in the midst of the flourishing movie franchise. Battle for Middle-earth II, unlike its predecessor, does most everything right. It takes a beloved franchise rife with potentially great videogames moments and transforms it into a fleshed out, fully formed RTS experience. Half of what makes for a solid RTS, for example, is a rich world to draw upon, and that’s something Battle for Middle-earth II certainly doesn’t want for.

The missions are well crafted both objective-wise and setting-wise, utilizing the vast lore of The Lord of the Rings books to make more some really memorable experiences.

The logistics of the game are all pretty sharp, too. Battles feel truly epic, with hundreds of characters on screen at once, and better yet, the chaos feels controlled though always intense. The emphasis is squarely on the action, with a plethora of units and heroes similar to the Warcraft series at your command.

But, with such an emphasis on action, the strategic element of the game runs in the shallow end. For RTS purists, that can be a bit of a downer, but for the more mainstream audience that doesn’t usually delve into heavy strategic games, this is a pretty big boon.

Strategy enthusiasts aren’t left completely in the dark, however. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but if you prefer a little bit more depth mingled with your action, it’s definitely a fun diversion from the main game.