If you’re looking for a sophisticated RTS that innovates and really pushes the genre forward, The Battle for Middle-Earth II is definitely not for you. BFME II does away with the often tedious resource-harvesting and unit-and-building micromanagement mechanics found in most RTS games. You’re limited to just a few building and unit types per mission (though all can be upgraded) and a very basic suite of orders that you can issue to your minions.
That said, what this game does really well is deliver the massive, brutal feel of the epic battles in the films and books. From the start of just about every mission you will be faced with combat—no sitting back and harvesting resources and building a massive army here.
You will need to defend against probing raiding parties that grow increasingly powerful—while sending out your own patrols to establish and defend resource points and pinpoint the enemy’s. Your goal is the typical “find the enemy base and eradicate it from the map” variety, which is more exciting than it sounds. In one massive battle, we destroyed more than 10,000 enemy units before securing victory—10,000 units!
What the AI lacks in craftiness, it more than makes up for with overwhelming numbers, and it will have you on your heels often. The good and evil single-player campaigns are entertaining and just challenging enough. The new turn-based War of the Ring mode brings a nice Risk-style twist to the multiplayer action, too—allowing you to avoid real-time combat and play an entire game at the tactical level, if you wish.
We’d like to have a much greater level of control over the camera zoom (it’s tough to get a good view of large battles and to control flying units), and a bit more sophistication from the AI. But if you want an RTS that does justice to not only Tolkien’s books, but also Jackson’s trilogy of films, with stellar graphics, sound, pyrotechnics, and an adrenaline-pumping level of nonstop, absorbing action, this sequel deserves your attention.