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Welcome Back to the West
By oneshotstop
Posted on 08/01/16
The only thing that stops the dust is the rain. It’s a sweet reprieve, but there is no middle ground. The land is either as dry as the Betty Ford clinic, or as wet as the ocean floor. Everything can be seen from the ridge overlooking Armadillo as John Marston gently bounces along atop...

The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II Screenshots

What's this product all about?

We're creating a bigger, richer, deeper Lord of the Rings strategy game that will immerse you, transport you, and enchant you as you experience the Middle-earth you've never seen. You'll fight epic battles in new places with new armies led by new heroes. You'll experience unprecedented depth of strategy with innovative RTS features that combine creativity and strategy. You'll see Middle-earth like never before with visuals that hit a new bar.

What's new in Middle-earth? Does this game go beyond the films?

The game is based on both the books and the films. As Middle-earth's fate hangs by a thread, you'll command the most ancient and storied civilizations of Tolkien's world, the Elves and the Dwarves, as they unite to fight Sauron's armies in the Northern Lands. New races, places, and heroes come to life from the book fiction and Peter Jackson's movies. If playing on the side of light isn't your thing, you can control the Dark Lord's minions in a mission of ruthless conquest. You'll command vast hordes of Orcs, Goblins, Trolls, Giants, Spiders, Nazgul, Evil Men, and even Dragons.

What's new for the strategy gamer?

Depth of strategy comes in the form of fast and fluid RTS game play, an innovative fortress and wall building system that lets you create your own custom castles, the freedom to build anywhere in the world, a Risk-style strategy meta-game that is infinitely replayable, better control over your armies in battle through smart formations, tactical fidelity in melee combat, customized heroes that become your avatars in battle, and naval units and battles at sea.

Have you upgraded the game engine? How are the visuals?

New technology brings you a high fidelity vision of Middle-earth. Water that sparkles in the sun and crashes on the shore in explosions of foam and spray. Sun dappled meadows and swaying trees. Landscapes of ice and snow. Amazing particle effects for magic spells. The improvements under the hood include a new shader system, normal mapping, specularity, perspective shadows, distance hazing, an improved particle system, and other cool stuff.

How much new content is in the game? Will you be bringing back anything from the first game?

This is like two games in one. We're creating a full game's worth of new content í¢â‚¬" units, heroes, structures, locations, missions, new game mechanics, and new technology - and we're also bringing back all of the units, heroes, structures, and locations from the original Battle for Middle-earth. We want to deliver the complete Middle-earth experience, with all of the races and heroes from the books and movies and all of the places on the map.

More detail: Battle for Middle-earth II will have a total of six factions (sides), 80+ units, 34+ heroes, and 50+ maps. We're adding three entirely new factions based on Elves, Dwarves, and Goblins í¢â‚¬" and each new faction has new units, heroes, and structures. We're enhancing the existing factions from the first game as well. For example, we're adding Corsairs and Black Riders for Mordor, Wild Men of Dunland for Isengard, and Dunedain Rangers for our Men of the West faction (Gondor and Rohan are being combined into one faction).

What is the single player game experience like?

There are three ways to play. You can start up a story-based campaign with lovingly crafted RTS missions on the side of Good or Evil. You can also play a new free-form í¢â‚¬…“War of the Ringí¢â‚¬? strategy game that spans all of Middle-earth and lets you battle a new strategic AI for control of the world. Finally, you can jump into a í¢â‚¬…“one offí¢â‚¬? battle against AI where you choose the factions and the map.

The story-based single player campaign takes you to the Northern Lands of Middle-earth where Elves and Dwarves are fighting a series of massive battles against Sauron's forces during the War of the Ring. These battles in the North are as epic as anything shown on film, with vast armies clashing in new locations like Mirkwood, Lorien, Dale, and the mountain fortress of Erebor.

The Good campaign puts you in charge of the allied ancient races warring against Goblin hordes descending from the Misty Mountains and the dark tide flowing out of Sauron's fortress of Dol Guldur. If you choose to play the Evil campaign, you'll control the armies from Dol Guldur as well as a host of corrupted creatures. Instead of defending the North, your mission will be to conquer it. Victory for the Evil side will come when Sauron controls the northern lands of Middle-earth.

Once you are finished with the Good and Evil story-based campaigns, you can unlock infinite replayability with our new War of the Ring strategy meta-game. You can choose to re-fight the entire War of the Ring í¢â‚¬" in the South as well as the North í¢â‚¬" by choosing a side and a starting location on the 3D living world map of Middle-earth. You can then build up your forces, move your armies, and take territories in a Risk-style strategy game. Battles for contested territories can be auto-resolved or played out in a classic real-time encounter on the actual RTS map.

Is the War of the Ring part of the campaign game? Is it a skirmish mode? Can it be played multiplayer?

War of the Ring is an entirely new way to play. You conquer Middle-earth your own way, battling for control of the world against a strategic AI or another player. All of the races of Middle-earth are yours to command as you fight across the entire world, re-visiting classic battles like Helm's Deep, Isengard, and Minas Tirith. You can also stage battles in Minas Morgul, the land of Mordor , the land of Rhun , and other locations from across Middle-earth. You create your own history of the War of the Ring í¢â‚¬" and it plays out differently every time.

What's up with fortresses and wall building?

We are bringing a new level of creativity and strategy to base building. First of all, we're letting you build structures anywhere on the map, not just on the little build plots we gave players in the first game. We're also adding the ability to build customizable fortresses that can anchor your base defense. Each fortress can be tricked out with cool upgrades that are specific to each of the six factions in the game. For example, the Men of the West player can deploy trebuchets, arrow towers, and boiling oil as upgrades to their fortresses (among others). Goblin players will have giants that throw rocks and spider lairs as defensive upgrades. Most cool of all, we're giving you the ability to build walls around your fortresses and other structures so you can create your own landmark castles of Middle-earth. You can even upgrade every wall segment í¢â‚¬" you can build gates, towers, emplacements, and all sorts of cool stuff. Wall building is very easy to use and incredibly powerful; you'll be amazed at what you can create.

The good news is that we've applied the lessons we've learned from the first game about making things accessible and easy to use, so the interface for base building í¢â‚¬" even with all the added freedom - remains very clean and streamlined. So it's easy to do but gives the game tremendous depth. It's like having your cake and eating it too.

What are some examples of strategies that are enabled by this new base building system?

The fortress and wall system is very flexible and powerful í¢â‚¬" you can optimize your base defenses to suit your strategy and style of play. With the many options available, you can easily, quickly, and inexpensively create a basic castle with simple defensive walls and cheap fortress upgrades. Or you can spend some additional resources and create massive fortifications bristling with trebuchets and arrow towers and secured by a foundation of reinforced stonework. When the team plays Battle for Middle-earth II in multiplayer, some players build huge castles that can defend against an attack from any angle; other players use small, strategically deployed wall segments with selective upgrades to guard the approaches that would most commonly be used for attacks. Both strategies can workí¢â‚¬Â¦ it really depends on the player.

Will there be heroes and creatures from the books that didn't appear in the films? What about heroes from the films that weren't in the first game?

New heroes from the books include Glorfindel the Elf Lord, King Thranduil of the Mirkwood Elves, and King Dain of the Dwarves. We're also including heroes from the films that didn't make it into the first game, like Elrond, Master of Rivendel, Arwen, Galadriel, Wormtongue, the Mouth of Sauron, and others.

What is the í¢â‚¬…“Create-a-Heroí¢â‚¬? feature? How does it work?

We're going to allow you to create your own hero by picking a race and type and then customizing the appearance, weapons, spells, and abilities for that hero. As a player, you can ask yourself: What would I be if I were a hero in Middle-earth? An Elven Wizard? A Battle Troll with a spiked mace? A Rohan Shield Maiden who can ride a horse? You decide.

You will be prompted to create your own hero at the beginning of a campaign game. You'll also be able to access the hero creation feature from the game's main menu - to add to your bullpen of custom heroes or edit an existing hero. Customization options range from armor, clothing, and weapon choices to the actual ladder of powers and abilities that your hero will use to í¢â‚¬…“level upí¢â‚¬? during game play.

Once you've created a hero, you can take him or her into multiplayer games as well as the single player campaign game. We'll limit the use of custom heroes for tournament games that count towards ladder stats, but otherwise players have the option to create and join multiplayer games with their created heroes (or not, depending on preference í¢â‚¬" some players may want to host and join í¢â‚¬…“no custom heroí¢â‚¬? games regardless of whether or not they count towards official stats).

Are you making any changes to the AI?

We are re-writing the AI from the ground up. I think players will be pleasantly surprised at the resulting improvements which range from more sophisticated strategies for building and using units, structures, and spell powers to tactics like grouping basic units with heroes to take advantage of what the heroes bring to the party.

What are some of the cool new í¢â‚¬…“big creaturesí¢â‚¬??

The Giant is a cool new large creatureí¢â‚¬Â¦ imagine something twice as tall í¢â‚¬" and twice as mean í¢â‚¬" as one of the battle trolls from the movies or the first game. Other interesting big critters include huge dragons, fire breathing drakes, a í¢â‚¬…“Half-Trollí¢â‚¬? Marauder, and summonable beasties like the giant tentacled monster called the í¢â‚¬…“Watcherí¢â‚¬? or a Wyrm that tunnels up from underground.

How about spell powers? What's new?

In addition to summonable creatures like the Watcher, you can trigger an earthquake, cause a flood, rain fire down on your opponent's army, call in a whirlwind of destruction, or call allies like Tom Bombadil or the Dunedain to your aid. These are just a few examples of the new powers.

Will more advanced unit commands be available? Such as Hold Position, Automatic Search and Destroy, and so forth?

We are introducing í¢â‚¬…“stancesí¢â‚¬? for units and heroes that give a new level of control over their basic behavior. We are currently implementing three different stances: í¢â‚¬…“ Battle Stanceí¢â‚¬?, í¢â‚¬…“Hold Groundí¢â‚¬?, and í¢â‚¬…“Aggressiveí¢â‚¬?. Units default to the battle stance í¢â‚¬" they will defend an area but will retaliate if attacked. Units set to hold ground will not budge from their positions even if under attack. Units set to be aggressive will hunt down and kill enemy units that come within their sight ranges.

So what are some of the specific missions or scenarios in the game?

Imagine a massive sea battle outside the Elven port city of the Grey Havens as a fleet of marauding Corsair warships attacks. Or a fight to the death with huge and terrifying dragon in the bowels of the Blue Mountains . Or an assault on a vast Goblin city deep in the Misty Mountains . Or an epic siege on a dark and evil fortress buried in the forests of Mirkwood. These are just a few of the things you'll do in the Good campaign missions í¢â‚¬" and we're not touching on the Evil campaign or all the cool things you can do in the War of the Ring mode (like defending Minas Tirith with an alliance of Elves and Dwarves).

What's new in multiplayer?

We've made a number of improvements to multiplayer í¢â‚¬" but the big news is in how we're enabling multiplayer functionality for custom heroes and our new War of the Ring meta-game. You'll be able to create heroes and take them into multiplayer matches. You'll also be able to play a persistent War of the Ring game against another player - with save files. Given that a War of the Ring game with multiple RTS battle sessions might take days to play, we are letting players save out their games so they can pick them up again later.

More conventional new features include the ability to set new rules and starting conditions for created games, the ability to establish player handicaps, and other groovy stuff. More details will be forthcoming on the multiplayer feature set a bit later.

What improvements are you making to unit control and tactical fidelity?

You'll be able to create complex formations of troops just by grouping units and moving the mouse - the artificial intelligence will line up formations automatically in an intelligent way (soldiers and pikemen up front, archers in the back, cavalry on the flanks, and siege weapons like catapults in the rear to support attack or defense). This new smart formation system does away with a lot of the micro-management in the first game (for combo hordes, formations, etc.).

Tactical fidelity in Battle for Middle-earth II will also be much higher í¢â‚¬" players will get bonuses if they flank their opponents. For example, if you attack a formation from the side, you'll get a bonus in the attack since you're hitting them from a vulnerable angle. Another example: If you ride your cavalry over pikemen while they have their pikes facing the other way, you'll overrun your opponent í¢â‚¬" unlike the first game, where pikemen slaughtered cavalry no matter which direction their pikes were facing. We heard back from a number of players that they were frustrated because it didn't seem to matter where their units were facing or how they were lined up. We listened and the new game is a lot more realistic without being more complicated.

Are you making any changes to the basic melee system?

Yes í¢â‚¬" we're implementing a more sophisticated melee combat system that will minimize uncontrollable í¢â‚¬…“scrumsí¢â‚¬?. Formations will stay more or less intact and will engage intelligently rather than simply piling into each other in an unmanageable mass of troops. We want to make sure you can still control the action even in a big battle.

How will naval combat work?

You'll be able to capture a neutral Shipwright structure and then build ships that are appropriate to your side. If you're playing Elves, Dwarves, or Men of the West, you'll be able to build Elven warships and transports. Goblin, Mordor, and Isengard players will get Corsair warships and transports. Warships can be upgraded to get improved armor, firepower, etc. You can use ships to bombard units and structures inland, battle against other ships, or scout the map.

Why combine Gondor and Rohan? What other changes are there to existing sides?

It made sense to combine Gondor and Rohan into one faction í¢â‚¬" the Men of the West - because these two sides had duplicate unit types and Rohan was really just about heroes and cavalry. By adding the Rohan heroes to Gondor and making the Rohirrim horsemen available as cavalry, the new unified Men of the West is a deep, rich, and compelling side.

Mordor and Isengard are already pretty cool sides and it didn't seem right to combine them. Instead, we're adding a bunch of units and heroes to both Mordor and Isengard to increase depth. For example, we gave Mordor the Black Riders (Ring Wraiths on horseback), Corsairs of Umbar (able to scale walls using grappling hooks), and a new Mouth of Sauron hero, among other additions. Isengard gained the Wild Men of Dunland as units, Wormtongue, and Sharku the Warg Hero. Both sides also got new customizable fortress structures with all sorts of cool upgrades.

How many people are working on the project?

We reached peak staffing of about 80 people in June (this number doesn't include our testers). This is a big team made up of very talented individuals. I'm continually amazed í¢â‚¬" and delighted í¢â‚¬" by how quickly this team is making progress on the game.

Will there be an expansion pack for the original Battle for Middle-earth?

We looked seriously at creating an expansion pack for Battle for Middle-earth but the opportunity presented by the consolidated book and movie rights for The Lord of the Rings led us to make a full sequel instead. The unified rights unlocked the world of Middle-earth like never beforeí¢â‚¬Â¦ it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to work on a game that brings new races, places, heroes, and battles from the Lord of the Rings books into the visual world of the films.

With a full team of 80 very talented people, we set a very ambitious agenda:

í¢â‚¬Â¢ Make enough new content for a full sequel and then bring along all the units, structures, and locations from the first game

í¢â‚¬Â¢ Push to innovate within the genre

í¢â‚¬Â¢ Transform the base building experience with a powerful fortress and wall building system that's incredibly easy to use

í¢â‚¬Â¢ Create a strategy meta-game that can be played against other players and not just an AI; make something that gives the game infinite replayability in the single player experience

í¢â‚¬Â¢ Unlock the ability to create custom RTS heroes and take them on-line

í¢â‚¬Â¢ Give players better control over armies in combat without adding a bunch of complexity

í¢â‚¬Â¢ Make substantial upgrades to the engine so that we could dramatically improve the visual quality of the world

í¢â‚¬Â¢ Finally: Make a game that's addictive, fun to play, and appeals to our traditional hard core RTS gamers without losing the accessibility and ease of use that distinguished the first game

Will you be able to have your troops walk and fight on the walls you can build as part of the new fortress and wall system?

The ability to walk í¢â‚¬" and fight í¢â‚¬" on top of walls was in our design spec for the new base building system from the beginning. We implemented large í¢â‚¬…“walk-able wallsí¢â‚¬? in May and tested them in play sessions - and unfortunately we discovered that the oversized wall hubs and wall segments weren't a lot of fun to play with because they were huge, awkward, and ugly to boot. The smaller and more upgradeable walls, on the other hand, were a blast to play with and were an instant hit. These smaller walls are the right size for the game and make up for the lack of í¢â‚¬…“walk-ableí¢â‚¬? space by having every wall segment available for upgrades with towers, gates, trebuchets, etc., etc. We made a call to leave the larger walk-able walls out of the game. We are actually looking into the idea of making them accessible to the mod community.

Please remember that large pre-built castles in specific maps (like Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith) will have the larger walk-able walls; we just decided to sacrifice walk-able walls for player created castles using the new base building system.

Will you have more units on the screen than in the first game? Are you changing the population cap?

We will let you have more units on the screen in Battle for Middle-earth II í¢â‚¬" but I don't want to commit to a hard number just yet. As for the pop cap, that was our way of controlling the number of units that appeared on the screen; we won't be lowering it.

Will there be more units per horde or battalion?

Yes. The larger hordes and battalions give the game a í¢â‚¬…“big armyí¢â‚¬? feeling and make it easier to use some of our new unit control and tactical fidelity features (like smart formations and flanking).

Will units still have emotions?

Yes. We're implementing emotions for the new units that we're adding and we're tuning the emotion system from the first game. It's pretty damn cool to have your units react like characters: they still cheer in triumph, taunt enemies, tremble in fear, and exhibit other visible behaviors in response to changes in the environment and the game state.

Content on this page comes directly from press releases and fact sheets provided by publishers and developers and was not written by the Game Revolution staff.

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