E3 2006 Hands on with Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II for the Xbox 360
Adapting the Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre from PC to console has always been problematic. The problem has been: how do you apply the keyboard and mouse functionality to a console controller? After all these years, EA has given us the answer: you don't. With Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II, the developers at EA Los Angeles started from the ground up and devised a control system that is so user-friendly and intuitive, in mere minutes I was ready to rule them all.
The Battle for Middle Earth II is truly a beast of an RTS, with hundreds of units on the screen to control. Using the left analog stick, players move the cursor, navigate the battlefield, as well as preview, select, and command units. The default sensitivity on the 360 controller has been cranked up to make this both slick and efficient. The A button is the action button, used to select units, issue commands, et cetera. This is pretty standard stuff.
What makes the control system for the 360 version of the game work is that it has eliminated all of the excessive scrolling needed when navigating with a keyboard and mouse. Holding the A button when selecting a unit takes you directly to options for using that unit, which can be cycled through and chosen quickly. Tapping the A button twice selects all units visible on the screen, or you can select all units available with the touch of a button. All menus have been assigned to the right and left triggers. Points of interest on the map are libraried and can be accessed by pressing the D-pad and cycling through the choices.
By far the most important improvement is the controller-friendly menu system. This is where most players, especially me, have been frustrated with console RTS games in the past. But by adding simple drop-down menus that initiate directly from the cursor, that frustration has been completely eliminated. Players simply press the right or left trigger to access the menu that they want, and select a command or option. Units are controlled easily and efficiently, and battles are no longer comprised of agonizing and untimely icon tracking from unit to menu and back again. It seems so obvious that it's hard to believe it hasn't been used all along. The control system is easy, responsive, and never seems dumbed-down to fit the features of a console controller.
The Battle for Middle Earth II has been ported to the 360 using the highest possible graphic settings for the PC version, a first in my memory. The game is presented in 720p widescreen, and is stunningly beautiful, whether you are zoomed in on single units or viewing the entire battlefield. Four new multiplayer modes are available on the 360 as well, including King of the Hill, Capture and Hold, and Hero Versus Hero. EA also plans on offering additional multiplayer maps for download via Xbox Live Marketplace. Add to all of that a storyline that allows players to take part in the Great War of the North, and you have a game that not only expands upon one of the most beloved literary and movie epics of all time, but, perhaps for the first time, successfully adapts an entire genre of videogames from the console to the PC. This will be a must own for Ringers and RTS fans alike come June.