It's common knowledge the Real Time Strategy genre has never found itself in good hands when ported to a console. The problems of graphics and units being too small or the controls not handling properly are two of the biggest factors why no one has attempted an RTS on a console in recent years. EA though decided to take a risk and port their entertaining Lord of the Rings title, Battle for Middle Earth II to the Xbox 360. By designing a unique control scheme which takes advantage of the controller, and trying best to tap into the power of the Xbox 360, EA has created the best RTS ever to land on consoles. Sure there are only a handful of dreadful titles to compete against, but this is still saying something.
Controls work...but not well.
Being this is an RTS title, the biggest question in all gamers minds' is how does this game play? Does it faithfully recapture the magic of using a keyboard and mouse for micromanaging bliss, or dummy down to the controls to the point where sending in the whole army is the best option? BFME II falls somewhere in between these two extremes. EA has given gamers a wealth of button combinations for selections. All of the unit selections require the A button and some combination of the left and right triggers as well as the left and right bumpers. Mainly, these combinations are used to select a certain type of unit. For example, double tapping the A button selects all visible units on the screen, while holding down the right bumper and hitting the A button selects all units of certain type on the screen. The selection system does work on the Xbox 360, but it doesn't come close to the precision and speed of a mouse and keyboard. Why this is so crucial is certain unit types are more effective against others. This is one of the core gameplay mechanics to add depth to the game. However, actually selecting the specific units, especially when in a battle, is not quick or precise on the Xbox 360. It works, just not to the degree veterans of the RTS genre are going to be used to. In short, it is going to frustrate some. Most of the time, I found myself just selecting the entire army and sending them in all in at once. It is not that the selection system is broken or unplayable, just that compared to the keyboard and mouse the selection system it is going to feel slow and clunky. Still it is the best implementation of this system on the consoles.
One area where this is apparent is the construction of bases, and the various selections of options outside battles. Building bases, gathering resources, constructing walls, and creating armies were almost painless. EA was smart in mapping the builders to the down direction on the D-Pad, so finding one in a massive base is not all that hard. The same goes for when scrolling through various heroes, groups (if one wants to try and micromanage their army), and spells (one of the more entertaining aspects of the battle system). All of these options are easy to access and to me seemed more intuitive than finding the correct button on the computer screen. So while BFME II doesn't beat the computer at every turn, there are a few areas and ideas which are impressive.
The combat as a whole, considering the controls, is still entertaining to witness. Instead of creating single units, gamers create entire squads, or groups of units. The result is a body count very similar to those found in the actual movies. The battles come off as epic and grand as those in the film and thanks to the rather smart camera system built into BFME II, players can get in as close to watch single squads fight or pull back to survey the entire struggle. Units will fly in the air when attacked by a hero or be stomped to the ground as calvary units run them down. To add more depth onto of the rock, paper, scissors mechanic of matching up units with those they are suited to fight, EA also included a host of power for gamers to tap into each mission. Points are awarded as the gamer progresses through the game and these points can be used to purchase powers. These powers can be used at any point in the game and can range from providing armies a healing power on a certain area of the map, to summoning the Watcher in the Water. These powers are pure Tolkein and really will make gamers smile when they unleash these upon unsuspecting armies. Pages