15 May 2005 | mentalcritic
In twenty years, they still haven't equalled the Commodore 64 Tolkien games
Being a big fan of the Games Workshop tabletop battle game based upon the LOTR films (although they are rapidly veering back to Tolkien's novel), I had high hopes for a RTS title. I hoped that perhaps I could play socially with others who have an interest in Tolkien's mythological tour-de-force. Unfortunately, I cannot say this game has anything to recommend it. Once you get past the pretty videos (the unskippable introductions get very old very fast) and flashy graphics, there is very little to this game. Not only does it fail to improve upon the Tolkien games of the early 1980s, it also fails to put up even the most half-hearted challenge against the kings of the real time strategy genre, the early Command & Conquer series. Not surprisingly, EA Games also took over that series about the time the third episode was made, and promptly ran it into the ground.
But I am getting ahead of myself here. The one area where EA Games get it right, in contrast to their incredibly awful attempt to put LOTR into a Final Fantasy mould, is in how much they base upon the films. Unlike the narrow sliver of the Tolkien world that the films offered us, the game allows us to go almost anywhere East of Moria.
That's where the positives literally begin and end. For one thing, the game is astoundingly limited. They had all that space to use on a DVD-ROM, and they were only able to create two armies for each side? Given that the options are literally endless in other games that combine Tolkien with competitive combat, this is crook, indeed. The Free Peoples are basically given a choice between Rohan or Gondor, two armies that are almost entirely alike.
The Forces Of Darkness have slightly more varied armies in the forms of Mordor or Isengard, but their choices of heroes is so staggeringly limited as to be insulting. The fact that their so-called heavy units die faster than some of their regular infantry does not help. But I am digressing. I could rant and rave all night that failure to include Elves other than as an add-on for Rohan, or a Dwarf army of any description, makes the game incredibly limited. What really kills BFME, unfortunately, is the same thing that killed The Third Age: balance.
In a well-designed real-time strategy, every army has offensive and defensive options that allow the player to choose how they prosecute the war on their PC. Unfortunately, this is anything but the case in BFME. While Gondor can build archery towers or trebuchets around their outer walls to protect large castles, problems arise when the enemy brings catapults to bear against outposts. The only response other than dragging your army halfway across the map is to employ options that most strategists would save for more important occasions. The fact that structure upgrading often entails deliberately killing off units in order to attain the ability to build certain units doesn't help a lot, either.
Then there is the manner in which units will simply sit there like stunned mullets whilst their opponents fling arrows at them. What's even more insulting about this facet of the AI that EA stopped bragging about right after the game's release is that one army sitting at the bottom of a massive slope will fire up at another army at the top, who react is if they are out of range. When you order them to get up and fight back, they will even work further towards their attackers. Have the people who worked on the physics engine of BFME heard of this thing called gravity?
Quite frankly, with this imbalance killing everything that makes a game, single player or otherwise, fun, I cannot recommend BFME to anyone. Even after trying to start a player league by way of the IMDb boards for the corresponding films, my copy has now sat undusted in a shelf for months. I'm certain that companies like EA Games make the Tolkien estate absolutely rue the day the famed professor allowed the rights to his magnum opus to become so easily obtained.