Without a J.R.R. Tolkien book or big-screen Peter Jackson movie to fall back on, this credible expansion disk offers Lord of the Rings fans plenty of enjoyment - even though
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICHThe Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II - Expansion Pack: The Rise of the Witch-King, a DVD-ROM in English by EA, distributed with a 29-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP and a 1.6 Ghz Pentium 4 PC and up plus the original Battle for Middle Earth II game, for ages 12 through adult, NIS 149.
Without a J.R.R. Tolkien book or big-screen Peter Jackson movie to fall back on, this credible expansion disk offers Lord of the Rings fans plenty of enjoyment - even though it is rather short, with only seven missions. Less than a year after the original real-time strategy game appeared, this expansion disk - with one of the longest titles in gaming history - continues the action of the epic fantasy trilogy.
One has to be a fan of The Lord of the Rings and of real-time strategy games to be interested in the expansion disk, which cannot be played unless you already have the original game, selling for NIS 219. The add-on disk offers a campaign to conquer Middle Earth starring the Witch-King, one of the more mysterious characters from the film trilogy, along with battlefield skirmishes that are fought without the storyline.
The Witch-King, whose face is covered with heavy metal and rides an armored horse, is the second in command to the dark lord Sauron and serves as captain of the Nazgul, the pernicious chiefs of his army. The events in the expansion disk occur following the epic battle seen at the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring movie. After Sauron was routed by an army of men and elves in the year 3441 of the Second Age and lost his powerful One Ring, peace returned to the realm. But then, a few hundred years later, the troublemaking and notorious Witch-King returns in 1300 of the Third Age, bringing together several evil factions in the north to smash the ancient kingdom of Arnor and form the kingdom of Angmar, whose faction is the main focus of the expansion disk and is overloaded with hostile trolls.
First customize your "heroes" - male or female, ugly or good-looking - to play on your behalf. The weapons are mostly bows-and-arrows, spears and catapults, and there is absolutely no blood at all, but the game's raison d'etre is constant violence. Unlike most real-time strategy games, the missions require not just blows but also cleverness and imagination. You need not only weapons to fight but also sorcerers to cast spells, an oversized spectral wolf and avalanches to bury enemies. Try to bolster and expand your army before going out on the series of missions. The last one is definitely challenging and drawn out, and having to erode the enemy over nearly two hours may confound you completely.
The War of the Ring campaign, with its turn-based strategic formula, is better in the expansion disk than the original game and offers a dozen new maps. In addition to the single-player mode of vying against the computer, there is a multiplayer mode for playing opposite real opponents in cyberspace, but this requires so much effort that it is meant only for genuine Lord of the Rings fanatics.
A new hero class of trolls, called the Olog-hai, are unveiled in the expansion pack, along with knights of Dol Amroth, the Rohan spearmen, dwarven zealots, Lindon horse archers, Noldor warriors (for the elves); Uruk deathbringers, axethrowers, Black Riders, black orcs and Azog of Moria, a half-troll who wields a wild sword. Angmar is boosted by eight base units, six summoned units, five heroes, nine spells, four fortress expansions and six fortress upgrades, seven structures and five wall upgrades. I certainly admire the developers for being able to invent such incredible names, characters and environments.
The Hebrew-language user's manual offers images and descriptions of elves, dwarves, goblins and heroes, but there are so much English dialogue and text in the game that one really must have a good command of the language to get through it. There is no doubt that many teenage boys who are Tolkien fans will upgrade their English just to follow the game's goings on. One wonders, however, whether EA is planning yet another expansion disk, as a good thing must always come to an end, and there is always a danger of overkill.
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