When people talk about the best real-time-strategy games they discuss the likes of the Total War games, or the Command & Conquer games, or the Age of Empires games, but there is always one franchise missing – The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth. Alongside the sequel – The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II and its expansion The Rise of the Witch-king they made up perhaps the best Lord of the Rings video game franchise.
The games, which saw you acquire resources scattered across the battle maps in order to build buildings and create an army to destroy your enemies, were pure fun. You could fight battles taking place during and before the films, or wage your own wars in modes that let you conquer MiddleEarth yourself. Whether you played with classic heroes and armies or created your own warriors and troops, leading your favourite armies and characters from the wider universe on to completely non-canon victories was always a blast. The games were for the most part well-designed and pure escapist fun which cared less for adhering to the rules of the franchise as much as letting you absolutely destroy Minas Tirith with your Rohan army.
Yet after the 2006 release of BFME2’s expansion the franchise went quiet. The licensing expired and DICE Los Angeles moved on to less successful projects. The franchise was forgotten. This was a shame not just for fans of the games but fans of Lord of the Rings and strategy games in general, as the games combined all these things.
But with the revival of interest in the film franchise with The Hobbit films and the recent announcement of a new Lord of the Rings film (well, a biopic on J.R.R. Tolkein), the perfect time for a revival of the franchise is now. Real-time strategy games have never really been unpopular and a new game focused on The Hobbit films or the expanded universe has the potential to do really well.
Since there are over ten years since the last game, there are many ways in which Battle for Middle Earth III could improve. As well as changing the focus of the game to the prequel series and updating the graphics, many mechanic changes would make the games much deeper. A greater focus on resource harvesting as a means to success and online play, a feature rather troubled in the original games, would make the games more strategic and enjoyable. Or potentially a smaller squad focus could been used, as with the recent XCOM games which seem to be the most popular strategy games currently. A real-time-strategy version of XCOM would be an interesting game, and would fit The Hobbit’s story of a party on an adventure.
There is never a bad time for Lord of the Rings games as the franchise enjoys enduring popularity, but for such a good franchise as the Battle for Middle Earth games it would make sense for DICE Los Angeles to make one. They need a good project to work on – and what better than a franchise they have experience working on? And real-time strategy games could put work into making themselves more accessible – nothing would make them more accessible than a huge franchise like The Lord of the Rings. Is there any reason not to make this game?