The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Ring Review

The Lord of the Rings: War of the Ring (WotR) is a real-time strategy game based on the original books and not on the recent films. In fact, its Warcraft III cartoon-like look makes it closer kin to the animated version of the books produced in the 70s than the Peter Jackson films. While not a bad strategy game, overall it feels like a standard RTS whose units are inspired by The Lord of The Rings more than a true strategy game based on The War of the Ring. As a result, it may be disappointing to both fans of the books and those of the movies.

The map scenery looks good.

WotR provides two campaigns, one for the forces of good in the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, and the other for evil in the form of Sauron and his minions. In addition to basing missions in the campaigns on events in the book, the game also takes some creative license. For example, some of the missions in the good campaign will let you see what Gimli, Legolas, and other members of the Fellowship were up to before their fateful meeting in Rivendell. Of course you couldn’t have a game based in The War of the Ring without including such memorable battles as Helmsdeep, and WotR delivers on this count. However, scenario design is one of the places where the standard RTS formula is applied. For example, Helmsdeep boils down to the familiar RTS base defense archetype. There are some nice touches in the missions, such as one in which Gimli and his dwarven army make use of large hilltop boulders to crush most of an orc base to rubble, but for the most part the game sticks to the RTS tried and true. This is not necessarily a bad thing in the general scheme of things, but most Lord of the Rings fans will probably be disappointed in the lack of depth considering the rich source material the game is based on.

The actual gameplay is standard for the genre. You have resources in the form of wood and ore which must be collected in order to build structures and produce units. There are structures to research upgrades, increase your unit cap, and produce units. The units themselves are drawn from the books, so you’ll command elven archers, Rohan riders, orcs, and trolls, all of which fall into the standard melee, ranged, cavalry, etc. categories. The units are well-balanced between the sides and the unit pathfinding works pretty well, although groups with units of different speeds tend to get strung out. As in many RTS games, WotR is a battle of production. Cranking up your economy quickly so that you can crank out the units is key to your success, and most battles can be won though the force of sheer numbers. This gaming model can certainly provide for some good fun, but the question is: how well does it apply to The Lord of the Rings? The game is far more successful in presenting a fantasy-themed RTS game than one which draws the gamer into the world of Tolkien.

To its credit the game does add some new ingredients to the standard RTS formula. The first of these is actually borrowed from StarCraft and Warcraft III. The forces of Sauron can only build on corrupted land, and so must build war posts that turn the land around them black. Think of it as orc creep. Next we have the places of power. These are special sites located on the map that give a benefit to the faction controlling them in the form of fate points.