BfME2: the full game thread

I know we have the demo threads going already, but what the heck: here’s a thread for commentary on the full game. Who has it, and what do you think?

I got mine today, and I’ve been tooling around with it some. So far, my impressions are… mixed, I guess is the nicest way to put it. Bear in mind that this is just my first impressions after a few hours with the full game (though I did also play the sp demo, and the multiplayer beta, so I suspect that I have a pretty good grasp on the basic mechanics at this point).

I agree with some of the criticisms in the demo thread (which mirror many of my own criticisms about the demo). The widest camera zoom is not nearly wide enough for the scale of the battles. If you have a large group selected, it can be tricky (or downright impossible) to order them into a line formation, because as you drag the mouse you’ll eventually hit the scroll zone at the edge of the screen and the view window will go scittering off across the map. Defensive structures like walls are very expensive and might as well be made out of tissue paper, which makes me wonder if they are even worth building. (It’s also not particularly clear how you go about repairing them. If you have a wall breach, how do you fill it? Clicking on the adjascent wall sections just gives you build options for upgrades.) Pathing and unit movement in general is clunky (especially with boats, as someone else pointed out). Sometimes when I give a group a formation move order, units will end up out of formation (sometimes by a lot) and stay that way, even if they are out in the middle of an open field with no terrain blocking their movement. Units exert no zone of control, which means that fast enemies can zoom past even a strong defensive line of troops (which they often do, making a beeline for your buildings). And unless you set your units to Aggressive, they aren’t very good at engaging enemy units on their own. There doesn’t seem to be a “Guard” command, though maybe I’m just missing it. As far as I can tell, though, you can’t park a line of troops someplace and expect them to defend without your intervention. If you leave them set to Hold Ground or Battle stance, then half of them will stand around with their thumbs up their asses when the enemy attacks (I think their attack radius is very small in these stances, so they’ll attack any enemy that cxomes right up to them, but they don’t care if a comrade right next to them is being attacked). If you set them to Aggressive, they do better, but of course then they don’t stay put. They’ll end up following faster enemies halfway across the map if you don’t keep an eye on them.

The interface is minimal (which is nice), but it also seems minimally functional (which is not). You can’t access unit powers when you have a mixed group selected (which I think was also a problem in the first game, IIRC), and the only way you can select individual units is to click on that unit on the map (no list of selected units in the interface). So you have to spend a lot of time stabbing at units in the whirling melee if you want to use their unit powers (and you do). And you have no way of knowing who has powers that are ready to use short of sorting through each unit one at a time, by trying to click on them on the map. There’s a hotkey for selecting all nearby similar units (E), which is a huge help. Overall, it’s still pretty clunky, though. (Heroes, by contrast, are extremely easy to select and use, just as they were in BfME1.)

I like a a bunch of things in the War of the Ring mode, which has a bit of a Dominions vibe (albeit a VERY simplified Dominions vibe, and of course there’s only the one map). But I also wonder if it’s going to be too simplistic to hold up well under repeated play. I like limited build systems, but man–four buildings total, and only two slots per territory… that may be a little too limited even for me. Especially since it seems like the choice of what to build where is never that difficult, and there is no cost to build anything (other than time, which is one turn for all of the buildings except the fortress). Different territories give you different bonuses, though (which is cool), and you get extra bonuses for controlling entire regions of the map. But the dichotomy between building units on the strategic map and also building units in the battles (which play pretty much exactly like skirmish games) is kind of weird, and the fact that garrison units can move twice per turn on the strategic map (if the first move is an order to group with a hero in an adjascent territory) is even weirder.

I think my biggest problem, though, is the resource system in the battles. I just don’t like it much at all. I think one of BfME’s strengths was the way in which it focused the gameplay on key strategic points on the map, which were predetermined (it also worked well in Kohan 2, and I think Rise of Legends is going to take that concept to a new level). BfME2 not only ditches that system, it replaces it with a new system that is almost the diametric opposite. Now you are trying to cover the map with an even grid of resource buildings. Maybe I’m missing something, but this seems like an awful mechanic, and I like it less and less the more I play. In order to get a decent CP cap, you have to spam every corner of the map with resource buildings that are nearly impossible to defend (unless you are playing the dwarves or the goblins, in which case they are far tooeasy to defend, comparitively), especially when it takes the average lone scout unit about five seconds to destroy one. I get that they want you to control the map, but this really seems to take that concept to the absurd extreme. Some people complained about the preset base locations in the first game (I wasn’t one of them–I love that mechanic), but this almost feels like retribution on behalf of the developers. Now you have to build stuff everywhere.

There’s a lot of good stuff in the game, too–the heroes, the global powers, new unit rules like flanking, and the sheer spectacle of the thing. But at this point, the problems that I have with the game are making it really hard to like. Hopefully Tom can sweep in and beat me over the head with how wrong I am, because I really want to like this game. Because so far it seems kind of disappointing, overall.

Thanks, Ben. I’ve been wondering what those of you with betas and builds have been seeing that I have not. Looking forward to Tom chiming in here.

Another War of the Ring mode complaint:

Aside from the overall Middle Earthy theme, the game’s War of the Ring bears almost zero resemblence to the events from the books and the movies on which it is based. That’s a pretty big disappointment, especially coming off Empire at War, which is so unerringly attentive to its Star Wars license that nearly all the events in those movies can be explained in terms of EaW game mechanics.

I started a new two-player War of the Ring game, with me playing the Men of the West and the AI playing Sauron. For some reason, my starting territory is Rivendell. Why? it just is, I guess. The manual’s lavish four-page description of the War of the Ring portion of the game doesn’t offer an explanation.

So Theoden, Aragorn, and Boromir (I think those were my starting heroes) are all sitting in their great stronghold–the Last Homely House–west of the Misty Mountains. Sauron, of course, starts in Mordor. Gondor is completely empty and undefended, as is the rest of Middle Earth, so the first part of the game is a madcap land grab that is almost comical, and which splits the whole of Middle Earth pretty evenly between us. Once that was over, the game quickly turned into a slowish front war–sort of like WWI with Knights of Gondor and Rohirrim. Which I am currently recruiting a lot of in the Shire.

I know–it makes no sense.

I don’t mean to get all source-material-ahistory geeky here, but I don’t think they could have made a strategy game that is less like the books/movies if they had tried. The funniest part is that the titular Ring itself doesn’t even seem to be a part of the game, which means that maybe they should have called this game mode The War in the General Vicinity of the Ring. Unless you can find it in the battles themselves like you can in the skirmish mode. I’m not even sure how that would work–is the Ring on the battlefield every time you fight, no matter where you are in ME? (Man, that Gollum sure gets around!) If you find it in a battle (assuming that you even can), do you get to keep it after the battle ends? That seems like it would be sort of a random, game-ending advantage. The manual doesn’t say anything about it one way or the other, which isn’t surprising given how much the manual sucks.

They really should have looked at Fantasy Flight’s War of the Ring board game when they were kicking around ideas, because that game really has it all–strategic situations right out of the book, the journey of the Fellowship, Sauron’s dilemma (hunt for the Ring or conquer Middle Earth by force?). BfME2 not only doesn’t have it all–it doesn’t seem to have any of it.

Well, I’m not really here to set anyone straight on their opinion. If you’re not into BFME2, that’s certainly cool. It’s a very action-ey RTS and very much a progression from what Westwood used to do. The main challenge of the game – the core gameplay even – is unit wrangling. I understand that some people might not want that in an RTS.

To answer a couple of questions:

  • Repair is mostly automated. Some races (Men and Dwarves, I think) have a Repair Structure ring power. Normally, as in Kohan, it happens automatically if it’s going to happen at all.

  • If you assign a unit placement in a formation over an obstacle, there’s no way around the fact that it’s going to have to stand somewhere else. :) All I can recommend is being more careful about placing formations.

  • I don’t really agree about units not engaging when they’re set to aggressive. I’ve had dudes chase someone half way across the map! But when a battle is joined, I make it a habit to at least give my nearby units an attack move behind the enemy.

  • I completely agree about how clumsy it can be to use an army’s powers. I know they’re trying to minimize the interface as much as they can, but I’d much rather have had a way to see who’s selected, how many men they have left, what level they are, whether they’ve used their power, and so on. Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of units that have powers they need to use in the heat of battle.

  • I don’t think the War of the Ring mode is really supposed to replicate stuff in the books. There are a bunch of different set up options and victory requirements for War of the Ring, so be sure to pay attention to those. As for Men starting in Rivendell, that might be because you selected it, or because it was the default starting location for the good race. A lot of the War of the Ring games require that you click on a starting terrirtory, which is usually one of the six area fortresses.

As for the Ring not being in the War of the Ring mode, I think the idea is that this is the war that was being fought while Sam and Frodo were trying to chuck the ring into Mt. Doom. You’re doing the ‘war’ part, not the ‘ring’ part. :) The Ring is in the skirmishes, of course, but I have to say it very rarely comes into play for me. After, I dunno, maybe a hundred games, I’ve only brought a Ring hero into play maybe three or four times. And I only actually see Gollum in maybe one out of ten games.

At any rate, the main benefit of War of the Ring mode is the same as Empire at War: it gives the battles a larger context and some unique setups that you’ll never see in a straight up skirmish.

-Tom

They really should have looked at Fantasy Flight’s War of the Ring board game when they were kicking around ideas, because that game really has it all–strategic situations right out of the book, the journey of the Fellowship, Sauron’s dilemma (hunt for the Ring or conquer Middle Earth by force?). BfME2 not only doesn’t have it all–it doesn’t seem to have any of it.

I would so love a PC multiplayer version of War of the Ring by FFG. It’s a shame EA have an exclusive in that sense - I’d love for FFG to branch out like Days of Wonder & do a PC conversion.

Oh well.

oh my god…I have been thinking that since I got the game yesterday. And, especially after I have played Empire at War. Maybe I just haven’t dug into the game enough (skirmish is good), but with the War of the Ring…it is practically a no-go for me. And that was the part of the game I was looking forward to the most. Heck, even if they just made it where you fought with what you go into the battle with (Empire at War?), that would make it better.

by the way, I LOVE FFG’s War of the Ring boardgame…now THAT would be a good pc game if ever it was done!! (Now, if they can just get that xpack finished up and sent to me!!)

Chris

Right–that works if a structure is damaged. But if a portion of my wall gets destroyed–as in, one (or more) segments aren’t there at all any more, the Repair Structure global power won’t replace it. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t grow back automatically, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to rebuild it (you can’t, for instance, click and drag a new wall section across the gap). Do you have to tear down the wall and build an entirely new one from scratch? Because that seems a bit… severe.

  • If you assign a unit placement in a formation over an obstacle, there’s no way around the fact that it’s going to have to stand somewhere else. :) All I can recommend is being more careful about placing formations.

As I said, there was no obstacle. It’s happened several times now, and I had wondered if maybe there was some obstacle blocking their path. The last time it happened, though, they were in the middle of an empty field. No obstacles even in sight, let alone in their way.

  • I don’t really agree about units not engaging when they’re set to aggressive. I’ve had dudes chase someone half way across the map! But when a battle is joined, I make it a habit to at least give my nearby units an attack move behind the enemy.

No, I agree that they engage when set to Aggressive. What I want is a guard order–some way to get them to engage as… er, aggressively… as they do on Aggressive, but without wandering across half the map in pursuit of a fleeing enemy. Most RTS games have that these days. BfME2 doesn’t.

  • I don’t think the War of the Ring mode is really supposed to replicate stuff in the books. There are a bunch of different set up options and victory requirements for War of the Ring, so be sure to pay attention to those. As for Men starting in Rivendell, that might be because you selected it, or because it was the default starting location for the good race. A lot of the War of the Ring games require that you click on a starting terrirtory, which is usually one of the six area fortresses.

I’ll look more closely at it; like I said, the manual barely even mentions that game mode, which bodes sort of poorly for how much thought they put into it. And I’m okay with it not replicating the events from the books exactly, but I’d like for it to at least sort of resemble them. I mean, if you are going to use a license, then use the license. If you played a WWII strategy game as England, and the game started you off in Stalingrad facing off against Italy on an otherwise empty map, wouldn’t you find that just a little bit offputting?

As for the Ring not being in the War of the Ring mode, I think the idea is that this is the war that was being fought while Sam and Frodo were trying to chuck the ring into Mt. Doom. You’re doing the ‘war’ part, not the ‘ring’ part. :)

Well, then I’d say that’s a missed opportunity, since the Sam and Frodo stuff was a critical part of the war in the source material. Like I said, the WotR board game integrated the quest of the Fellowship into the gameplay in a pretty clever way. BfME2 just ignores it–the Ring has no bearing on who wins or loses the War of the Ring, or how. It’s like Panzer General with no Panzers. That’s extraordinarily lame, and one of the laziest implementations of a licensed setting that I’ve ever seen in a game. Compared to all the thought they obviously put into the unit design and the combat (which does stay pretty true to the license), it falls very, very flat. It’s just a generic wargame with LotR names slapped on the units and regions. Not only does it not replicate events and situations from the source material–it doesn’t even approximate them. Or have anything even vaguely to do with them.

At any rate, the main benefit of War of the Ring mode is the same as Empire at War: it gives the battles a larger context and some unique setups that you’ll never see in a straight up skirmish.

That’s true, but EaW’s Galactic Conquest mode has the added benefit of also being good.

Maybe the walls were made out of Entwives, we don’t see them anymore, I should say not. Burrrruuhmm.

I’ve been looking for snazzy new games to play on my snazzy new laptop and I thought of getting one of these. My concern is that it is spray paint licensing, where if you use your fingernail, you can scrape off a very thin layer of source material until nothing but clunky metallic mechanics are left.

I suppose I should just read up on it, but I can never seem to trust gaming articles on matters like these. Did the developers have to do a lot of expanding on Tolkien to make these games? If so, my thought it is that Middle Earth-y themes without Tolkien’s erudite writing is just so much D&D stuff with not much to recommend it.

War of the Ring doesn’t sound encouraging. I wonder if anyone in the development team had a vague thought of making something Capture-the-Flag-ish for an RTS with the Ring as the flag. though I have to say, the looniness could get a bit fun to play around with. Recruit orcs from Lothlorien!

Perhaps I should just try Rise of Nations before Rise of Legends comes out…what would you recommend?

-Kitsune

Perhaps I should just try Rise of Nations before Rise of Legends comes out…what would you recommend?

That.

And I entirely agree with your thesis of the theme being pasted on. And beside EaW, I really do think BfME suffers.

You joke, but in one of the “conquer the enemy capitol” scenarios, the Goblins’ capitol region is indeed Lorien. It’s funny, in all of the twenty-odd scenarios they have, not a single one has starting positions for the various nations that have anything at all to do with the story that this game is supposedly based on. It’s not that I mind having some random, goofy scenarios thrown in for fun (The Men of the West start in Farlindon, the Goblins control Rohan, and the Elves control the Iron Hills! [SIZE=“1”]That’s a real scenario, BTW[/SIZE]), but you’d think they’d start off by including a scenario that approximates the books/movies, rather than what they actually did, which was to leave that scenario out entirely.

You can try to approximate it yourself by choosing one of the non-predetermined starting position scenarios and then changing the start regions for each race appropriately. But as far as I can tell, all of those scenarios only let you start with one region, so there’s no way to really set up the starting conditions for the War of the Ring as they were in the story.

What an utterly bizarre omission. I’m not even a full day in, but I think I may be just about done with this game, at this point.

The books movies were done already in the first game… the sequel is all about Elves, Dorfs and Goblins…which allows for more creative license (dragons and spider riders and worms? I like it!) I don’t see how BFMEII is any more divergent from its source as Empires at War is from SW… i guess some people are more hardcore about middle earth?

And you can set up the original starting conditions for all 6 races… although it isn’t a fair campaign start for the light forces… the humans you have to choose either Helms Deep or Minas Tirith (both equally good for city defense)… anyhoo give the game a chance its a nice ‘casual’ rts with tight gameplay. It’s just as good as something like the recent D&D rts… but with better multiplay imo.

My only beef is they should have kept Rohan seperate from Gondor and made a human evil army…like the Haradrim Southrons or something… making eight races… hmm maybe an expansion?

etc

That’s not what I was bitching about. I don’t mind the addition of those races. But I think it’s pretty reasonable to expect that the "War of the Ring game mode would be about… oh, I don’t know, maybe the War of the Ring?

I don’t see how BFMEII is any more divergent from its source as Empires at War is from SW…

Then you need glasses. No offense, but holy crap! That observation is way off target. Gold Five would be disappointed.

i guess some people are more hardcore about middle earth?

Well, that’s a fair point. If BfME2 is shooting for the “people that don’t care much about Middle Earth” demographic, then maybe they’ll do okay.

And you can set up the original starting conditions for all 6 races… although it isn’t a fair campaign start for the light forces…

That’s exactly why they needed to have the Ring in the game, because the Ring was the trump card that the armies of the West had and the Shadow didn’t. It’s no surprise that the setup from the books doesn’t work very well without it–like I said before, it’s like making Panzer General with no tanks and then wondering why Germany is having such a hard time blitzkrieging Europe.
In the books, the war was an interesting strategic premise. Sauron’s forces are a lot more powerful than the forces of the West, but he doesn’t have the Ring. He doesn’t know exactly who does have the Ring (though he has his suspicions), or what they plan to do with it. So he can try to use his superior force to steamroller the West, knowing that the Ring may eventually come into play and tip the balance. Or he can expend resources looking for it before it falls into the hands of someone dangerous, at the expense of his military progress. The West, on the other hand, has to decide whether to use the Ring or destroy it. They know that Sauron will eventually steamroller them if they don’t do something with it. It’s exceedingly dangerous to use it, but risky to destroy it.

There are all sorts of ways that they could have integrated that element of the story–and I say “element of the story” as though it wasn’t the entirety of the story, though it was–into the game. It could have been something really simple, like a sort of research track that lets the West spend some sort of resource to get the Ring closer and closer to Mount Doom while Sauron spends resources trying to hunt it down. Or it could have been more complex, like the WotR board game’s system. Or they could just ditch it altogether, forget the source material, and make a random, vaguely Middle Earth-themed slugfest. Which is what they did.

And to that I say: Meh.

I agree with Ben about the War of the Ring mode…

EA dropped the ball with it…badly.

I am not saying that the War of the Ring mode is bad…it is just not loyal to the whole premise of the War of the Ring.

Besides, we have the campaign to see what happens in the North (Dwarves, Elves & Goblins). The War of the Ring should be about what it is…the War of the Ring…

And, I think that taking the War of the Ring boardgame would have been just right. Instead, they did something that just doesn’t seem to work. Maybe if it wasn’t about Tolkien’s Middle Earth, it may be right.

Oh I keep thinking you guys are thinking about the old SPI War of the Ring game instead of the newer boardgame, which usually pidgeonholed into certain situations by the endgame…

— Alan

I don’t really get the bitching. The War of the Ring mode is a turn-based way to shuffle heros and units with persistent experience and upgrades around a map of provinces based on locations from the books. It’s designed to give the battles a larger context and a greater variety of starting conditions that you’ll get with a regular skirmish.

And to my mind, it’s far more successful than Empire at War because it’s actually manageable, being turn-based and much more board-gamey. There are very few “pieces” and even fewer rules. This is why it doesn’t provide a really strong narrative, but the upside is that you spend more time in the battles, and they matter more.

But, yeah, if you’re looking for some grand strategic thing where Frodo can actually toss the Ring into Mt. Doom and the Elves always start in Rivendell, then you’re going to be disappointed.

I do agree that I would have liked to have seen more done with the concept of the Ring, in both the skirmish mode and the strategic mode. As it is, it’s little more than a prerequisite for a Titan, not to mention one that seems to only occasionally pop up, of its own accord. The only times I’ve found it have been when my dudes quite literally stumble over Gollum. But, uh, realistic, I guess…

(I did, however, have an interesting game tonight. It was a 3 vs. 3 and my team found the ring fairly early on. I took it back to my castle and basically hunkered down until I could bring out Galadriel, at which point it was pretty cool scouring the map clear of the other team.)

-Tom

Sometimes when I play on my laptop my mouse cursor just dies on the screen. You can zoom in and out but that is all.

I am playing with a Dell XPS2 laptop and the mouse is the finger mouse thing that is on the laptop, so it isn’t a real mouse. A touchpad – I think you call it.

Anyways, how do I get out of zoom mode so that I can go back into select mode to select units again?

I don’t see a key reassignment mode in the game settings.

So you wouldn’t have anything bad to say about the analogous WWII game that I described? Somehow, I’m pretty sure that you would, even if it worked okay as an utterly generic way to push a bunch of WWII-themed units around. I mean, sure, the WotR mode gives you context for your battles that a regular skirmish mode doesn’t. But playing it makes me feel like a teacher grading a D paper; it’s like the least possible effort they could have made to eke out a passing grade. It’s not much of a Lord of the Rings game; in fact, it doesn’t really have much more in common with the Lord of the Rings than any of the generic Tolkienesque strategy games out there.

And to my mind, it’s far more successful than Empire at War because it’s actually manageable, being turn-based and much more board-gamey. There are very few “pieces” and even fewer rules. This is why it doesn’t provide a really strong narrative, but the upside is that you spend more time in the battles, and they matter more.

Well, again, I’m not asking for narrative so much as I’m asking for theme. I mean, I don’t necessarily need my analogous WWII game to let me follow the story of Private Joe as he lands at Normandy and then fights his way across Europe, either. But I would like for it to at least approximate the conditions and strategic challenges of WWII, even if it allows you to take the war in an ahistoric direction. Just putting you in a random position on a map of Europe and letting you slug it out with some other WWII-era nations until one of you controls all of Europe doesn’t make for much of a WWII game. “D for diploma,” I guess.

I do like that it’s turn based.

But, yeah, if you’re looking for some grand strategic thing where Frodo can actually toss the Ring into Mt. Doom and the Elves always start in Rivendell, then you’re going to be disappointed.

Again, I think it’s pretty clear that’s not what I said. Although I do think it’s funny that they don’t even offer a scenario where that elves start in Rivendell (or where the Men of Gondor start in Gondor). I suspect that it’s as mtkafka said–a scenario based on the actual War of the Ring is too unbalanced to work under their game mechanics. That’s pretty ironic, don’t you think?

I am thinking that maybe the War of the Ring mode may be a great idea…it just seems to miss what the source material offers. Sure, there are elves, and dwarves, and the Men of the West, and Sauron, and Aragorn, ect ect ect…but it is all wrapped up in a generic gaming experience. No…not generic…wrong choice of wording. I guess what I am trying to say is: The War of the Ring mode could work with any other fantasy-themed strategy game, but not all fantasy themed strategy games can live up to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. What War of the Ring misses (in my opinion) is the theme. The mechanics are certainy there (and oh how I wish that Empire at War used a turn-based system for the strategic map), but the THEME is missing.

I think that the skirmish is well done…I enjoy the game. But, I agree with Ben again, why DIDN’T they make a scenario where every nation starts in their respective spots, according to the books/movies?

Will there be a scenario editor released? If so, I would imagine that someone will put one of those out.

I am actually liking War of the Ring mode more than I expected. I started a WotR game last night. At first I was also puzzled about the starting locations but then I scrolled down to a fortress mode or something like that and added 6 teams. I then put the orc faction in Mordor, the humans in Gondor, the eleves in Rivendell, etc. You can pick the starting location for each fation. As the game progressed, each faction gobbled up nearby territories and within a few turns each faction was at and around their “historical” starting area.

Instead of playing with only two or three factions, try adding all of the factions in the WotR mode; it makes it much more acceptable in terms of “realism.”

I’m excited about the prospect of setting up “what if” scenarios like elves vs. dwarves or Isengaurd vs. Mordor. I think there is a lot of flexibility in WotR mode.

What I was disappointed in was the create-a-hero mode. There are only a few areas you can customize and only 4(!) different swaps per area. You can’t change facial features or hair color so all of my Shield Maidens look the same but with only different armor. The Men of the West have 2 different hair styles and the same goofy looking face. I know I really wont be looking at faces during a frenetic RTS battle, but why cant I at least change the color of their hair?

The problem with all the “what if” scenarios is that they all start with “what if there was no Ring??”