Gamespot Previews "The Battle for Middle-earth II"

Here's an excerpt of the preview:

The Academy Award-winning Lord of the Rings motion pictures made novelist J.R.R. Tolkien's classic fantasy novels live again on the big screen. Last year, the team responsible for Command & Conquer: Generals brought the fantasy movies home in the form of an epic real-time strategy game. The team is now back working on a sequel, Battle for Middle-earth II, which will be built out with the full library of lore offered by Tolkien's novels now that publisher EA has secured the rights to the books to go with its movie license. In plain English, this means bigger fortresses, bigger battles, and more spectacular effects.

According to senior producer Mike Verdu, the team is focusing on three major points to improve the sequel: "Unlocking the world of Middle-earth, customization, and depth of strategy." For starters, the entire world of Middle-earth is now available for the team to play with, since both the novels and the movies are fair game to explore. As a result, the game's playable factions have received an overhaul. Yes, the orc hosts of Mordor return, as do the Uruk-hai legions of Isengard. However, there will be several all-new playable factions, including the "goblins and monsters" faction (which includes the diminutive beasties and their ferocious friends, like the easily insulted giant spiders of Mirkwood Forest that vexed Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit) and separate factions for the elves and the dwarves of Middle-earth. In addition, the factions of Gondor and Rohan, which were two separate groups in the original game (Gondor being the heavily armored fortress defenders, and Rohan being the nomadic horse riders who focused their strategies around powerful "hero" characters like Prince Eomer and the wizard Gandalf), have been combined into a single playable faction that combines the strengths of both.

The sequel will also offer customization in two specific ways. First, instead of being stuck with only the precreated "hero" characters from the movies, you'll actually be able to create your very own hero characters by customizing their appearances, hair colors, and wielded weapons, along with their skills and powers. Like the heroes from the original game, your custom-built heroes can gain experience in battle, gain experience levels, and unlock new powers as they go. The second sort of customization will come in the form of expanded fortress building. Unlike the first game, which required you to build your castles, guard towers, and walls on predetermined spots on the map, the sequel will let you build your fortresses anywhere you please, and you can build as many walls around them as you wish (assuming your faction has walls available). Your bases will start out as central stations (similar to the command centers in Command & Conquer: Generals) that can be upgraded in many different ways, though the concept of "building veterancy" from the first game (buildings would become "better" over time, producing stronger soldiers the more you used them) will not return in the sequel.

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