For some reason, PC strategy games rarely make the transition to consoles intact. From Syndicate to StarCraft, would-be armchair generals have had to stomach ports that either lost some functionality, looked like crap or both.
That doesn't appear to be the case with the 360 version of The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth 2. Not only does this next-gen version let you control the same armies of orcs or elves that the PC version did, but the developers have apparently gone to great lengths to ensure that the game is just as deep as it would be with a keyboard and mouse.
In fact, most of what we've seen of the game was based around just how much you can do using only the 360's controller. Selecting units, switching between menus and issuing commands are all done with simple button presses, and ordering archers into formation or telling cave trolls to tear down trees looked quick and effortless. Even “bookmarking” units or locations for quick access during battle seemed simple. To be fair, we haven't yet tried it for ourselves, but the demonstration sure made it look easy.
Controls aside, Battle for Middle-earth 2 looks to be the same game that came out for PCs earlier this year, right down to the graphics. You'll control the same orcs, goblins, elves, rangers and hobbits that you did in the PC version, you'll fight in the same battlefields and you'll have the same freedom to build fortresses however you want. Everything from naval battles to Nazgul made the transition in one piece.
Even so, there are a few things unique to the 360 version, one of which is a multiplayer mode that lets you pit your built-up heroes against a friend's, cutting out all the middlemen. Also, as the developers were quick to point out, the 360 version will have built-in voice chat over Xbox Live, so there's no worrying about how best to taunt your opponents during four-player matchups. New, downloadable levels over Live are a possibility as well. All of this probably won't matter to gamers who've already shelled out for the PC version (which, unfortunately, won't be compatible with this one), but it might make them at least take the console version seriously. We'll find out in June.
May 11, 2006