Elven bows sing and dwarven hammers ring as your fellowship fights desperately against a swarming horde of orcs and goblins. Enormous eagles and shrieking dragons clash overhead while, outside your city's walls, cave trolls are exchanging crushing blows with giant talking trees. Although the outlook is dire, you can't help but smile as you summon your next attack- a happy band of rock-tossing hobbits. They're probably dead men walking, but still: hobbits.
The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II succeeds because of unique, cinematic moments like these. In fact, the real-time strategy game does such a fantastic job recreating the awesome sights and majestic sounds of the movies (plus books, thanks to an expanded license) that, even when you're losing, you can't help but admire the epicspectacle unfolding before you. Every hero, every creature, every spell and every battlefield is here and at your command. For a Tolkien fan, it's pure miniaturized heaven.
Luckily for everyone else, however, there is also an excellent RTS title hidden beneath those slick production values. The expected stuff- base building, resource gathering, army amassing- is all here, of course, and done nicely with plenty of options for customization and modification. But it's the unexpected additions that will keep you up at night, fiendishly thinking up new strategies and schemes with which to crush your chosen foe.