Lord Of The Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth II

There were howls from purists when EA won the filmic Lord of the Rings game licence, and echoes of those howls when it united those with the literary game rights previously held by Vivendi. And for a moment, looking at the new ideas in Battle for Middle-Earth II, you can see why.

Gollum, it transpires, has been introduced as a hidden, neutral unit. Find him and kill him, and you can take the ring. With the ring you can summon a special attack in the form of Sauron or Galadriel. At first sight, it seems like the kind of crassness the purists feared.

Happily, closer inspection proves that much more thought and imagination has gone into it than that, all of which adds up to an RTS which may well prove fresher and more compelling than the rather pedestrian original. Take possession of that ring, for instance, and that news (and your location) becomes apparent to your opponents, producing a scramble for power that feels more Capture-the-Flag than RTS. And, once you've managed to return it to your base and summon your super-unit, sending him into battle risks being a terribly Pyrrhic victory: should the unit be killed, it explodes, destroying all nearby units but leaving the ring behind. As well as replicating some of the tensions between power and its price that the book has at its heart, it also helps to ensure the game never descends to stalemate.

A similarly deft touch has been brought to base building, and the improved engine brings more units to the battlefield, as well as more detail to the battles. It was always impractical for the film and book rights to be separated, and here EA strengthens its case for being the best place for them both.