Despite the fact that LotR: War of The Ring is not a game based on the recent Hollywood LoTR series, there is no doubting that the original works of J.R.R Tolkien have skyrocketed in popularity as of late thanks to the movies. In turn, seeing as War of the Ring from Vivendi and Sierra is based on Tolkien's works, chances are it will also jump in on the Hollywood trend, after all, new fans of the Hollywood series will want to play a LoTR Real-Time Strategy game, regardless of what medium it is trying to replicate. Can War of the Ring provide LotR fans from both the new and old worlds an enjoyable RTS experience?
As far as game modes go, War of the Ring doesn't stray from the common crowd. We have the classic campaign, Skirmish for Single and Multi player (with a few sub modes such as 'Survival' and 'Control') and a tutorial. It is great to see a tutorial included, I feel it is an important mode that every RTS game should have, as otherwise many of the more unique in-game features can sometimes go past you unnoticed.
While in campaign mode, WotR allows you to choose from either the good or evil campaign modes, however the game recommends that you complete the good campaign mode before entering the evil one. Obviously some of the storyline and events tip over from the good to evil campaigns, so I happily complied. I thought it was odd that the evil campaign should be done last, as it would seem which ever one you do last is the one that will prevail, however that's just something you'll have to find out for yourself.
Not only can you choose from the two forces at the start, but during the actual in-game action, where each side represents good and evil, the map is divided visually, where the area controlled by the good forces is green and lustful with life, while the area controlled by the evil side is dark and scarce. The best part about this is the effects are dynamic, so if you take over an evil camp, it will change from hell to heaven right before your eyes.
However, besides that feature, nothing else about WotR seems to be new. If you have played a few RTS titles in the past, which I'm guessing you have, then nothing overly unique will be introduced, as far as the genre is concerned. This is good for new comers, as it makes it a very easy game to master, however for the more seasoned RTS gamers out there, WotR will appear to be a generic RTS with a LotR facelift.
Of course, this isn't as important when the storyline itself already has millions of followers world wide. If an RTS tries to create its own story and fails to provide the genre with anything new, chances are it won't succeed. However in WotR's case, many people couldn't care less about how well the RTS technicals are portrayed, rather, they just want to experience the story. Unfortunately, and this is coming from the matter of opinion, I also didn't believe that the world WotR created was an accurate portrayal of Middle-Earth.
First of all, the game is too cartoony, and I don't just mean the graphics. Actually, I quite liked the graphics, they weren't particularly impressive, and such technical aspects as texture resolution and model detail weren't all that great either, however as far as visual quality goes, they get the job done. In my opinion, if an RTS can produce good enough graphics to differentiate each unit type visually, while performing well on a modest computer, it has done the job well, and WotR has certainly done that. However, while the visual quality is decent, the visual style is the part which I believe creates the "cartoony" effect. For one, the whole game looks too bright and colorful for a Middle-Earth replica; whilst I love the dynamic environment feature mentioned before, even the evil regions of a map seem a little too cheerful. Maybe the somewhat comic like models are to blame, I don't know, all I know is WotR doesn't quite look or feel like the Middle-Earth we have come to know.
Another contributing factor to this includes the sound. Just like every other RTS out there, WotR spits out the same sounds over and over again when making and selecting units. Don't get me wrong, a little bit of attitude here and there is great, but I really don't think the quantity found in WotR is suitable for the Middle-Earth world it tried to create. This is the type of RTS that I feel should have more closely resembled Warrior Kings rather than Warcraft, it's like the game doesn't take itself seriously.
However, if there is one aspect that does aid WotR's case, it is the in-game combat. With the mixture of great combat sound effects and decent battle animations, WotR really impresses when it comes to fighting. All battles seem relatively quick, but not so quick it detracts from the gameplay, rather, just quick enough so you don't lose interest in the current scenario. With the inclusion of solid AI, combat is probably WotR's strongest point, however, as per usual, there is always one aspect which didn't quite satisfy, and that is the combat controls. Once you've selected your units and designated them to attack certain enemies, there isn't much else you can do but sit back and pray. Hero's do have executable special abilities, which is nice, however I was referring more to the formations and rules of engagement, or the lack thereof. This fact is another underlying contributor to the game's overall lacking identity, the absence of these sort of features further portrays WotR as somewhat "newbie" rts game with no lasting appeal for experienced RTS gamers. Perhaps this was an intentional portrayal, after all pretty much everything in the game has a simplified nature, I just don't think the LotR world and "simple" go together very well.
There is no doubting that War of The Ring is a decent RTS, pretty much all the basics are here, from an obviously solid story to the in-game fundamentals. However, the market is absolutely full of decent RTS games, which means War of The Ring doesn't really have anything substantial to offer, besides the fact it is based on J.R.R Tolkien's "The Lord of The Rings". If you are a LoTR fan and that fact alone is enough to win you over, or if you want a good simple game to introduce you to the RTS genre, War of The Ring is for you, but seasoned RTS gamers looking for a challenge won't find anything overly new here.