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Greatest lord of the Rings strategy game still isn’t legally available

Battle for Middle-earth is not something that can be downloaded.

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I’m craving The Lord of the Rings, but I can’t seem to sate my want. I’ve been looking for a video game that offers the same dramatic Tolkien action ever since the Rings of Power introduced me to phrases like Nmenor, Harfoots, and Morgoth. One in particular sprang to mind: the outstanding real-time strategy game Battle for Middle-earth from EA from 2004.

I initially owned the game on a CD, but for the past few years, it has been collecting dust at my parents’ home. Even if I could locate the box, my computer no longer has the necessary optical drive to run it. I though, “No problem, I’ll resort to Steam for my tactical Tolkien dose,” only to be met with a dismally empty search screen. Battle for Middle-earth is not one of the several Lord of the Rings video games available at Valve’s marketplace.

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Why would that be? I questioned. A game this mature is far better suited for GOG. My trust was misplaced. It turned out that the one legendary decent game I was looking for wasn’t even available on a platform with a name as prematurely promising as Good Old Games. It just so happens that no other online retailer does either. You may look anywhere you want, but you won’t find a single pixelated oliphaunt on the retail battlefield.

The menu excludes meat

Not that this is very novel. Digital downloads of Battle for Middle-earth and its 2006 sequel have never been made available. The series came out exactly when Gandalf advises a wizard shouldn’t—a touch too early—before the popularity of downloading games took off and after the creation of Steam.

The digital preservation of other RTS games from that time period is better. For years, Warcraft 3 was accessible through the Battle.Net client from Blizzard (until eventually being replaced with the 2020 Reforged edition). A short look through GOG’s strategy section reveals Empire Earth, Stronghold, The Settlers, and more mid-2000s heavy hitters out for sale today. The Age of Empires series has long been accessible on Steam in different levels of remastery.

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Battle for Middle-Earth, though, is odd. Eight years after Warner Bros. first held the licence, EA once again obtained the right to create video games based on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Since then, the decision as to which, if any, of EA’s older Lord of the Rings titles get released in more approachable shops has been left up to the major WB. Warner Bros. is prepared to shelve its Lord of the Rings RTS, despite EA recently expressing interest in reissuing the popular strategy games from its back catalogue, launching the Command & Conquer Remastered Collection in 2020.

In 2018, an enthusiastic fan on the publisher’s forums was disappointed to hear from an EA community manager: “Sorry to tell that as far as I am aware there are no plans to bring back The Battle for Middle-earth games.” It is not feasible to just release these games because EA no longer holds the licence for them.

Theatrical scope

What a loss. Battle for Middle-epic-tier earth’s approach has never been used before and hasn’t been imitated afterwards in any Lord of the Rings game. This RTS expertly imitates the visual bombast of the renowned film trilogy. Players may select one of four factions—Rohan, Gondor, Isengard, or Mordor—each of which is equipped with unique battalions of infantry, cavalry, ranged, and hero troops.

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There are all the customary RTS clichés from the era. As you get closer to the enemy on the other side of the map, you’ll erect a small village to produce resources, develop military structures to enlist the services of offensive forces, and seize outposts. Each unit may be strengthened with stat-boosters, and bonus missions can be achieved for further benefits. You’ll eventually need to gather a powerful attack that can provide the decisive blow, annihilating your adversary and razing their camp.

Its character-focused campaigns have hints of Age of Mythology. They are divided between the Free Peoples and the Forces of Darkness, and as you conquer the lands of Men with orcs and other monsters, you carve out an alternate history of Middle-earth.

Alongside their evil equivalents, such as Saruman, the Balrog, Lurtz, and others, Gandalf, Frodo, Aragorn, and the rest of the Fellowship are depicted as strong hero units. Each makes the game seem powerful but also allows it to stray from the realm of typical RTS. As you guide the Fellowship through the Mines of Moria, using each character’s unique skills to combat goblins, trolls, and finally the mine’s resident Balrog, the game’s first level more closely resembles a real-time strategy game.

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Dwarves, elves, and goblins were added as playable factions in the sequel, and chaotically large eight-player multiplayer battles were also included. In contrast to the Total War: Warhammer 3s of the globe now, it struck a scale of conflict that could look a little awkward and limited, but that was appropriate

A light in dark places

It’s not difficult to uncover questionable methods of getting Battle for Middle-earth online. But abandoned software never works. When a game exits the gleaming search results of official shops, its legacy is all but decided. How can new players learn about the game if they weren’t already playing it when it was first released? Explore Reddit’s depths and read articles lamenting its online absence? No chance. Strategy fans will ultimately lose sight of the game as they lose interest in it and become blind to what they’re missing.

It’s kind of astonishing that there are still more Lord of the Rings strategy games out there. Similar restrictions apply to War of the Ring, an RTS in the vein of Warcraft that was released in 2003 but never quite achieved the same degree of success. However, Battle for Middle-abandonment earth’s hurts the most. The finest strategy game based on Tolkien’s writing is unquestionably EA’s well-liked RTS. There aren’t many video games that can equal its feeling of magical size. Hopefully fewer people still are turned away from the largest gaming sites.

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