The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is published by Warner Brothers, Interactive Entertainment and developed by Snowblind Studios. It is an action RPG game set in the Tolkien universe for 1-3 players.
I have been waiting for a good Lord of the Rings game for a long time, so far only the RTS of Battle for Middleearth 2 has come close to providing the entertainment but lacks the involvement in the LotR universe. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from War in the North and deliberate kept away from previews and release information, knowing that I would be doing this review. I was dubious about not playing one of the main characters from the books but this works massively in the games favour.
You have the option of starting the game as one of 3 new characters; Eradan the Dúnedain Ranger, Andriel: Loremaster of Rivendell and Farin: Champion of Erebor. These 3 sit very familiarly in the traditional class roles, Ranged, Melee and Healing. There is a level of alternative play with each, Eradan can use 2-handed weapons, Andriel can cast some fairly good offensive spells and Farin has a crossbow. I started with the Ranger, Eradan.
You start in Bree, about a week before Frodo and Sam arrive. Aragorn is in the Prancing Pony and it is he who sets you on your first tasks and outlines the story to you. I found this bit really tedious and suddenly my low expectations were about to come to fruition. However, talk to the people in the pub and do the few minor quests and get out in to the real world. Your first view of the map shows some of the scale of the game. If you zoom out you can see all of the places you can visit. There are about 40 locations on the map covering all the well-known locals of Middleearth.You don’t have any choices at the start about where you go and you head off to the northern ruined city of Fornost.
The combat and advancement works well considering there are limited options. Square is light attack, Triangle is heavy. You have L1 to aim your bow and R1 to fire. Special skills and moves are triggered by holding either L2 or R2 and pressing a combination of buttons. (R2 and Triangle was a heavy crushing blow).
During combat a small triangle appears above the enemies head and changes from white to yellow, this indicates when a heavy attack will cause critical damage or sever a limb or head. Sometimes this will kill out right others it might floor them or stun them and you have to get back in and finish them off. This was good and some of the slow motion effects of severing limbs was fun to see. This never impedes on the play or action and never got irritating as it doesn’t do it all the time which made a change from some games.
The sections, broken down in to parts are very long. I remember getting to Part 1 stage 17 and can’t remember if that was the end of Part 1. The loading times are excellent. Unlike games like Dragon Age that spend ages loading each time you open a door or advance to a new section, War in the North just asks if you are ready to proceed, you click X and carry on, no delay, no loading – Fantastic!
The general levels are fairly easy to overcome; no deaths were experienced until the first boss, which is a long way in to the first section. You have to fight a big Orc boss who took me about 6 attempts to beat, however not once did I get frustrated as each time I was getting his health down further and more importantly… IT DIDN’T TAKE FOREVER TO RELOAD!!!! WOOO. 10 seconds and I was back in the fight to try again. This is how games should be!
During each level there are usually a number of secrets that you can find but these will depend on the character you have chosen, the Ranger sees hidden footsteps that allow you to find hidden caches of loot, whereas the Dwarf can see gold veins in the rocks which can hold coins or other useful gems. The Loremaster can see herbs for potions. The downside to this is that you can only see with the character you are playing with. This game has obviously been designed with at least 2-player Co-op in mind so that the sharing of loot and finding of secrets is achieved. You can change between characters at set points in levels or at the end of sections. This allows you to customise their gear and stat points to best suit the role you have for them but you then have to play the next part as that character until another change point comes up. The allies do not auto spend points when they level up so it’s worth changing regularly to ensure that they are best set up and equipped. You can also give equipment to different characters but you have no way of knowing if what they have is better or if indeed that have any equipment in that slot at all. The only way to find out is to change to that character.
This was the only part that I thought could be better designed but it does encourage Co-op play o I can’t really complain and it didn’t stop me progressing regardless of which character I had (although the Orc Boss would have been very difficult with the Loremaster).
A very nice inclusion is the ability to call on the Eagle, Belaram, that you have rescued to aid you in more difficult fights (not boss fights). He is easily called and the AI automatically assigns him to attack the strongest foe currently on the screen, which at these early stages was either a troll or Orc mage. Other allies also find their way to help you. These are in the form of 2 Elves, sons of Elrond and brothers to Arwen. Whilst they don’t directly help you in the fights they appear at times to unlock doors and unblock passages, you also have to protect them whilst they remove magical wards from doors.
All through this you do wonder if there really was a need for this to be a LorR license as surely that is going to put some people off, historically film licences don’t make great games. However, when you reach Rivendell it all starts to come together. Here all of the major characters appear and you have arrived after Frodo has recovered from his stabbing at Weathertop. You can talk to all of the major characters and some of the other well know ones who don’t feature in the film. Aragorn, Gandalf, Elrond, Legolas, Gimli, Bilbo, Frodo, Arwen are all in attendance and you can see some of the elements that appear in the films like the big painting of Sauron losing the ring.
The voice acting is not the stars from the film and you really do miss it. It feels flat and lacking passion, but you do get the feeling that anything other than the films actors was going to feel out of place. The War in the North has a lot going for it and at about 5 hours in I have only seen 5 of the places on the map so have a lot to look forward to.
This game is obviously aimed at Co-op and really is better in that mode but there is enough in the single player to keep you going. The combat does get a little repetitive but there is enough challenge in the boss fights presented to offer challenge and diversity. I recommend this most if you have someone to play it with, however wait until the price drops if you want to play it single player.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.