The Lord of the Rings: War in the North Review
publisher: Warner Bros. Entertainment
developer: Snowblind Studios
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Nov 01, 11 (released)
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It's virtually impossible for me to calculate just how many times I've read Tolkien's books, that's including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (LotR) trilogy. Make no mistake, I was equally partial to Peter Jackson's big-screen interpretation of what's probably one of the most popular fantasy themed tales ever written. Once the 'Lord of the Rings' reached Hollywood it, naturally, touched the hearts of geeks and fantasy fans everywhere. Video game variants followed in swarms, most of which (not all) were based directly on their movie counterparts. Snowblind Studios and Warner Bros. delve deeper into the Tolkien's imaginative world and immensely rich lore, depicting a story that occurred in other regions of Middle-Earth when Frodo and the Fellowship set out towards Mordor.
Time to chop some Orc meat!
How can we be lost again?
War in the North tells the story of a three-hero company which consists of an elf sorceress, a dwarf warrior and a Dunedain ranger, who are working closely with the Elrond the Lord of Rivendell and Aragorn (a.k.a. Strider) to fight Sauron and his deadliest minions. Your journey starts in Bree at the Prancing Pony Inn, where Frodo and Strider first eluded Sauron's Nine Black Riders. Aragorn instructs your party to remain vigilant and defend the area surrounding Bree. The situation gets more complicated when Agandaur, one of Sauron's most powerful servants, begins to assault several key points throughout the Northern regions of Middle-Earth. Luckily though, even with Aragorn away as he helps Frodo, you won't be alone in this battle. Of course, apart from Aragorn, other well-known characters make an appearance, including Gandalf, Gimli, Frodo, Bilbo, Legolas, Arwen, Elrond and a range of different characters that were described in Tolkien's books, such as the wizard Radagast who dwells in Mirkwood, Elrond's twin sons Elladan and Elrohir, the mighty eagle Beleram Gwahir's right hand and others.
The premise is perfect for a action adventure and not just you're average action adventure, but an RPG too. In fact, War in the North is not short on RPG elements. Players are able to customize the appearance of their characters, in addition to developing their skills as they progress throughout the main campaign. Each character has a set of class-specific abilities, all of which can be upgraded over time. As expected, you garner experience points by slicing through hordes of vicious enemies - mostly orcs, goblins and trolls; with the occasional boss creature thrown in. Although the combat has that standard slice-em-and-dice-em routine about it, the aforementioned RPG elements are very well implemented and they break the monotony of otherwise predictable and mundane action-oriented gamepaly mechanics. You know the drill: grab a sword, axe or spell, and just mow down wave after wave of opponents.
For a game that sells itself as an RPG, there's really little to get into beyond the skill system and character progression. Quests are fairly simple and involve relatively expected tasks that are usually related to the story. Sure there are a few optional quests, but they aren't exactly worth your time and can often be completed by taking the same road you would take for a story-based mission. In short, there's no feeling of freedom and exploration you'd normally get from an RPG. The emphasis remains on combat, characters and the linear story. That's not too bad actually, since the game puts those things forward pretty well. Granted, you may find that the combat is something you've experienced in any average third-person hack'n'slash game, albeit it still works.
There are a few reasons why we actually enjoyed this game and wanted to play all the way, until the end credits started rolling. The narrative compels you to play on, particularly if you're an avid fan of the Lord of the Rings universe and lore. There's plenty of dialogue, with properly voiced characters, in addition to many famous locations, which you'll recognize from both the movies and the books. Once I was finished with the single-player mode, I didn't exactly feel the need to go through it again. To enjoy this game more, you're probably better off getting together with friends to experience the co-op mode, because most of the ride was clearly steered in that direction. When you're in co-op, you'll find that your companions are certainly more useful than those controlled by the AI. Once the action starts, things get intense and you must rely on your friends to play their part, depending on which class their using.
Ah... Misty Mountains... I think.
That was the way we came in, right?
My biggest beef with War in the North is mostly on the technical side of things. During the main campaign I experienced harsh framerate slowdowns for unknown reasons. Later on, I've learned that this is a stuttering issue, commonly associated with ATi cards and something that can be resolved by reducing the overall quality of the graphics. This came as a huge disappointment, seeing as the game's visuals are outdated to begin with. This, in addition to AI issues, were a bother fairly often throughout the game. No matter what AI companions are told to do ('Attack' or 'Defend') they just stumble most of the time and even fall to their deaths before they can actually do something useful on the battlefield.
Lord of the Rings: War in the North is a game made for Tolkien and LotR fans. If you've appreciated the stories and characters in the movies and the books, then chances are you'll be intrigued by the characters and events in this game. It's quite skillfully entwined with the main plot of the LotR trilogy, offering accounts of several crucial battles that took place in the Northern part of Middle-Earth, while Frodo and his companions were carrying out the main plan (destroying the One Ring). To understand the plot better, characters like Frodo, Gandalf and others, were thrown into the mix and that's made the adventure more enjoyable. Sadly, the action is too repetitive in this one, while all the RPG elements simply can't make up for the fact that each quest is mostly routine stuff. Not to mention that there's little freedom and little choice in this game, which diminishes any hope of a more profound RPG experience. Still, as I've already said, what keeps this thing afloat is the story, the characters and the adaptation of Tolkien's compelling lore from his ever-popular fantasy tales.
An interesting account of elves, dwarfs and Dunedain rangers as they counter Sauron's Northern armies, decent voiceovers, fun coop;
Outdated visuals, stuttering problems often lead to excruciatingly low framerate, AI gets confused in battle sometimes, mundane combat which you've experienced many times before.
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