Adam Guetti
23 Nov, 2011

Lord of the Rings: War in the North Review

360 Review | We travel back to Middle Earth to see some hobbits and slice some skulls.
Early in the new millennium, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings was incredibly hot property. With Peter Jackson's three blockbuster films in quick succession garnering a ridiculous amount of both fan and critical praise, it ushered in an age of mediocre Middle Earth inspired movie and franchise tie ins. Back to present day though, and while interest in the series isn’t the powerhouse it has been, things are certainly starting to heat back up with production on The Hobbit slowly creeping forward. What better time then, for Warner Bros. Interactive and Snowblind Studios to release an action heavy RPG?

In any case, gamers are presented with Lord of the Rings: War in the North. Focused around previously unknown events occurring in the Northern regions of Middle Earth, your quest follows three brand new heroes: Eradan, Farin and Andriel, and their goal to defeat a new evil threat to their land – Agandaur (deadly subordinate to the infamous Sauron). War in the North's plot runs parallel to the main thread of the fellowship, meaning while you will be relegated to the sidelines for most of your journey, you will still get the occasional run-in with some of the major players like Aragon, Legolas and everybody’s favourite beard, Gandalf, as you endeavour to aid them in their most important mission. All in all, it certainly tries to get you interested in the fantasy-filled universe once again, but it can't conceal the fact that being outside of the fellowship just makes you feel like you're not a part of the 'cool gang.' It doesn't help that your main trio are fairly uninteresting leads either, with the game very rarely going into any large lengths to develop them to a point where you care about what happens to them and who they are.

Try groping me now you handsy bastard!

Try groping me now you handsy bastard!

But hey, who cares about characterisation when you can slay some Orcs, and by golly will you have ample opportunity to unleash carnage. Combat in War in the North relies on a healthy combination of alternating between heavy and light attacks to cause pain, as well as utilising each character’s long ranged option (whether it be a bow and arrow or projectiles from a staff). While it sounds like you have some variation to play with, you don't, really, and considering the multitude of enemies to carve through, it’s a shame that a solid 90% of how you approach an enemy all comes down to button mashing until your foe eventually falls, with the odd roll thrown in so you don't die. If Snowblind had only implemented a basic combo system, not only would you have had more unlocks to work towards, but it would have helped keep the gameplay fresh as opposed to seeing the same animations over and over again. Even the brutal finishers that can be activated via the Y button once a foe has taken a large amount of damage don't entirely hit the mark. It's always satisfying to slice off an Orc’s head, but with little to no deviation in how it's presented, even an act as glorious as this begins to become stale; despite the game’s brutal showcase of it.

The combat helps you build up experience, bringing in RPG elements as you spend time levelling up, adjusting your stats and building up your skill tree. Each class’s tree presents unique skills that when combined with each other make your team a formidable force. Eradan for instance can equip two swords simultaneously for extra damage, while Andriel can summon protective auroras that regain HP so long as you remain within its bubble-like area. As you cycle through the menus you can also adjust your character's gear via the incredible amount of loot that you will gather up along the way. From swords and axes, to head pieces and amulets, before long you will be mixing and matching to not only raise your stats as high as you can, but to pimp your character out for future battles. Add to this that all of your equipment will eventually wear out, becoming useless in the face of evil, there is enough to keep you occupied and micromanaging.

War in the North is all about the co-operative experience though and there is little doubt that with some real human help, proceedings are made all the more enjoyable. As a trio, a greater wealth of strategic battle plans present themselves as you yell orders at each other to handle the masses. You will constantly be working together to form a line of defence as two of you go hand to hand, while the other summons an assortment of spells from safety and taking down stragglers. It also helps manage the incredible amount of loot with much more ease, each of you being able to fill your designated slots and trade class specific items with substantially greater efficiency This is a game that was clearly intended to be played with friends however we do recommend playing together online as the split screen option, while welcomed, tends to impede your view to your disadvantage.

You do NOT want to piss this guy off.

You do NOT want to piss this guy off.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you fail to round up a few friends, the computer will take its place, but as a whole the team AI is rather hit and miss. While your controlled companions can deftly handle themselves during some battles, during others it's not all that uncommon to go wandering on your lonesome, just to backtrack and find one them going round and round in circles like a dog chasing its tail.

Similarly, for the most part, your computer companions will also be quite efficient at reviving your team members and yourself once you have fallen. However, once you begin to hit the later stages of the game, faced with multiple trolls amongst hordes of enemies, your friend will quite often be stuck in the repetitive rut of attempting to revive you, being smacked to the floor, only to slowly get up and try to repeat the process again. It elicits a chuckle the first few times it happens, but once it becomes a regular occurrence, frustration starts to set in, resulting in the realisation that once you die, there is very little chance of you coming back. Needless to say, playing with fellow gamers if definitely the way to get the best result.

Together, there is a fair bit to wade through, with a few side quests in each major town and a decent campaign comprised of around seven main areas to work through, yet none of it really manages engage you as much as Snowblind might have hoped. Minor characters are unforgettable, and their plights will usually involve collecting particular items or having a certain conversation with a certain person, which become more of a chore than a task you are genuinely interested in seeing it through to the end. In the same vein the main story is fairly linear and, aside from the few side quests, allows you very little chance to tackle it at your own discretion and in your own manner aside from the ‘yes I will do this’ or ‘go to hell’ choices.

Um... yeah, actually, you can pass.

Um... yeah, actually, you can pass.
Like most of the game, presentation can be fairly unpredictable with some characters and environments looking rather detailed, with others looking out of place and awkward. Many of your main team’s animations can appear stunted, lacking fluidity, while NPC interactions feel awkward. Liv Tyler’s model (as the humble Arwen) is particularly awkward, appearing more as though she is trapped amidst a permanent state of confusion and shock, like someone has just dropped their dacks in front of her. Thankfully though, all the dialogue options are voiced on both ends meaning you can just sit back and relax without having to wade through paragraphs of text.

Despite all of its shortcomings though, Lord of the Rings: War in the North isn’t a bad game; it’s just a fairly average one. It manages to succeed in presenting the base mechanics of an action RPG, but never really manages to do something special with it. Combat could have used some extra work, and the game’s overall presentation would have benefited from an extra coat of polish, but what is on offer still does the job. If you're a Lord of the Rings fan, you're bound to get some kicks from the newest trip to Middle Earth but just make sure you round up two friends to get the complete experience on offer here. It's just hard to shake the feeling that the franchise is still yet to deliver its one, truly epic experience.
The Score
It’s by no means perfect, but Lord of the Rings: War in the North is still one of the better games to come out of the franchise, particularly if you play co-op. If you’ve been missing middle earth you’re bound to get some enjoyment, just be prepared for it to be a little rough around the edges.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Lord of the Rings: War in the North Content

Lord of the Rings: War in the North 'Fellowship' trailer
21 Jul, 2011 One game to rule... sorry, we had to try.
Lord Of The Rings: War In The North 'Touchpoints' trailer
12 Jul, 2011 Ready your blade. This is about to get real.
2 years ago
so this is 3 player co-op?
nice review mate
2 years ago
Thanks man! But yes, 3 player co-op online or 2 player local split screen. Those are the options, but I totally recommend playing online.
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