The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Five years ago, I would have counted Snowblind Studios among my
favorite RPG developers. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of
Norrath demonstrated that Snowblind knew how to combine action,
character progression, and loot into an irresistible formula. I still
look back at those titles and wish that breed of gameplay had more time
in the spotlight. While my love for action/RPGs and respect for the
studio got me excited for War in the North, they are also what led to me
being incredibly let down by this clumsy and unpolished adventure.
you focus on the individual components, War in the North appears to be a
recipe for success. Set in Tolkien’s quintessential fantasy universe,
this third-person action/RPG puts players in control of a wannabe
Fellowship storming through familiar locations and hacking through
goblins, orcs, and trolls. Once killed, these creatures drop plenty of
loot and award experience that players allocate in skill trees, giving
each character an array of unique passive and active abilities. When you
consider all of those features plus local and online co-op, War in the
North sounds great. The problem is that just having features
isn’t enough; they need to be well-implemented and fun. I could complain
about lots of little things, but most of my issues are connected to one
large problem: War in the North does not feel like a finished game.
has traditional hack-and-slash mechanics, but is unsatisfying thanks to
the encounter design. In the first part of the game, battles are
hilariously easy since your companions can revive you easily and the
enemies go down quickly (even if you go solo, all three heroes are always in play). That’s when things are at their best, because
at least you and your companions can have some fun mowing down hordes of
bad guys. Later, your foes have substantially more hit points, can
interrupt your revival attempts, and they essentially stop reacting to
any of your moves. They perform uninterruptable attacks as you
lumberjack away at them like meat trees, never flinching or staggering
under your assault.
The escalating sense of power is one of the
major draws in this genre, but it isn’t the salvation it could be here.
Your attacks do more damage as you level, but the enemies also get
stronger, so you’re just rising with the tide rather than getting more
formidable. Ideally, the abilities you unlock for each character would
help punctuate the tedium, but they don’t. Firstly, the abilities in the
skill tree seem randomly arrayed. For instance, the Champion (warrior)
has an ability called War Cry, but upgrades for War Cry are scattered
across all three of the main trees. Secondly, the powers themselves
aren’t inventive or exciting, and the mana bar governing them recharges
The sloppy mechanics and lack of innovation make War in
the North feel like a licensed game that was rushed to market to
coincide with a movie’s release – except, in this case, there’s no movie
in theaters. It has the same stale objectives that define that breed of
game, not to mention room after room padded out with practically
identical encounters. You can tackle them with friends in co-op if you
want, but even that has some kinks. The online functionality works fine,
but if you want to play on the same couch in two-player split screen,
you each need your own profile with its own data. That’s fine if you’re
starting at the same time, but what if you’re over at a friend’s place
and just want to play for a level or two? You’re going to be a
first-level load with lousy gear.
War in the North also has
problems beyond its design. I encountered several glitches, though most
were minor (like characters getting stuck on the environment or enemies
not moving). However, one bug in the PS3 version near the end of the
game made it impossible for me to progress. I couldn’t restart the
mission, I couldn’t warp back to town, and (because the game auto-saves
to a single slot) I couldn’t load an earlier level. Fortunately, I’m in a
position as a reviewer where I can contact the developers and get new
saves sent to me. Most consumers aren’t so lucky, and would lose all of
their progress if hit by the same bug.
I can only say one good
thing about War in the North: It could have been awesome. The conceptual
framework is solid, and with some extensive tuning and polish, it would
be fun to play. Just thinking of War in the North reimagined as an
old-school isometric adventure (à la Dark Alliance) gets me pumped
up…but it’s too late for that now. Snowblind Studios’ record proves that
it knows how to make good action/RPGs. I hope that happens again in the
Email the author Joe Juba, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.