The lights are on
Lord of the Rings: War in the North is one of those sad cases of wasted
potential that you can enjoy for a time. From the gameplay to the developers,
Snowblind Studios, to the great story it tells, War in the North rises moderately high just to be dropped back down
by its many flaws.
Some of you
may remember Snowblind Studios from excellent past games such as Champions of Norrath and Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. Both games
were excellent examples of just how fantastic western RPGs could be, so
expectations were high when Snowblind announced that they were making a Lord of
the Rings action/RPG. Sadly, this game pales in comparison to its predecessors
in terms of ingenuity as well as gameplay. Though enjoyable at times and a fun
experience, War in the North falls
short of achieving anything past "okay."
War in the North puts you in control of one of
three characters. Each one has their own way of approaching combat as well as
their own special abilities and buffs. You can choose between an elf for ranged
spellcasting, a dwarf for up close and personal melee, and a ranger that is a
good mix of both. After you decide how you want to attack the threat of Sauron,
you take your character on a series of missions through several different
places, all the while leveling up your character and becoming more and more of
a force to be reckoned with as you hack, slash, and blast your way through hordes
of orcs and goblins. On a grander note, you are playing out the
behind-the-scenes, unsung stories of the unknown heroes from the epic Lord of the Rings tale.
above, you and your two companions are the unknown heroes who fought
behind-the-scenes of the Lord of the
Rings. As the story we all know unfolds just out of reach, you are tasked
with fighting the titular War in the North against one of Sauron's dark
enforcers, Agandaur, a man who wields great and unnatural dark power. In order
to aid the Ring Bearer and the Fellowship, you and your two companions must
disrupt Agandaur's forces and defeat him once and for all. Along the way you
will meet characters from the story that will converse with you, sometimes aiding
you with useful information.
The story itself
is interesting and fits well with Lord of the Rings lore. Well written, the
story is possibly the highest point of the game. It flows well and develops at
a good pace throughout the game. As you make your way from the town of Bree
towards Rivendell and beyond, you hear and learn about the main characters from
the actual story and their exploits happening right around you. I found myself
looking forward to many of the cut-scenes and story progression just to find
out what was going to happen to my characters and Middle-Earth as a whole. With
such a good plot and story progression, the actual story the game tells would
be more suited for a better designed game.
mechanics and gameplay are where the game both creates enjoyment, and falls
apart at the same time. The controls are easy enough to get the hang of. You
have your normal attack which you will be spamming most of the game no matter
who you choose, your heavy attack to deal large amounts of damage or to finish
off opponents. The shoulder buttons open up a few extra choices, such as an
aiming mechanic for bows or magic, and an extra menu for special skills. Still,
the normal attack button will take up the majority of your hacking and slashing.
though simple, does a good job of getting your blood pumping, partly due to the
simple control scheme. Every encounter has you mashing buttons furiously as you
watch (and enjoy) your devastation through the enemy ranks. This is most
evident when you finish off your opponents by pressing the strong attack button
at the right time. This allows you to deal a final blow to the opponent in a
brutal and satisfying display of some form of dismemberment or bludgeoning.
However, this game as several issues. The combat LOOKS rewarding and feels that way in the beginning. War in the North's battles will have you
loving every bit of carnage you do to your enemy as you slash them left and
right, dismember them from head to toe, and splatter their blood amongst the
dirt and stone. The problem with this rewarding combat is that it gets old very
Each area drives
the same formula into the ground pretty quickly. You come to a new area in the
game, watch an important cut-scene/character interaction, maybe run through
some dialogue, then you proceed to fight exceedingly and annoyingly large
numbers of foes before proceeding to the next area where you can and will do it
all over again. The sheer number of enemies you have to fight at times is
literally ridiculous. It wouldn't be so bad if you could do more than just mash
one or two buttons for the same combat animations over and over.
is kept at bay at times by the option to switch between playable characters in
between levels. It makes for a refreshing turn in gameplay, allowing you to
hang up your melee (somewhat) for a bit and try some ranged spellcasting.
progress, you earn experience which you can spend on your character to raise
their health, power (for special attacks), and effectiveness with melee or
ranged combat. You can also spend skill points to access certain special
abilities (attacks, buffs, etc.) in 3 separate skill trees. As you level up,
some of the monotony is lessened as you access new abilities that allow you to
play a bit differently. If feels good to stop hammering on one button over and
over, but the special techniques can only take you so far before your back to
pressing the attack button in rapid succession.
combat, the look of this game leaves a lot to be desired. The environments
aren't bad looking. You've seen better, but they still give you that Lord of
the Rings, Middle-Earth feel, from the broken down castle ruins to the open
fields and snowy mountains. However, one can't help but think, in this day and
age, more could have been done. Lord of
the Rings is known for beautiful and sprawling landscapes, but War in the North doesn't seem to capture
that on screen. The character models seem a bit out of date as well and some
are just downright weird looking. When they speak, it seems as if their mouth
is disconnected from the rest of the face, as it shows little emotion. Aside
from the enjoyable looking battle animations, nothing here is going to blow
your skirt up in the realm of character design.
The music is
almost what you would expect from a Lord of the Rings game. It blends well with
the places and the actions, but stops there. Music was always a big part of the
movies and even the novels, so to hear the background music be no more than
just that, background music, is a little disappointing.
The voice acting
is pretty well done and each voice complements the character. This makes the,
at times, tedious dialogue all the more bearable. Conversations play out like those
from the Mass Effect series, in that you have a dialogue wheel where you choose
what to talk about. This makes a great deal of dialogue and exposition, which
can get a bit overwhelming at times. Thankfully the descent voice acting eases
this burden. The sound effects, from the explosions to the guttural orc and
troll growls are also well placed and nicely recorded as they all add to the
intense nature of the fighting and do well to keep your mind on the battle.
I won't lie
and say I didn't have fun playing Lord of
the Rings: War in the North. I enjoyed a lot of my time with the combat and
liked the story it told. I also got tired of the combat after just a few
encounters every time I played. As I battled my way through the endless swarms
of enemies, I could almost literally see the wasted potential this game had.
It's fun for you and your friend to hack and slash through a few levels in
co-op (which exactly how you would expect it to be), and it has some enjoyment
from annihilating countless orcs, but the formula just gets too monotonous and
isn't even that fun to look at while you're doing it. If you're a fan of the
movies or novels, then you will probably enjoy this game for a bit, however, it
will pass with time.
Disagree with some of your opinions, but have to say a thoroughly well written and tempered approach to a review.
Keep it up!