A War Worth Avoiding - User Reviews - www.GameInformer.com
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A War Worth Avoiding

Gamers have seen their fair share of the Lord of the Rings. The lore of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world spans almost every video game genre, from real-time strategy to MMOs. So when it was announced that Snowblind Studios, the developer behind Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath, was making a co-op based action RPG set in Middle Earth, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Visions of an isometric loot fest combining the gameplay of Dark Alliance with one of my favorite fantasy stories ever filled my head day after day.

With much regret, I am looking back on those daydreams and sighing. Sadly, War In the North fails to display many of the features that Tolkien fans have been wishing for. The game makes an effort to keep up with the modern RPG, and does well at incorporating most of the elements that the genre is known for today. The problem is, none of them are executed well, and some are just shades of what they could be.

The redeeming factor that sets War in the North apart from other titles based in Middle Earth is the fact that it follows a storyline parallel to that of the ubiquitous fellowship. RTS title Battle for Middle Earth did likewise, but the storytelling potential in Snowblind's attempt holds a greater presence. Following the story of an elf, a man, and a dwarf who set out to fight the Dark Lord Sauron's forces in the Northern kingdoms of men, the stage is set for a would-be engaging co-op experience.

The elf and dwarf fill out the ranged mage and brawler archetypes, respectively, while the man strikes a middle ground. If the character progression had been implemented well, this dynamic between three friends would work wonders for the game. However, the class skills for each character are spread randomly throughout three separate skill trees. The Elven power Sanctuary begins one of the paths, but upgrades for it are littered across the entire screen. If you want to make this bubble shield able to heal your teammates, you'll first have to increase your melee damage. This allows little for prior planning, and makes character progression almost tedious while the combat doesn't help the situation at all.  

Well-designed RPG's scale enemies according to the player's level, but not so much that it doesn't feel like the character is improving. The same cannot be said for War in the North. As I increased my dwarf's War Cry ability, I expected the results to be more apparent, but the enemy orcs and goblins scaled almost completely parallel to me. This made my teammate damage buff seem useless. Aside from very late game improvements, I seldom felt more powerful than my enemies. This, coupled with the fact that the majority of adversaries don't react to a sword striking them, made for such laborious combat that I could not wait to finish skirmishes.  

Enemy variety in the game is somewhat refreshing, with trolls, berserkers, and archers supplementing the normal foot soldiers. The bosses, however, rarely deviated from the first encounter. Literally, aside from a few anomalies, every boss seemed recycled, albeit with a changed color palette or improved damage and health. This makes for exhausting battles as it is, but when the final boss that you prepare the entire game for still succumbs to this lack of individualism, it really shows.

It is hard to go wrong with a narrative when you have pages upon pages of fantasy lore to build on, and War in the North will please Tolkien fans in this area. The story following the group will bring the player into contact with characters such as Elrohir and Elladan, Elrond's twin sons, and it was intriguing to see such rarely mentioned names make it into a video game. New environments like Mirkwood and Fornost make for engaging locales, and each part of the world has its own unique aesthetic, although they're all a little bit confined. While the journey didn't particularly entrance me, the new approach to the Lord of the Rings license was a welcome reprieve from the story that has been retold many times over.

As a Tolkien fan, I couldn't wait for the story of the Northern kingdoms to be portrayed in a video game. With a high-grossing movie trilogy and a plethora of video games showcasing the battles against Mordor and Isengard, I was eager for Snowblind's take on the events on the other side of Middle Earth. I wasn't let down in this respect. As a video game fan, however, I can't help but feel very disappointed. I still have those daydreams about the ideal Lord of the Rings game, and I still think that the content is there for an addictive RPG, but Snowblind failed to deliver on both.

 

 

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