Lord of the Rings without the usual fellowship.
It can be easy to forget that, beyond Frodo’s struggle to destroy the ring and Aragorn raising an army, the war in Middle Earth actually encompassed the entirety of Tolkein’s world. The locations from the movies were just a small portion of the war against Sauron and the characters that we have come to love were barely a drop in the pool of heroes that rose up against evil.
War In The North by Snowblind Studios, the developers behind Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, takes the focus away from Frodo, Aragorn, Gandalf and friends, and instead places the limelight firmly on a new collection of characters that further the war effort in the more northern part of the continent. Fans of the movies may wonder if there will be anything here to hold their interest, but many of the main characters from the films make appearances, the timeline is intertwined with events that fans will recognise and there are even some well known locations visited through the game. All things taken into account, fan service is well and truly accounted for.
Although there is a healthy cast of new, and old, characters in War In The North, the tale revolves around three new heroes who have formed their own fellowship. A Human ranger that provides solid melee and ranged attacks, a Dwarven champion who is tough as nails, and an Elven Loremaster adding both offensive and defensive magic to the mix. The three make up your standard selection in fantasy games of all types and compliment each other really well.
Which is handy really as this game is built from the ground up to encourage co-op play. Playing solo is still an option as the AI takes care of the other two characters. Although the AI does an admirable job, it will become more and more difficult as the game progresses and the uncontrolled characters don’t have the chance to benefit from customisation and specialisation. War In The North is a game that is meant to be played with friends from start to finish. Other players can join in no matter what level their characters are, but their character will not benefit in the long term with advancement unless they have already reached the same section of the story as the host, something which needs to be considered before embarking on some co-op action.
As a dungeon crawler at heart, War In The North has the usual role-play game elements in which the player gains experience for their actions on the battlefield and gradually levels up. Each character has a selection of different paths through which they can upgrade, allowing the player to concentrate on a given role and learn skills and abilities to compliment this. Customisation also comes in the form of equipment and weapons that can be found or bought, making the characters more powerful as the game progresses.
The combat is satisfyingly brutal and easy to get to grips with, thanks to the fairly straight forward controls. The enemies are varied with some impressive boss battles, and take some effort to dispatch, meaning that even from the very start the waves of enemies take some time to overcome and give a sense of accomplishment. The problem is that this results in quite a slog and when this is added to the repetition in moving from one area to another and fighting one wave after another, things do become a little bland.
But at least the player can enjoy the varied and very good looking set pieces in the game. It really does look quite impressive, even though there is a gritty tone to the entire game. We are not talking bright and colourful here by any stretch of the imagination, but the level of detail is quite impressive and the game has a definite “Lord of the Rings” feel about it.
The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is a fairly well polished dungeon crawler and as such it is repetitive. But it is not trying to be anything else and so as long as the player goes in knowing what to expect, they will be fairly pleased with what they find. Co-op with two buddies is great fun and it is really nice to experience another side of the war for Middle Earth. A good solid dungeon crawler with a Lord of the Rings theme that will please fans.