To be honest, the last few Lord of the Rings games haven’t exactly blow us away, but when I heard this new one was developed by Snowblind Studios, a developer whose games I have enjoyed for very specific reasons in the past – and it wasn’t published by EA – well, I was mildly intrigued.
If you look only at the review scores the game is getting, it seems that The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is one of those titles that has mixed opinions ranging from rock bottom right up to the bell. Some reviewers find it bland and repetitive while others think it’s exciting and engaging. If you ask me, it probably has a lot to do with how far up your bum the stick is.
Anyway, War in the North is certainly no worse than some of the more recent LOTR games – there’s nowhere to go from there but up. In this case, players take on the role of a trio of warriors, Andriel the elf mage, Eradan the human ranger and Farin the dwarf champion, on a quest to stop the machinations of Agandaŭr, one of Sauron’s most trusted generals who has been tasked with conquering the Northern lands while Sauron attends to his business in the South. Along the way you’ll visit many prominent places from the LOTR universe and speak to many recogniseable characters.
The game proper is a respectable, action-packed, dungeon crawling fantasy hack ‘n’ slash fest where players constantly look out for better equipment and weapons, sell unwanted loot between missions and look forward to that next level up that lets them learn new abilities or bolster existing ones. The three characters feel more or less the same apart from their special abilities, which are usually typical action-RPG stuff like area magic spells or powerful melee attacks. There are also abilities that create auras that heal all the party members or war cries tha boost the party’s attack strength – you know, typical co-op stuff. It also has the mandatory-but-curious co-op mechanic by which you can save a downed companion from an open-chest wound or frontal evisceration by rubbing their shoulders for a few seconds.
If you play the game by yourself, the CPU will take control of your two allies, and they’re not too dumb or too smart – at least they keep the enemies busy while you take care of the important tasks. You can also play with a friend on the same console or two other players online or in a LAN (yes, on the consoles too).
On the whole, it’s a solid, fun fantasy action adventure. Among the few gripes I have, I would have liked a bit more freedom in the weapon choices for each character and maybe a few more diverse skills to learn – but with so much variety in enemies, so many awe-inspiring locales to visit and relentless waves of action, it’s not a deal breaker by any means.