Features & News

Hands On: The Lord of the Rings: War in the North

October 28, 2011, Author: Ray Willmott

It’s been eight years since Return of the King graced our cinemas, and brought to conclusion to Peter Jackson’s take on a classic fantasy trilogy. It was with mixed emotion that we watched it through to its conclusion for the very first time, desperate to see how he brought the final scenes to life with his dramatic cinematography, but equally sad that it was all about to come to an end.

Jackson’s take on Rings is beloved and memorable, so, naturally, it was accompanied by hordes of merchandise so crazy collectors and devoted fans could express themselves in the comfort of their own home (and even outside of it!). It was also synced up with several video-game tie-ins, including hack and slash-em-ups, Two Towers & Return of the King, and an RPG called The Third Age.

Now, after the dust has settled on the ring-focused epic, we’re surprisingly faced with another game tied into the films. One that seems to take the best elements of its predecessors and merge them together.

Enter Lord of the Rings: War in the North.

WITN seems to have taken the beat-em-up joys of Two Towers and Return of the King clumped them together with Conquest, and seasoned the whole thing with a hint of The Third Age.

Snowblind Studios are at the helm of this Mature Action RPG, set in the LOTRverse. The premise of the game is set parallel to the events in both Tolkien and Jackson’s vision of Lord of the Rings, but in the background of Frodo’s quest, rather than involved with it.

What separates WITN from other Lord of the Rings games (and indeed, other RPGs) this gen is that it offers multiplayer co-op. This wouldn’t be the first time Snowblind Studios have put together a game of such heritage as they created one of my all-time favourite games, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance back on the Playstation 2. Equally exciting is that Snowblind have drawn a great deal of influence from the books, and while familiar locations from the film will be seen in the game, we will also be able to visit landmarks that Jackson didn’t bring to the films, such as Ettenmoors and Fornost.

At Eurogamer, I played cooperatively with my girlfriend. She picked Andriel; an Elven Loremaster who can cast magic, and I chose Farin; a ferocious dwarven warrior who, naturally, has an axe, but can also use a crossbow.

Right from the beginning, you will notice the brutality in this game. In the midst of taking chunks out of your enemies with axe swings, you can fill them with arrows, turning them into living pin cushions. When they’ve been suitably weakened, the player can then seize their opportunity and put together an execution. These include lobbing off heads and summoning giant eagles to swoop down and take your enemies away.

Believe me, WITN isn’t even in the same category as Aragorn’s Quest! This is much better suited to Jackson’s occasionally horrific, graphic style in the films, and is very warmly welcomed in this fantasy environment. It’s not just small footsoldiers you’ll need to take down however; you’ll also need to be prepared for larger, more savage opponents that will require you to be just as brutal.

You will also need to learn to use rolling and dodging effectively. The game is really tricky, and certainly doesn’t encourage you to go in with all swords and arrows blazing, devoid of strategy. Teamwork is paramount, and it’s obvious Snowblind have worked tirelessly to ensure that this game benefits from playing with your friends, as well as the A.I. This is also very clear due to the individual attributes that each of the three characters possess. In order to survive, you’ll need to make sure everyone is pulling their weight, and knows exactly how to play the character they’ve chosen. For example, Andriel works well as a healer, whereas Farin would serve best as a tank.

Where's Frodo?

However, the characters also have talent trees (as seen in every MMO to date…) where you will be able to upgrade their skills and customise them as you see fit. Just because your character seems to be predetermined to do one thing, you can kit them out to work as something else entirely. You don’t want Farin to tank, fine; you can improve his archery skills, and have him kill from long distances. The game seems very flexible and accommodating to the player, and certainly doesn’t seem in the habit of confining you to one set principle.

From what I’ve seen, I also understand that each class has a unique ability which can be used for crafting purposes, so Andriel can collect herbs and put together potions which can be used by all your fellowship.

The game controls well, with the style of combat being especially engaging. Although, WITN has definitely adopted a slower pace than you might expect. The game can get crazy with plenty of enemies on the screen, yet the movements of the character models don’t seem to be in a state of emergency to reach their intended targets. Whether or not the game was predefined with set difficulty is undetermined, but it seems very easy to die. At times, we were easily overwhelmed, despite using our respective characters as the demo initially intended us.

What War in the North offers is something that has been severely lacking in games over the last few years, and it’s both baffling and quite ironic that this very implementation is being headed up by a licensed game. I’ve been yearning for a good cooperative action role-playing game for a long time, and finally, it seems my prayers have been answered.

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North launches in the UK on November 25th