We have waited a long time for the Lord of the Rings trilogy to get an epic video game treatment. With a rich universe full of amazing characters, deadly monsters and heroic adventure, Tolkien’s epic seems to offer the perfect setting for a high quality game. Yet, after playing Lord of the Rings: War in the North, I can safely say that we’re still waiting for the orc-bashing, arrow-slinging romp that we all deserve.
War in the North does offer cooperative action-RPG action, something which as a genre is proving to be far too uncommon. The notion of forming up a party and marching off to battle Sauron’s minions is an appealing one. You and your friends will have the option of playing as an elf sorcerer, a dwarf champion, or a human ranger. Each class has their own abilities, from the sorcerer’s spells to the dwarf’s war cry to the ranger’s evasion ability. This makes each character a unique experience, and gives each one of the three co-op partners a different way to play.
You had better bring those co-op partners, too. The AI controls your party members that are unfortunate enough not to have a human player, and, sadly, AI-controlled characters do not come close to matching the skill of real human players. During battle, my AI partners would frequent spend much of their time reviving each other. The AI always seemed to swing and miss, leading to hilarious post mission damage comparisons. I had one mission where I had done over 1,000,000 damage to my foes, and each of my teammates had done less than 80,000. The AI was also beset by a number of bugs. During one mission, both of my AI partners inexplicably disappeared. During another, my sorcerer companion became trapped inside of a rock, while my dwarf stood frozen next to her, watching as I was forced to battle a troll alone. Thankfully, in both cases, my compatriots were magically teleported to my side at the next checkpoint.
The primary focus of the game is combat. The game likes to remind you of this as it traps you in arena like areas and forces you to battle wave and wave of foe. You have a light attack and a strong attack, and each character has their own form of ranged attack. I felt most at home using my bow to headshot foes (in some cases taking their heads clean off of their bodies). Melee combat has an interesting feature where if you do enough damage to an enemy, a triangle will appear over their head. At this time you can press heavy attack to either knock your opponent down or do a finishing move (both of which garner bonus XP). Some of the finishing moves looking very cool, as you chop an orc’s head off or slice their leg in two. But there were issues here as well. Most of the combat devolved into spamming the attack button until the triangle appeared, doing a finishing move, and move on to the next foe. This quickly grows tedious. Often, when you knock a foe to the ground, they will instead float in mid-air. And while you can finish fallen foes with a quick sword thrust, the animation is exactly the same if you’re armed with an axe.
War in the North does a lot to flesh out a little-covered portion of the events in the, um, North. It adds some backstory to the Lord of the Rings which a non-Tolkienphile like myself would not have otherwise encountered. The dialogue, however, seems mailed in, and the story, while dramatic, seems absurd. There are a couple of interesting choices near the end of the game which affect the ending, but don’t mistake this for branching paths: this game is linear, through and through. There are also some options for a Gears of War horde-mode type combat (assuming you enjoyed the combat enough to want more of it).
While there are a few things to like about Lord of the Rings: War in the North, the game feels like a lost opportunity. With few quality games in the co-op action RPG genre, a solid release would have garner a large number of sales. War in the North, though, doesn’t take advantage of its position in the marketplace, and instead offers a generic experience with a large number of technical issues. It was interesting to see Snowblind take the war to the north, but I would recommend you take your gaming time elsewhere.
Pros: Action RPG Co-op, expands LOTR canon in an interesting way; easy achievements
Cons: Boring combat, frequent bugs, uninspired dialogue
2* out of 5