Lord of the Rings: War in the North
Let’s start with a confession: I have never, jamais, seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies. And except for the first part, I also never saw the Godfather series. This to point out that for many I’m branded as a culture barbaria. And to say that I started War in the North without any pre-knowledge. Interested in knowing what a noob like me makes of War in the North? Then certainly read on!
First state the obvious: Lord of the Rings is one of the biggest and most well-known franchises on the planet. J.J.R. Tolkien write the stories on Middle-Earth and the mysterious and infamous Ring. Anno 2011 we’ve had already the movie trilogy as well as a ton of videogames and now we get now yet another title in the latter category. War in the North has a completely different storyline and is set in different locations, but still crosses the path of the famous protagonists of the original tales at times. The new lead characters in this game are a new trinity: Eradan is a Ranger who’s trained for killing enemies with sword and arrow, Farin the Champion (a dwarf) loves close combat and does immense amounts of damage that way, and Andriel the Elf has magical powers with which she can finish off hostiles as well as help her friends to heal. As usual, each has its strengths and weaknesses, making a complementary trio. No two friends who come play with you? No problem, the AI will take over the rest of your party so that you never feel alone. Also the Great Eagle called Beleram regularly comes lend you a hand/wing and also other known characters from the movies appear in your fight against evil.
I mostly chose Eradan and made handy use of Andriels magic to replenish my health bar while Farin was happy chopping around with his hammer or axe on anything that came too close and looked like an allie of Agandaûr, accomplice of Sauron and bad guy on duty. However, it’s worthwhile to switch sometimes as each member of your hang has additional specialties. Farin can dig up jewels and Andriel can use your knowledge of magic to make potions that can always come in handy in later fights.
Although… you won’t need those potions all that much except for maybe in a boss fight. Overall the combat comes down to the same hack&slash strategy. Very enjoyable at the start but rather boring after having killed Orc number 5000. You do almost constantly find new gear for your heroes so that you can dress them up completely on a regular basis and get even better stats and damage points. A disadvantage of the game in this respect, however, is that you can switch character at any time or point and you can’t change gear on AI-contolled companions. Only after completing a certain part – or when back in the main menu and choosing a different character – you can choose which properties to improve and which accessories to wear..
Some opponents and bosses do bring a challenge to the table. Not all of them are easy to slaughter and this gives you something to look forward to, something that makes you less annoyed that there are hordes of unworthy enemies. The so-called skilltree lets you expand your attacks and defensive moves as you progress but in between all the combat there’s little depth in the story of the three independent characters. All in all they remain quite shallow eventhough the side quests do help a bit in this respect. Also the dialogue system where you get a couple of options on what you can say lacks some depth and consequences. Too bad as the characters themselves are pretty cool.
The multiplayer that comes with the game is actually nothing more than a singleplayer with real players that help you instead of the AI. This doesn’t mean things are bad but it lacks variation compared to the singleplayer. Additional point of frustration: while already two people are waiting to go to the next part, number three is still exploring the surroundings to find something. This waiting isn’t constantly a point of frustration as the environments look pretty beautiful, but it does take out the tension of the game.
Lord of the Rings: War in the North is definitely not a bad game. I never followed the series myself but the game did manage to keep me interested which isn’t an easy assignment in this case. Fans of the series will probably get more fun of the game thanks to the many hints towards the big trilogy.
This spin-off may not have become a true top title, but does offer more than a simple snack. The small flaws and shortcomings are unfortunate but we’ll let them pass for once. After all, there’s already enough war in the north.