The Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Gamescom 2010: The Lord of the Rings: War in the North First Impressions - My Precious

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While the Lord of the Rings has enjoyed critical and commercial success both in literary and celluloid form, it is fair to say that when it comes to games, things have never quite taken off in the same way. A series of sub par offerings have graced our screens, culminating with the rather woeful LOTR: Conquest on our own fair console. Hopefully War in the North will offer a unique change in both concept and fortunes.

Developer Snowblind Studios have been granted unprecedented access to material from both the film series and novels, not to mention the fact that they are also working closely with the Tolkien estate to ensure they have full approval for every aspect of the game. Clearly, they are aiming to deliver the most in-depth Middle Earth experience to date and, considering the source material on offer, there is no reason to think that this game will be anything less than a faithful representation.

While the Fellowship were busy wandering down to Mordor, the Dark Lord Sauron also sent a vast army to invade the Northlands. That is where you come in, as you and a band of likeminded heroes set out to stem the tide of foes swarming over the land. The level we were shown at this year’s Gamescom was a mountainous stretch of woodland, and the graphics at the moment look jaw-dropping with some lush vistas and wide open spaces to explore. The environments are not exactly what you and I call an open world, but the developers were keen to show off that each level would have a variety of areas to explore, with a number of hidden paths and out of the way secrets along the way; not to mention a variety of ways to approach each challenge. Also present is the ability to cut a bloody swathe through your enemies, with the gore and violence of the films being front and centre to the action.

At its core, War in the North is a third person hack-and-slash affair, although depending on your character and skills, you can also expect access to ranged combat and magic should that float your boat. You have overriding objectives to accomplish in each mission, as well as a number of minor objectives such as finding a specific item or killing a certain boss. In the section on show, there were three main races to utilise, though everyone was strangely tight lipped when asked whether there would be others. Obviously, we had a doughty dwarf warrior, a nimble elven ranger and a hardy human mage. However, don’t think that your favourite race may have been type cast, as all races can dabble in any form of combat as long as they carry the correct equipment.

Each race has a range of unique abilities and skills to choose from, with the experience gained from combat going towards opening up even more powerful attributes. As a basic example, humans can harvest local plant life to create potions, elves can track hidden footprints to discover secret areas and dwarves can detect weak rocks to mine for gold or find secret passages.

The trio romped through the forest, felling Orcs with neat combo attacks and a variety of magic. The elf and dwarf could also quickly pull out a bow and unleash destruction from afar, not to mention players could team up for devastating tag attacks usually resulting in a brutal finishing move. The execution moves on offer vary depending on the foe and the weapon you are currently using, but suffice it to say that they usually result in the scenery being redecorated in a tasteful hint of brain. Enemies offer a variety of loot, in a system similar to that of Borderlands et al, and it is up to you whether to horde it all for yourself or share the wealth amongst your team.

You can also use the racial abilities to find out of the way piles of swag and shortcuts too. Come the end of the level the team had to pull together to tackle two giant Rock Trolls, who seemed to smack the gang about with relative ease until they really started to pour the heavy attacks on. It all ran very smoothly with only the odd frame rate hitch slowing things up, and the combination of combat, questing and levelling should be an intriguing one indeed.

With three players able to combine online, or some two player split-screen action if you have a friend on hand, then you can expect this to be a very popular co-op game indeed. You can also play things through solo with two A.I. buddies to back you up should you so desire, and your friends can always jump in or out of the game at any given time.

On the whole, things are certainly looking promising, as the license should really allow the game to go in any direction they choose – and the combination of co-op play, RPG elements and loot has already proven as successful formula. If the core gameplay can be kept entertaining and the missions can take on a variety of locations and objectives, then there is no reason why this won’t be... precious?

Expect some tag-team Orc slaying at some point in 2011.


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Game Info


US November 01, 2011
Europe November 25, 2011

Price: $19.99USD
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