Gamescom 2011: Lord of the Rings: War in the North Hands-On Preview - Troll Hunters
Written Saturday, August 27, 2011 By Lee AbrahamsView author's profile
If you swoon at the sight of suave elves, stumpy dwarves or Hobbits with more body hair than King Kong, then this is going to be the game for you. We decided to go hands-on with the most gruesome Lord of the Rings title to date, or so the developers promised us, in a bid to see if we could deal a little death in the Tolkien style.
The events in War in the North directly parallel those of the movie, as pitched battles spring up all across Middle-earth as the forces of Sauron try to gain a foothold wherever they can. So you have a chance to step into the shoes of the brave few attempting to stop this unholy juggernaut from emerging victorious. Obviously one or two more well-known characters are liable to make cameos along the way, but this is very much a new story that is fully approved by the Tolkien estate to become an official part of the overall lore of Middle-earth.
With the ability to play solo, splitscreen or online with drop in/out co-op you can enjoy the game however you see fit too. The AI will fill in the spare slots where required, but we tooled up with two likeminded individuals to take down some bad guys together. After all it’s always more fun to kill with buddies than go it alone.
The usual characters are ready and willing with a doughty dwarf fighter, a nimble elven mage and a boring human ranger. Boo to humans! However, you are never obliged to take a character down a strict path and can tailor them with skills, equipment and abilities how you see fit, which helps stop things from becoming too predictable. Typically we got stuck as a human ranger, but rather than just getting him killed in a fit of pique, we decided to be a team player and do our damnedest to emerge successful.
Each character has heavy and light attacks, as well as the ability to attack from range, plus there are special abilities tied to the bumper buttons – which can provide a range of alternate attacks or buff abilities. Our first job was to loot the surrounding area for swag and acquire some fancy weapons, chests can be searched by each player which prevents one character making off with all the best swag and also means that you can find character specific items. This system prevents the kind of free for all that could be found in titles like Borderlands, and ensures an even dispersal of quality equipment. Navigating the menus lets you quickly upgrade your team as the game helpfully highlights which equipment offers the best bang for your buck, which is handy when you just want to tool up and kick some ass.
Once we were suitably armed we headed into battle against some invading orcs, using nearby catapults to deal with huge siege towers and the enemies that poured forth from within them. The need for teamwork was instantly apparent, as was the challenging difficulty level, as foes can make short work of the newfound fellowship and it is up to the team to heal each other and quickly pick up downed friends. Liberal use of the dodge button was paramount to jump in and out of danger, and just hacking away at the attack buttons is liable to bring a swift death.
After the first wave was out of the way a couple of trolls decided to take umbrage to our awesome defence and set about battering down the doors. We leapt to their defence and using a neat bit of teamwork, some of the flashy special moves and more healing potions than you can shake a stick at we emerged victorious. The whole thing played pretty well, with lovely visuals, an array of skills and interesting combat, it is certainly more engrossing than recent combat RPGs like Hunted et al. When you throw in a bunch of sidequests, moral ramifications to your actions and a quest that spans the whole of Middle-earth then this is potentially the game that fans have been longing for.
If we had any concerns it would be the fact that War in the North may well be fairly short, with a running time of roughly 12 – 15 hours which could be dramatically shortened if you went in with a full team. There were also a few glitches in the enemy AI with some characters getting stuck on scenery and not even reacting when we peppered them with arrows from afar. Hopefully, these are just a few final niggly bugs though, as the idea of a spectacular, co-op Lord of the Rings experience should be too good to pass up.
Expect to be traipsing over mountains, hills and dales with some stolen jewellery come November 2011.