The Lord of the Rings: War in the North – PS3
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
Release Date: November 1, 2011
Nerd Rating: 7/10
Reviewed by Steroid Gamer
The Lord of the Rings franchise is home to one of the richest, interesting, creative, and bloody brutal worlds in all of fiction. Whether you’ve spent time with J. R. R. Tolkien himself and read through the extremely detailed adventures of Bilbo and his Unexpected Journey, or watched the thrilling trilogy of films from director Peter Jackson, there is no doubt how amazing The Lord of the Rings franchise can be and the incredible journeys the characters go on. The Lord of the Rings has had its chance to shine in the video game medium for a while now with games like; The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, LOTR Conquest, Battle for Middle-Earth and plenty more. However, The Lord of the Rings: War in the North has a very unique attribute that none of the other video games can claim to have. You see, all previous video games based on The Lord of the Rings could only work with parts of the property that had been seen in the films. (Don’t ask why, it was just a matter of licensing deals and logistics between the production studios and Tolkien enterprises, very boring and complicated). With War in the North that has all changed as it’s the first game (based off/in The Lord of the Rings universe) to use ideas, concepts, and parts of the fiction from both the films and the books! Basically, there was a lot of content for the developers at Snowblind Studios to potentially use in War in the North.
I’ll just go ahead and get this out of the way, if you’re a fan of The Lord of the Rings then this game has plenty to offer you; deeper lore, easter eggs, references and appearances of characters that have only appeared previously in the novels. There are some really awesome moments and locations in the game that will make the inner Lord of the Rings fan in you completely “nerd” out. However, for those same fans, there are going to be moments that are redundant, boring, and flat out wasteful. Some conversations your characters can have could be classified as “The Lord of the Rings: For Dummies.” If you’ve never experienced this franchise in any way, shape, or form, then these portions might be helpful, but going off the assumption that War in the North isn’t your first step into Middle-Earth these “specific” talks are like hearing the same boring lecture from an adult ten times over.
What are these conversations I’m referencing? Well, War in the North shares attributes to several other video games on the market, one of the most notable is the Mass Effect franchise. The same feature in which you can walk around, talk to characters, and have deep conversations with them based off of expanding “conversation trees” in Mass Effect, is also found in War in the North. Along your journey you’ll meet famous characters such as Elrond of Rivendell, Gandalf the Grey, Aragorn, and many more. If you want, you can partake in lengthy chats with these fellows about a variety of topics; war, life without war, dragons, a dumb question, another irrelevant question, and so on. Sometimes, these chats are cool and share a part of the franchise that you’d only find by reading the novels cover to cover. Unfortunately, most of these optional talks result in long lengthy explanations about the events going on in The Lord of the Rings universe, or about events that happened in Middle-Earth’s past that seem irrelevant at the time. Sure, this idea sounds great and the added knowledge and lore is appreciated, but the ways the conversations play out don’t make them feel genuine. They all feel like your character is a complete moron about the world around them and whomever you are talking to (i.e. Gandalf, Elrond, or Legolas) just sounds like they are reading history from The Lord of the Rings encyclopedia, if such a thing existed.
Since these conversations are purely optional it’s not a total game changer, but it does put a big nasty mole on the face of the game’s world. War in the North tries to get you invested by being a deeper experience in a Thr Lord of the Rings game than previously seen, but the way these talks play out it just makes the world feel a little dumb at times, or at least as if the people inhabiting Middle-Earth are.
There are three main characters to choose from in War in the North; Farin the dwarf, Eradan the ranger, and Andriel the elf. As you can probably already guess, each character not only looks different and adheres to the same stereotypes seen in other mediums in the franchise, but they play different as well. Before I go into the gameplay differences between the three characters I quickly want to go over the difference from a story perspective. The differences are……none. Seriously. I was so disappointed to find out how much personality these three heroes lacked. The few bits and pieces of any character development to be found can only be attributed to the aforementioned franchise stereotypes. For example Farin, the dwarf, is very stubborn and pig headed. Huh, who would have thought? To make matters worse I played through this game three times once with each character. During the course of the story whomever you’re playing as is the character that does the majority of the talking for the group when you come across foes, friends, allies, and everything in between. I was really hoping that playing with a different character would not only offer a different response from the main character’s themselves, but from whom they are talking with as well. Sadly, this isn’t the case. For the most part, regardless of character, the story and conversations all play out the same with nearly identical dialogue. You’d think that when Farin meets a clan of dwarves he’d be more excited and have much more to say than when Andriel meets the same clan. Nope. Those talks play out nearly the same.
From a gameplay perspective Andriel is more of a healer, Farin is much tougher and plays more of a “tank” role, while Eradan is more of a balance between the two and has the best ranged attacks with his arrows. Honestly, you don’t have to play the game too much differently when playing as another character if you don’t want to. This is an RPG, so there are skill trees and plenty of experience to be earned to upgrade your skills. If you want to make Farin a SUPER tank capable of taking tons of damage then he’s “built” to do so. However, if you’d rather Farin be more balanced and play closer to Eradan or Andriel then you can “upgrade” him to be that way too.
The game plays out like a traditional hack-and-slash adventure game. You’ve got heavy attacks, slow attacks, blocking moves, as well as ranged options. There aren’t any combos in War in the North so the game is fairly easy to pick up and play with an easy learning curve. The game also has a tremendously great sense of pacing. You are going to be collecting bundles and bushels of loot on your adventure and it’s a lot of fun to mix and match the various swords and pieces of armor you collect in order to find the right combination for you. As any good RPG should be, as you progress and build a stronger and tougher character, you’ll start to face stronger and tougher enemies. You aren’t going to find too much in the way of unique enemy designs if you’re comparing them to The Lord of the Rings films, but don’t let their appearances deceive you. Some of the “weakest” looking enemies turn out to be some of the toughest.
Even though the combat is fairly easy to learn, and not complicated by nature, button mashing will be a wasted effort. You need to play War in the North smart, particularly when you increase the difficulty. The game’s combat is simple but it’s also extremely satisfying. Swaying away with your sword on a foe to end up getting, what the game refers to, as a brutal animation will cure you’re craving for brutality. Whether it’s an Orc, Goblin, or Uruk-Hai it doesn’t matter. Severing heads is severing heads people; it’s great no matter what “nasty Orcses” are on the other side.
War in the North supports up to three player co-op, two of which can be split screen on the same console. War in the North is a fun game to experience by yourself as you get to take in the atmosphere, have lengthy chats with other characters (when playing online with others you’ll find they just want you to rush through anything story related) manage your overloading inventory, go on fetch quests, and more, but playing cooperatively is also a blast on equal measure. Getting to team up with other players to face the hordes of Sauron’s minions is nothing but pure joy and viciousness. In fact, I would personally recommend playing War in the North two separate times if you want to really take in everything the game has to offer. One time I’d play solo; take your time and enjoy the story. The next playthrough should be spent playing alongside friends or other online players and going back to back in battles against spiders and Orcs. If you want, I suppose you could look at the glass as half empty and ask “why couldn’t co-op mode and story mode be created in a way where both work hand in hand instead of needing to play the game twice?” Well, I’m more of a half-glass full type of person so I just see this as an opportunity to play through the game twice!
I’m not going to say too much about the story itself because War in the North relies heavily on its story to be a deciding factor on its success. I will say that the story is pretty good but could have been better. Honestly, it should’ve been better given the ability to work with material from the novels this time around, but it does have a moment that will jerk out a tear or two near the game’s finale. The story is going to take you to some awesome places you haven’t seen before (maybe you’ve read about them?) and you’ll get to meet some “new” characters in the same respect. However, the journey still feels smaller and less important compared to the ones taken on by Tolkien’s heroes, even though it tries super hard to suggest otherwise.
The Lord of The Rings: War in The North developer Snowblind Studios had a lot of ambition when making this game. Some of the ambition pays off in tremendously satisfying ways and another portion of it falls straight on its sword. The gameplay is simple and not very deep, but it’s extremely satisfying and rewarding. The expansive loot system will serve all your collecting needs and the co-op play is nothing but sheer, vicious fun. The story has plenty of cool and unique moments stemming from material previously only featured in the novels, but for every one of these moments there’s a part of the story that feels like fan fare. War in the North may not be the RPG experience in Middle-Earth that you were looking for, but it’s still a journey worth experiencing for any The Lord of the Rings fan out there.
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