As a novel that was loved by millions, it was inevitable that J.R.R Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ would get a movie franchise, and with the success of the films, the videogames were sure to follow. By now however the LOTR fever has died down. That was until Snowblind studios unveiled The Lord of the Rings: War in the North. This new action-RPG had fans of the franchise grabbing up their swords in delight, but does this new adventure live up to its predecessors, or does it deserve to follow the ring into the fiery pits of Mordor? In short-none of them.
Let’s start with the positives. Looting and levelling up are two of the key elements in making a good RPG, and both of these are present. As always, you can loot piles of bones, break open crates and find hidden treasure chests throughout the world to find new items, weapons and coins. Placed around the areas you visit are shops where you can use the coins you’ve accumulated to purchase new weapons and armour to make your party more formidable. Levelling up is also extremely satisfying. Killing enemies and completing objectives earns you Experience, or XP. When you collect enough, you can level up gaining 3 attribute points to spend upgrading your melee strength, ranged strength, power, and health. You also get one skill point to spend either buying a new skill or upgrading one that you already have.
Also, the game looks great. The character designs aren’t perfect, but they do look pretty good. Snowblind have taken a different perspective to the LOTR universe, and given each character and enemy a darker look-particularly the trolls, who look more deadly and ugly than those of the films. Each weapon or piece of armour to be found has a different look and the different effects that can be seen when using them in combat look truly spectacular. The locations you visit are taken directly from the film and appear as they do on the big screen. From Rivendell to Bree you will be taken through different areas that you would recognise immediately, even without the introductory scenes that prelude each one. Any areas that aren’t in the film are clearly inspired by those not featured in the game. Crumbling citadels and abandoned fortresses look familiar to fans of the series.
The story is somewhat interesting, retelling the story of the war of the ring, but from a different perspective. Whilst Aragorn, Frodo and the rest of the fellowship go about their business destroying the ring in the south, a second war raged in the north. This is where we come in. You play as either Eradan, the stealthy human ranger, Farin, the tough as nails dwarvern champion, or Andriel, the elven lore-master, specialising in long-ranged magic attack and defense. The team of heroes must hunt down Agandaur-Sauron’s right hand man who is causing havoc throughout middle-earth. With a new cast of characters and a new foe to fight, this story begins.
Unfortunately, the game is far from flawless. Repetitive combat and dull characters make this game feel like a boring plod through recognisable locations, rather than an action filled romp through Middle-Earth. The AI in the game will cause extreme frustration at many points. The game is based on co-op play, and you will be able to control one of three characters in your party. If one of your team goes down, the other two members have a few seconds in which to revive them. This wouldn’t be a problem if you could switch characters on-the-fly, as with the likes of Dragon Age, but unfortunately, you must wait until the end of the section, or quit the game and swap out characters at the main menu in order to change who you play as. This is all fine if one of the AI characters is downed, but if your character falls, you must wait for the AI to revive you. However, the AI is programmed to immediately revive you if you fall in battle, and will not attempt to fight back against any enemies until you are back on your feet, leading them to die before they even reach you, and with no ability to command them, or set tactics for them to obey, it is often that controllers will be hurled in frustration.
This is the exact reason why playing online is much more fun. Rather than mindlessly running towards you whilst being shot at, blown up or slashed to death, playing with friends allows you to think and plan out what you want to do. This is incredibly useful in the large battles that you often face. The multiplayer doesn’t come without its flaws though. There is much slow-down and the number of glitches increases dramatically. Enemies will just disappear and reappear on the other side of the battlefield, or you will be warned that a friend is close to death, only for you to find that they are in fact at full health. Despite its setbacks, playing with friends is much recommended over playing solo, with nothing but your mindless AI companions for company.
The gameplay itself starts off looking promising, before descending into boring hack-n-slash controls. As you move through the various locations, you will find yourself battling hordes of the same orcs, goblins and trolls. Wave after wave of enemies soon becomes boring, and it doesn’t take long to realise that there isn’t much more to the game than fighting countless minions of darkness. The game gradually becomes more enjoyable as you unlock and upgrade new skills, but it never reaches the level of entertainment that Snowblind are known for, leading this game to be somewhat of a disappointment.
With titles such as Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, and the Champions of Norrath series under its belt, we had high hopes for Snowblind’s most recent outing. At points, the game shows you all it has to offer, and provides an immersive RPG to get lost in, however, these moments are few and far between. The tedious annoyances that constantly arise makes the game feel rushed, as if Snowblind merely wanted to get another game out, rather than think about its content. The build up that fans have received will most likely lead to an anticlimactic experience. If you’re a hardcore RPG fan, looking for some great looting and levelling up, or even if you’re just a fan of the LOTR series, hoping to find a new story to be told, then perhaps this game is for you. But if you’re looking for an RPG experience similar to that of Baldur’s Gate, then you are in for a sour disappointment.
6/10 - OK