The Lord of the Rings series has seen as many ups and downs as just about any successful movie franchise, when it comes to games. There are some truly excellent titles and, of course, some massively disappointing ones. War in the North is one of the most anticipated for a few reasons. For starters it is being developed by Snowblind Studios, the same guys behind the incredibly awesome Champions of Norrath and Justice League Heroes. The top-down style is sort of their calling card, which is why I was surprised to discover that War in the North is actually a third-person action game with RPG elements.
The first thing the developers were quick to point out, is that this is the first game based on Lord of the Rings with full-on mature content. Blood and gore are part of the action, and you will see enemies dismembered and decapitated like you would expect a giant sword to do. The game is also a co-op experience, with three main races that can be controlled by AI bots or friends, via online or split-screen action at any time with drop-in/out co-op.
I took on the role of the ranger as the mage was off-limits, and someone else already had claimed the dwarf. The ranger uses ranged attacks with his bow and blades for up-close combat. The game feels like any traditional third-person action title. You aim with the right stick and move with the left while firing is handled by the right trigger and zooming in with the left. You also have a set of special moves that can be achieved with the face buttons. Dodging and jumping round out the quintessential stable of movement actions. Players familiar with action games will be right at home as soon as they pick up the controller.
The demo took us up the side of a snowy mountain. The developers told us this was true canon to the main story, but was something that was never explored in the movies. It was hard to hear any of the dialogue because of the noise of the show, but the cut scenes showed our heroes watching the marching orcs from a distance. This feels like it will be an epic quest, and being based on true canon should please fans of the series.
The game is also chock full of RPG elements, such as upgrading stats and armor. One of the cool things about the inventory system is that you don’t have to collaborate with other players to give them items. If you pick up something that one of your party members can use, you simply open up the menu and drop it in their inventory. They get a message saying you dropped something in their inventory and you can continue the action. It is a small thing, but one that really keeps the pace of the game moving.
War in the North is definitely not what I expected, but it does have a lot of promise. The game did feel a bit rough around the edges with some apparent AI issues, a generic HUD and plenty of technical glitches. Normally that wouldn’t bother me, but the game is set to ship in May, so don’t be surprised if it is delayed until Fall. Still, there is a lot of good going on here and, if they clean it up, this is definitely a game to keep a close eye on.