When you think of The Lord of the Rings, you think of all of the memorable scenes: Legolas riding his shield down the stairs at Helm’s Deep, the ghost army decimating Sauron’s forces in front of Minas Tirith, the witty and playful banter between Gimli and Legolas, and let’s not forget the final epic destruction of the One Ring. Well, The Lord of the Rings: War in the North takes a different perspective on the struggle for the preservation of Middle Earth.
Previous LOTR titles for other consoles had you play as the main characters, usually Legolas, Gimli, or Aragorn. A select few gave you ome play time as Gandalf, which was always a treat. The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, however, puts you in the shoes of three never-before-seen characters. If you choose single-player, you can play as any of the three. There is also co-op where, if you’re lucky, you can play as your favorite character. If you’re unlucky, you’re stuck with whoever is left.
Let’s start by meeting the characters. The first is Eradan, one of the fabled Dunedain Rangers. If you remember, Aragorn is one of the Dunedain as well. They outlive normal humans by many years and are excellent trackers, archers, and swordsmen. The play style of Eradan is relatively straightforward: shoot them with a bow until they get close and then lay into them with either a two-handed sword or an equally effective sword/shield combination. Alternatively, you can choose to avoid enemies until you are right behind them. Since The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is an RPG-style game, the characters feature skill trees. Eradan’s three main abilities include Evasion, Ranger Strike, and Heavy Shot. Evasion and its corresponding skills revolve around stealth, allowing you to perform normal attacks without being revealed, regenerate health, and perform a blinding/stunning attack. Ranger Strike is a sword move that deals heavy damage with a single hit, and this tree centers around swordsmanship, increasing damage, unlocking dual-wielding, and granting bonuses. Finally, you have the Heavy Shot tree, which focuses entirely on bows. Eradan is a very versatile character, built to play the role of either the removed archer, the up-close swordsman, or the stealthy rogue.
The next member of our roster is Andriel, a Loremaster of Rivendell. For those not as well-versed in the lore terminology, a Loremaster is essentially a spell-caster. In many ways, she is more of a support character than a heavy hitter, though she can dish out plenty of damage if you build her correctly. Her biggest asset is the fact that she has a variety of healing spells and knock-back spells to keep enemies at bay and your allies alive and kicking. Andriel features a tree dedicated to Sanctuary, which creates an orb to protect from ranged attacks, and can upgrade Sanctuary to provide healing effects and increased duration. The next tree features Word of Command, a magical shockwave; Tempest, an elemental assault; Smite, a hard-hitting single-target ability; and Sundering Command, an area-of-effect spell following Word of Command. Her final tree revolves around Empower Staff, which charges up a ranged attack which fires multiple charges. This tree also features some nice combinations if you would like to use Sanctuary as well, such as detonating the protective orb.
Last, but definitely not least, we have Farin, Champion of Erebor, and as lovable as a dwarf can be. For anyone who has played MMORPG games, Farin is akin to a Tank class. He has his War Cry tree, which allows him to increase his armor, melee damage, and health in short bursts, as well as grant passive bonuses to allies. He has two specific skills depending on weapon choice in his next tree, which utilizes Sweeping Attack and hits multiple enemies. This tree also grants a revival ability to War Cry and a damaging ability that hits enemies when Farin uses War Cry. Finally, you have Crushing Blow, which is a devastating single-target attack. Farin was made to take hits and dish them right back out.
While these trees provide a guiding structure, they are by no means a restriction. You gain skill points every level and can spend them freely, unlocking different abilities in multiple trees. However, some abilities do require prerequisites, so it is always a good idea to unlock the three main skills that begin each tree and work your way from there. You also receive stat points every level which can be put into Strength, Dexterity, Stamina, or Will. Strength affects melee damage and allows heavier weapon and armor use, Dexterity unlocks more bows and affecst ranged damage, Stamina grants more health, and Will grants more mana and more spell damage. On top of the stat points you can find armor, weapons, and jewelry to boost your stats and make you an altogether more lethal warrior.
The game itself takes place as the Fellowship pushes towards Mordor and Mount Doom, and follows our three heroes as they fight to put a chink in Sauron’s defenses and give the forces of Middle Earth a foothold. Along the way you meet some familiar faces such as Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Elrond, and even Frodo and Sam themselves when the three heroes visit Rivendell. The main villain is Agandaur, Sauron’s vicious and cruel ally. He is mustering an army of orcs, trolls, goblins, and possibly even some men of Middle Earth to aid Sauron in finding the One Ring, and your job as the story’s hero is to bring a stop to his plans. The story takes you through Rivendell, Mirkwood, the haunted Barrow-Downs, and many other beautiful places throughout Middle Earth as you fight Sauron’s forces.
The gameplay itself is straightforward. You spend a lot of time using a mix of ranged skills and melee, with your spells and abilities thrown in to make things easier. The game is very unforgiving, often just throwing enemy upon enemy at you and really forcing you to pay attention to yourself and your allies. You can revive them if they go down and you have health potions, but it is usually better to save them as a last resort. When in single-player, the AI isn’t terrible but it’s not necessarily genius-level, either, especially when defending objectives – on these occasions AI characters tend to have a bad case of ADHD, leave objectives undefended. Multiplayer can fix these issues if the people you play with communicate well. If not, it is a lot like having the AI anyway. Enemies range in difficulty, from goblins who can be killed with one swing of a sword to trolls and Uruk-hai who never seem to die no matter what you do. This is a game that requires patience, skill, and a love for things that are going to challenge you a lot.
Rating: It is no easy feat to create an entirely separate storyline out of a story as successful as The Lord of the Rings. Non-canon characters can either be underdeveloped or so overly developed that how they fit into the story at all seems contorted. Snowblind Studios did a wonderful job with The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, making you really feel like you play a crucial role in the survival of Middle Earth, even though you are not a direct part of the Fellowship. This game is a must-play for any LOTR fan or anyone who just enjoys a good RPG.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Lord of the Rings: War in the North developed by Snowblind Studios, published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
- Solid RPG Mechanics
- Enjoyable Story
- Inconsistent Character Introductions
- Unforgiving Difficulty