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The Lord of the Rings: War in the North Review

While a video game based on the Lord of the Rings is far from an original concept. Snowblind Studios once again take to their action RPG routes by offering a unique tale to the famous trilogy.

The game’s plot sits alongside the events of the novels as a side story. Several days before Frodo and his companions arrive at the Prancing Pony in Bree a group of three adventures are sent by Aragorn to secure safe passage by intercepting a gathering of orcs at Fornost so that the ring may be delivered safely to Rivendell. During their journey the players will be tasked with having to defeat AgandaĆ»r a powerful general of the Dark Lord Sauron who is advancing to take the lands of the north as Sauron’s forces advance towards Gondor.
The meat the dragon ate must have been super spicy!
If the last paragraph left you somewhat bewildered, not to worry as it holds little significance in this game for despite being set in a world known for its rich fictional heritage, War in the North is incredibly lacking in terms plot and character development. The overall storyline is very dull and offers little in terms of depth or excitement to the player throughout, cut scenes are mostly forgettable and before long your patience will be tested as to whether or not you’ll be skipping them to get straight back into the action. While the plot contains a lot of references and nods to the existing lore of Tolkien’s world though only the most diehard of fans will either notice these or care.

The games story additionally suffers from the lack of interesting characters. The three main protagonists have no personality of notable worth and come across as wooden cookie cutters of famous RPG archetypes. Voice acting while competent is also hindered by some stilted dialogue which offers the player little drive to keep grinding through the events of the game. In addition to the games many references, famous characters from the novels make cameo appearances but once again they provide little help in salvaging the lacklustre plot.

War in the North at its very core is a beat ‘em up. While the game appears to present itself as an RPG at every turn you will find that these elements are purely used to gloss over an incredibly familiar hack and slash experience. Players get a starting set of melee and ranged attacks in order to dispatch foes and defeating enemies bestows players with experience points which allow them to improve stats and learn new combat abilities.
Skills screen: Improve stats and learn new combat moves.
Rinse and repeat, with a huge emphasis on the repeat. Despite the aforementioned RPG overtones there is little else to do in the game other than fighting. Luckily War in North does include a competently executed combat system which is the one element of game that saves it from becoming truly dire. Even at early stages in the game you’ll find yourself knee deep in orcs and while there are other games that offer a more kinetic combat system War in the North is set at a slightly slower pace allowing you to keep track of yourself, your team mates and the huge waves of minions attempting to cut you down.

Though the three main characters may be bland in terms of personality, on a technical level they are well balanced and while each character has been designed so that they can competently fight on their own they each hero brings their own unique set of abilities which complement each other very well. These various skills can also provide bonuses to their allies as well as themselves and in some situations these abilities can create an incredible amount of team synergy which is useful for tackling the later stages of the game.
Oh three against one is fair isn't it!
Sadly despite the support of a good combat engine ultimately War in the North suffers greatly from a sense of being rushed to release before the holiday period and as a result seriously lacks in overall variation. The six standard enemy types are all introduced within the first hour of play and while goblins and orcs may occasionally get swapped in for ghouls and zombies they are still the same adversaries none the less. Also combine that with the lack of any memorable set-pieces and the game can quickly become repetitive.

Online Gameplay
Multiplayer is also available allowing for up to three players to team up either online or via system link and the multiplayer is where the game really shines. Players can simply drop in and drop out during gameplay with the AI stepping in to take over accordingly and it’s not unexpected to go through several different allies in a long online session. While the single player experience is competent and AI partners do little to hinder you there are many moments in the game that will leave a solo player wishing that he had someone to back them up while they take it upon themselves to pick off distant archers or man a war machine. Fortunately War in the North offers a second player using local split screen which is done with an impressive level of expertise. The frame rate state remains consistent and the game’s action is still easily visible on just half a screen. With these additions it is obvious that War in the North was meant to be experienced with others.
What's with this half naked dude!?
While the majority of the gameplay comes across as shallow the guys at Snowblind have implemented some clever design choices. Even starting a game is remarkably easy as the countless menus which plague modern games are non-existent. The main screen acts as a character select allowing for players to jump straight into the game. Wither deciding to play online or off with certain friends, it is easy to start a new game without overwriting your other saves as the game will prompt you to make a new one each time. Each save houses the players overall level, the progress through the campaign and the equipment you’re hauling and jumping back and forward from these is as easy as exiting back to the main menu.

The structure of the main game is somewhat formulaic but thankfully non-complex all the same. Players start in Bree which works as a central hub giving players the chance to alter their appearance and gain additional information from a paltry number of NPC’s, or head to a shop to buy, sell and repair equipment. Each level is spotted as a different location on the map which the players instantaneously travel to, the levels themselves are sectioned off with various checkpoints and at the end of each section the player is giving a statistical breakdown of how well they and their allies performed. Then they have the ability to either change their character move on or exit the game and as AI players take over there is no interruptions to the other players if you decide to leave them behind.

Visually War in the North is a commendable effort overall. On a graphical level what really stands out above all else are the various environments and locals which have been fully realised and breathe life into the game. Character modelling on the other hand looks occasionally rough at times, most noticeably when it comes to hair. Despite these little niggles however War in the North is clear and well presented enough to capture the feel of Tolkien’s world.

What does come across more noticeably however are the character animations. These often appear to be wooden even when doing the most simple of things such as interacting with each other in one of the many in game cut scenes. During the actual gameplay attacking animations can be rather stiff and sometimes characters don’t even look like they are hitting enemies. Also some animations are not obvious at all such as when an enemy starts blocking attacks, these are way too subtle for their own good and you could be hitting away for a long time before you realise you aren’t doing any damage.
Amazing environments.
War in the North sports some effects that are certainly note worthy. One of the most aesthetically pleasing of these occurs when you finish an enemy with a critical strike as the game temporarily slows so you can take a moment to witness your enemies limbs fly through the air. While that description may come across as a childish revelry in gore, it is a lovely little effect that is subtle and brief and surprisingly underused which considering how other elements of the game are overused is a blessing.

Final Verdict
War in the North is most certainly a mixed bag of good and bad with some hugely missed opportunities. While the game is far from terrible it certainly is a grind and will undoubtedly test the patience of many. As a multiplayer experience it is a lot of fun to play in waves but few will want to race through to see the games ending or challenge the games almost non-existent post game content.

Story = 4/10
Gameplay =6/10
Graphics = 6/10

We Know Gamers Final Score = 5/10

Had a chance to play the game? Tell us what you thought of it in the comments section below!

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