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 Agandaûr 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!|
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.|
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!|
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!?|
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.
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
Graphics = 6/10
We Know Gamers Final Score = 5/10
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