Monday, December 2

Not A Game Review: The Lord of the Rings: War In The North

Genre: Adventure/RPG
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Release date: 1/11/11
Developer: Snowblind Studios

In Not A Review I won't be delivering my final verdict, only my limited impressions of the game. Why? Because I grew bored of the game before I completed it.

The Lord of the Rings: War In The North attempts to tell a new story, with new heroes set during the War of the Ring. You will briefly encounter several of Lord of the Rings (LotR) cast including Gandalf and Legolas, with the initial events of the game running parallel to book/film. The game features co op and a light weight RPG system. If you think that sounds interesting, well it isn't.

The game starts with an elf, a dwarf and a human roaming Bree. Such companionship is incredibly rare in Middle Earth, but annoyingly its never explained how such a team came about. You quickly meet Aragorn and are off into the wilderness to aid him in distracting the Enemy. The town of Bree serves as a introductory hub, of which there are several throughout the game. You'll find vendors selling weapons and armour, some optional dialogue and side quests. Its all very basic and by the books.

Once you get into the wilderness, you are quickly exposed to the game's shallow gameplay. Whenever you load the game you can choose one of the 3 characters to play as. The other 2 will accompany you and perform basic functions such as using war cries and placing magic barriers. What is utterly perplexing is that you can't change characters on the fly. Want the mage to use an aoe stun at an opportune moment? Too bad. Its completely mad that you can only change characters by exiting to the main menu, as opposed to on the fly. As a result there is little synergy between you and your companions through out the game and strategy is non existent. Things get even worse when you realise that you cannot alter your companions armour or skill points, only the character you are playing. If you spend skill points in one character, then switch to another character, the original character skill points will default to the CPU build. As a result you have no control over your party of 3, only yourself!

Combat is extremely shallow and tedious. Characters have a few moves including light, heavy, special attacks, blocking and rolling. Combat is melee driven with your melee attacks typically doing the most damage and costing no resources. Even as a mage you will be hitting foes with your staff most of the time, rather than casting spells. Whether this was an intentional design to reflect the rarity of magic in the LotR lore, I don't know. What I do know is that it makes for extremely dull combat, with light attacks dominating. This problem is exemplified when the game throws wave, upon wave of enemies at you. Very little time is spent exploring, speaking to NPCs, or doing quests. Instead you walk along a mostly linear path butchering your way through hordes of Sauron's forces. It gets tedious fast and this is where I lost interest.

Oh look, more enemies!
The game presents many opportunities to interact with the characters from the central war against Sauron such as Gimli and Gloin in Rivendell. While at first this may seem like a quick boon, as a well read LotR fan I felt these characters offered nothing. They mostly comment about current events and their history and don't add anything new or interesting to the existing lore. If you've read the books, or watched the film, then chances are these cameos have nothing to offer you. As a result by the time I got to Rivendell I ignored them.

Visually the game is awful looking like a high end Xbox game and the art style doesn't save it. The sounds do a passable job, though you'll hear some music that sounds oddly similar to tracks in Dragon Age: Origins.

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North can only be described as dull. Waves upon waves of enemies and lack of depth in combat killed my motivation. I finally stopped in the Ettenmoors, about 5 hours into the game and I doubt I'll be picking it up again.