Review: Lord of the Rings: War in the North

The Lord of the Rings games have been a little hit and miss. Older games, like the attempt to make an RPG out of Fellowship of the Ring, were pretty poor attempts to get fans of the series to cough up their money. The movies brought on another bad Fellowship game, but they also brought us the Two Towers and Return of the King action games, which were fairly good.
Then there were the Battle for Middle Earth and War of the Ring RTS games, with both series being a good representation of Tolkien’s lands, but there was also Conquest, Pandemic’s rather odd attempt to make the Star Wars: Battlefront engine work in the Lord of the Rings universe. If you have not played that game, consider yourself lucky.

So you can kind of imagine how wary I was when the newest Lord of the Rings game, War in the North, was announced. The more info I started to hear about the game, however, the more it started to interest me. An action RPG done by Snowblind Studios, a developer rather familiar with the genre. Three player coop with brand new characters involved in a story which intersects with the main story of the quest of the ring but is separate from it? Yeah, I was interested.

The question is, in the midst of this whole mountain of new games which have released these last couple of months, is War in the North worth your consideration?

A Parallel Story

Enter your new heroes, Eradan, Farin and Andriel.

Most of the Lord of the Rings games have put you in the midst of the conflict over the One Ring, meaning there was only so much they could do with the story. War in the North heads in a different direction, putting you in control of three champions who must complete and equally important task to keep the heroes of the story from being overrun by Sauron’s minions. Enter Eradan, a member of the Dunedain rangers, Andriel, a magic wielding Loremaster from Rivendell and Farin, a dwarven champion from Erabor. As the game opens, you find yourselves at the inn of the Prancing Pony in Bree, having just barely managed to survive an attack on the rangers by the Nazgul, lead by Agandaur, an ally of Sauron from the Northern Kingdoms. While in Bree, you meet Aragorn just before the hobbits arrive, and he charges your group with a quest to try and determine just what Agandaur is doing in the North. As you progress through the story, you find Agandaur is trying to raise an army to attack the free people of middle earth from the north while Sauron and his forces attack from the east. Your band of heroes and the allies you make throughout the story are all that stand in his way.

As you may have already noticed, the events of War in the North run parallel to the story of the quest to destroy the One Ring. You will be given the opportunity to interact with most of the members of the Fellowship when you meet up with them in Rivendell, and you will find yourself seeking the council of both Elrond and Bilbo as you progress through the story. Snowblind Studios was given full access to all of the assets used in making the films, and it shows; Rivendell, Bree

Locations in the game really come to life, like Rivendell pictured above.

and all the various lands you traverse jump right off the screen at you as if you just stepped into the films. By running the parallel story, however, the studio was able to take you to lands unfamiliar to all but the more diligent Tolkien fans. You will find yourself fighting through the ghostly Barrow Downs, driving back both spiders and orcs in the Mirkwood and defending the dwarven stronghold Nordinbad. You will work with the sons of Elrond, make friends and powerful allies of the eagles, rescue one of the few remaining wizards and even try to figure out how to keep Agandaur from enlisting the aid of one of the last remaining great dragons. The entire story has an epic tone very reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings, weaving a tale that feels like it truly belongs in Tolkien’s world.

So the story is definitely a success. Is the gameplay?

Mostly….

When It’s Good, It’s Epic

War in the North is a hack and slash RPG with three very distinct characters with their own unique abilities. Eradan is your rogue archetype. While he is a strong fighter and can take on enemies head on, it is when you unlock his ability to vanish into the background and attack your enemies from the shadows that he shines. Andriel likewise is a decent fighter, especially once you unlock her ability to wield a staff and another weapon at the same time, but magic is her strong suit. Her most useful spell is Sanctuary, which creates a dome of light in a specific area which both heals allies and blocks incoming projectiles. Then there’s Farin, your tank. Designed to take more damage, Farin has a War Cry which, when powered up, can give him and his allies a boost to their attacks, make the enemies attacks weaker and even draw the enemy’s attention to him. As you can probably guess, these special abilities are best when used in combination. Farin’s War Cry can direct enemies to him while Eradan sinks in behind. Andriel’s Sanctuary makes a great shield from which Farin and Eradan can use their ranged attacks to take out archers who will not be able to hurt them. These abilities and others you will unlock will allow you to work together to take on the overwhelming forces of darkness, and you will absolutely need to work together in this  game, especially when dealing with larger enemies like trolls. Of course, you can always call an eagle in for aid against harder enemies if you are fighting them outdoors.

So, as it is apparent your characters will need to work together, the AI must be set up in such a way where they will, right? Well, sort of.

When It’s Bad….

Don’t get me wrong; if you fall, the computer will go out of its way to revive you, and your AI counterparts will definitely use the various abilities to their fullest. They just might not react as would really seem logical at times. For example, you will use Andriel to cast Sanctuary to protect your team from projectiles just to have your teammates step outside its protection to fire at the enemy. Other times, you might really need the healing light of Sanctuary, and the AI controlled Andriel will cast it, only to immediately dispell it to damage nearby enemies. While you can give rudimentary commands to your team (attack this target, defend this person), you will tend to feel like you just don’t have any real control over your AI teammates, and sometimes that will truly be frustrating.

Snowblind made some other interesting choices in game design as well. Leveling up for instance. Your AI teammates will apply their points for leveling up automatically, but when you are given a chance to switch characters, the points will reset to the last time you chose the upgrades, giving you the ability to build the characters you play as you see fit. Same is true of the items your characters equip; the AI will equip as it sees fit, but you will be allowed to have your versions of the characters equipped as you see fit. While some would have prefered the ability to do this themselves on the fly, my guess is this was a concession to how things would work for coop, which we will get to in a bit, and as such, it works fine.

Trolls are tough, especially if you fight them on your own.

Probably one of the games greatest strengths can become one of its greatest weaknesses, however. Snowblind has built a good checkpoint system into the game. This system will even save at various points within a boss/end battle so you do not have to repeat the entire battle if you die. While this is usually a good thing, it did lead to the most frustrating, make me want to throw my controller moment in the game. I was defending these front gates from attack, and I barely was able to defend them from the first two waves. The next wave included two heavily armored trolls, and the gates had taken enough damage that just two hits from the trolls would break them down. My AI Teammates would not position themselves between the door and the trolls no matter what I did, so it was up to me to try and find a way to kill them before they got those two hits. I failed. I failed again. In fact, I failed again on several occasions, yet because the game had saved at the checkpoint, I had to start back on the same place instead of starting all over to see if I could get to that point with the gate more in tact. Now maybe there was a way to start the entire battle over, but it was not apparent, and this became very frustrating. I did finally pass it, and fortunately I never ran across that issue again.

So the game is not without its flaws, especially if you are playing by yourself. What about when you are playing coop?

Everything is Better with Friends

While I enjoyed playing War in the North on my own, this game is much better in coop. I was able to play through many portions of it in coop mode, and being able to work with your friends in tandem using the abilities the way they were meant to be used is a blast. For example, you have to fight some nasty creatures in the Barrow Downs who throw chunks of rock at you. Have one of you control Andriel, cast Sanctuary and laugh as the rocks break apart on your shield while you and your friends pick them off at a safe distance. Or wait for you friend controlling Eradan to enter hero mode, where he does more damage, and use Farin’s War Cry to make him even more fearsome an adversary. Draw the attention of the enemy so your friend can get in behind them for better attacks. All the things you are used to doing in coop work brilliantly within the game, making the experience that much better.

War in the North is a great addition to the Lord of the Rings games.

How about the questing? The whole team can do quests while in coop, which allows you to actually play though the entire game this way if you so choose. You can also bring a higher lever character into a lower level game, so if you are farther along than your friend, you can bring your stronger, better equipped warriors into battle to come to his aid. At the point of writing this review, I have only had the chance to play two player coop. I cannot wait to see how a full three player experience plays out.

There was only one thing in coop which really did not seem to work. As my partner was spending some time talking with characters in Rivendell, I decided to try and talk to some of the other people there. I could do that as long as they were not a part of the main story. Since I had already progressed further than my friend, it would not let me speak with the characters directly tied to the main quest, EVEN if I wanted to talk to them about non main quest related things. That seemed a little odd, but it was only a minor issue.

Worth the Time

Lord of the Rings: War in the North is a very enjoyable game. Sure, it has its faults, but overall it is definitely worth playing, especially if you are a fan of the movies or just of Tolkien’s universe. The biggest issue with the game is it was released in the middle of a pack of too many AAA titles. This means many people will not give this game a try, and that is truly a shame.

For great coop play and a fantastic story parallel to the quest to destroy the One Ring, War in the North gets a 9 out of 10.

Eric Bouchard

I am the Senior Editor and current Admin for Everyday Gamers as well as the primary editor of the podcast. While I tend to gravitate towards shooters or RPGs, I will play any genre of game which catches my eye.

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