You’re on your own Frodo, we’re going up North.
Previous Lord of the Ring’s games have been a bit of a mixed bag. Ranging from good, such as the Battle for Middle Earth, to downright shoddy, such as the recent Lord of the Rings Conquest. As a result, Lord of the Rings games have hardly been anticipated.
The recent iteration however, showed promise. Back when the game was announced in March 2010, the developers stated that it is to be, “inspired by events from the famous book trilogy, containing elements from past feature films”. This led Lord of the Rings nerds such as myself to become giddy with hope. With promises of enhanced story, innovative co-op gameplay and realistic combat how could this game fail?
Flash forward to 2011 and I’ve played the hell out of it, but does this game truly live up to the hype?
The story mixes things up a bit in that it takes place throughout the events of the books/films, but the game itself does not take part in them. In fact, it is a side story intertwining with these main events. The story surrounds that of a new fellowship being formed in conjunction with the fellowship everyone knows and loves, with this new fellowship being of 3 consisting of an elf, dwarf and human. The 3 are tasked with ‘easing the pressure’ from Frodo and the rest, in that they must eliminate Saurons’ forces up in the north of Middle East. They are also tasked with killing an evil hand of Sauron known as Agandaur, the cause of a lot of their problems.
The theme of this unlikely fellowship of elf, dwarf and man is constantly shown throughout the course of the game, of which we have seen far too many times before (primarily in both the books and film adaptations). This unfortunately leads to the story becoming uninteresting with myself not caring about the events taking place. The character development is also poor, with little information as to who they are and what they are doing there. As a result you don’t connect with the characters and care what happens to them throughout the course of the game. Overall I feel as though the story is okay but could perhaps do with some more background information.
The game is based around 3 classes; the elf (mage class), the dwarf (tank class) and the human ranger (the all-rounder). As expected, the mage contains the healing abilities needed to keep the other members of the fellowship alive and specialises with ranged attacks. The tank deals heavy damage up close but lacks the power at range. And the all-rounder, well he likes to keep things average.
Each class has a special ability that the other two do not. For instance, the dwarf can detect secret doors and treasure chests, and the ranger can harvest certain types of plants and other items which can be used to create useful spells/potions. All in all this class system has been used countless times and works as a result. However, what hinders this effectiveness is that of poor A.I.
When playing on your own (This being most of the time for me as my friends hate Lord of the Rings), your other two companions are filled, in that you are never on your own. The A.I. in this game however is unbelievably dumb, leading to the fact that it is infuriating to play on your own. For instance, when a player is downed, the other players must revive them in order to stop them from dying (pretty standard in videogames right?). Well then why do the A.I. controlled characters feel the need to rush into a horde of enemies whilst I am downed, ignoring me resulting in their death too and a failure for us all? The countless times I’ve been left screaming at the TV crying for help for it to be completely un-answered by my comrades. Their frequent misuse of their ‘useful’ special abilities is also put to question.
The core gameplay itself however, is fantastic. The brutal melee combat is satisfying, with glorious so-mo dismemberment rewarded for good kills. Nothing is better than slow motion limb slicing of orcs in HD. I enjoyed ‘besting’ harder foes such as trolls, commanders, mages and even ghosts. The combat revolves around a basis of ‘light’, ‘heavy’ and ‘ranged’ attacks. A lot of the time however, I found myself spamming the light attack button far too frequently as this seemed to be effective most of the time. Oh and did I mention that this is a very gory game? With the age rating being that of an 18, this is the first in its series.
There are also various RPG elements within Lord of the Rings War in the North. The main element being that of upgrading your characters abilities. Every time your character levels up (there are 20 levels in total), you gain 3 points to spend on increasing your strength, dexterity, will or stamina and 1 point to unlock special abilities such as dual wielding. Elements such as this have been seen in countless RPG’s before and it works. Basic character customisation options are also present, being able to define a few facial features and hair colours for example, but nothing too deep and complex. As is typical RPG fare, your character loadout resides around stat comparisons between your weapons and armour, leading your character to become far more kick-ass as time progresses.
Finally, playing this game with friends through online multiplayer is a lot of fun. I got a sense of a Lord of the Rings style Monster Hunter whilst playing it, in that you get a great feel of accomplishment once you have used teamwork and planning to defeat a troll for example. So as a result, I urge you to play this game with friends and not by yourself, you will have a much more satisfying experience!
Does Lord of the Rings War in the North live up to its expectations? In my opinion not so much. The game itself is very solid with lots of fun elements within its gameplay. However, it falls short when it comes to A.I. and its lack of depth. Also, the release date was poorly timed in that it was released when another, much more anticipated, PRG came out (Skyrim anyone?). As a result this may hinder sales without hardly anyone picking this up, leading it to fall under the radar, which is a shame as this is one of the most fun games I’ve played all year.