Licensed games are an iffy thing in our fine industry. Some are good (Arkham Asylum anyone?), while most are utter garbage (essentially ever movie tie-in ever made…) and not worthy of the plastic they come boxed in. Lord of the Rings is one the luckier players in this game, with quite a few decent titles under its belt. But rather obviously, the potentially best kind of game able to be made from the series would be an Action-RPG, but any attempt at something resembling this has never ended well for the universe, so does War in the North have what it takes to finally deliver the Lord of the Rings game we’ve wanted for years?
While most Lord of the Rings games take a stab at telling the story we all know and love – that of the One Ring and our brave Fellowship – War in the North tells another story. Via an introductory monologue from the great Gandalf, we learn while the battle for Middle Earth was waged in the south, there were a number of other heroes, whose actions were just as important to the downfall of Darkness, in the North. War in the North puts players in the boots of Eradan, Farin or Andriel as they fight the good fight and take on the evil forces of Sauron. It’s a fairly well-crafted story that manages to tie in with the primary LOTR story we are all familiar with while still keeping its own identity.
Primarily, the game has been built and designed for 3 player co-op. Each of the characters is their usual RPG archetype, which while a little stale, works a treat for the actual gameplay. I found playing alone to be a bit tedious due to the rather repetitive combat and linear nature of the quests, but with a friend or two – or even a total stranger online – the game instantly turns itself around to be a highly enjoyable fight for survival. But while the combat is top-notch in co-op, the game itself still lacks some much needed flare.
The RPG elements are very simple, with skill points being awarded for leveling, simple character customization and basic perks to complement the action. You go up levels quickly, which keeps you interested in the game and wanting to continue, which is a nice touch, but at the end of the day, there is absolutely nothing here we haven’t seen and played before, even from the last generation, for that matter. The RPG elements and most of the core gameplay mechanics are so dated that the game would have been possible and suited to the original Xbox and PS2.
Exploration takes place much like that in Dragon Age: Origins. There are various townships and settlements to visit, each with a few quests that can be undertaken and things to do, but dungeons and other suited environments are all linear combat-after-combat experiences. This is where the game gets repetitive, because while the scenery may be varied and ever-changing, the structure of almost every mission and dungeon does not. A few hours in, and it becomes very tiresome.
At first glance, War in the North is a great looking game, and that’s because to an extent, it is. Set in the Lord of the Rings universe, the game had to deliver some of the most wondrous and iconic locations of fantasy lore. But while textures small touches like weather effects looks great, character and environment models are far from it. Animation fits in which the later there, too, with the animation of character is cut scenes and conversations very stiff. Lip synching fails to impress, too. Combat still looks the part though, with fight animations very fluent and with the added levels of gore (glorious head-chopping, limb-ripping, gut-spilling gore!), combat as a whole looks brilliant. Add that to the enjoyment of cutting up orcs with a friend of two and combat is the definite highlight of the game.
Now, it wouldn’t be a Lord of the Rings game without a fitting soundtrack, and thankfully this is one department not let down by time, with the classic styled tunes we’ve heard time and time again in the LOTR universe once again bracing our battles and making exploring the land all the more enjoyable. It’s not all rehashes though, with toms fresh sounds that all keep the lore in line and stay in tune with what you expect from a fantasy, and in particular a Lord of the Rings game.
It’s a shame then, that it’s let down by some under-par voice work. Despite having some seasoned vets donning some characters, even the famed Nolan North (of Uncharted fame) and Yuri Lowenthal (Fallout: New Vegas and Dragon Age II), overall the quality of the games voice work is definably generic. And with appearances both big and small from some of the legendary heroes of the Fellowship, the new voice actors not only do them no justice, but just hearing the likes of Frodo and Aragorn talk with such little passion is a knife twisted in a soul of a long-time fan.
War in the North is most definitely avoidable if you want a game on par with the quality of the film tie-ins or some of the other earlier LOTR games. While it may appeal to some classic-RPG or diehard LOTR fans, War in the North doesn’t quite deliver the quality to match its lengthy romp. That said, if you and a friend or two are just looking for a bit of mindless fun, you can’t go past one of the better co-op experiences I’ve had in a while.
I enjoyed my time with Lord of the Rings: War in the North, but its dated RPG and questing elements left a lot to be desired. The bloody, fast and fun combat is the highlight of the game, and made even better when played in 3 player co-op, but repetitive environments and quests ultimately bring down what could have been the best Lord of the Rings title yet.
+ Enjoyable combat
+ Quite lengthy, with a good story
+ Fitting soundtrack
- Visually unimpressive
- Repetitive questing
- Tiresome in single-player
- Dated RPG elements
Reviewed and Written By John Elliott