There once was a small hobbit that left the Shire on a grand adventure, performing brave deeds and overcoming impossible odds for the sake of all Middle-Earth. This is not his story.
The Lords of the Rings: War in the North instead follows the story of a trio of adventurers going on a journey so important to the Middle-Earth war effort that no one ever felt it was significant enough to chronicle, until Snowblind Studios came along and applied it's anything can be an action role-playing game sensibilities to it. Now we've got an epic tale of heroism, self-sacrifice (probably), and button pressing that will surely be sung about by bards one day, though not many will listen.
For now let's hear what the game reviewers have to sing about this new chapter of the ring.
Five years ago, I would have counted Snowblind Studios among my favourite RPG developers. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath demonstrated that Snowblind knew how to combine action, character progression, and loot into an irresistible formula. I still look back at those titles and wish that breed of gameplay had more time in the spotlight. While my love for action/RPGs and respect for the studio got me excited for War in the North, they are also what led to me being incredibly let down by this clumsy and unpolished adventure.
Andriel of Rivendell; Eradan of the Dunedain rangers; and Farin, champion of Erebor, are thrown together by war and join forces. This union of elves, dwarves, and men sets out to foil the evil forces of Agandaur, a servant of the dark lord Sauron whose schemes threaten free peoples residing far from the conflicts in Rohan and Gondor. The story is typical, but it provides an excuse to send you to creepy barrows, snowy mountains, dwarven mines, and other places that evoke the atmosphere of the Lord of the Rings films. And fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's books will appreciate appearances by characters from the novels that were left out of the movies.
Anyway, however you might feel about its overall style, Lord of the Rings: War in the North is a competent beat-'em-up that reminds me of the old Dungeons & Dragons beat-'em-ups more than it does a straight-up RPG. Every one of its locations -- some familiar, many of them new -- is positively swarming with Orcs, Goblins, Trolls, and whatever other nastiness Sauron's minions can conjure, and all of them must be put down. I found it mind-numbing at first, but as time went on and I developed my skills, I began to feel that there was more to War in the North than met the eye.
For one thing, the customisation is deeper than I was expecting. Each character can choose between a variety of one-handed and two-handed weapons, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses. Both swords and armour can be upgraded via socketed gems, and they will even degrade over time. The skill trees aren't what I would call "deep" -- three trees for each character, with three paths for each -- but they aren't exactly shallow, either.
The game's MO is to basically bombard you with waves upon waves of enemies. Though it tries its best to mix up the compositions of the hordes—from weenies and heavily-armored skirmishers that bear down at you, to archers and magic-users that harry you from a distance—there simply isn't enough variety to keep things interesting in the long run. After your tenth troll, they just cease feeling momentous. In some levels, the savage orcs and baleful men are switched up for undead or spiders, but the differences are largely superficial. The boss fights are a bit by-the-numbers as well. One particular template is reused for three different encounters.
What keeps me coming back to War in the North is the fact that the game does a remarkable job of divvying out loot. Enemy drops, breakable items, and eager shopkeepers are all there to make sure that you always have a consistent IV drip of high-fantasy swag at your disposal. The enticing promise of a new, more powerful sword around the next corner gives the game that coveted "just 10 more minutes" feel. It may not have the dangerous addiction levels of Diablo 2, but the game does a great job of standing out among recent console releases.
The lore of the Lord of the Rings is without question a font of characters, quests, adventures, battles, and most importantly, imagination. Venturing into new lands, engaging new enemies, making new friends while staying true to the canon and intertwining with events of Lord of the Rings, WitN sets out on a quest to deliver us one of the best action RPG Lord of the Rings experiences we have ever had. While a few things could use some revision work, overall this game is a masterpiece for Tolkien fans and shouldn't be missed. There's nothing like fighting through a massive battle in an iconic location to finish part of a quest and in the process find some amazing weapon or piece of armour that makes your character an even bigger threat against Sauron's forces. Prepare yourself to play a part in actions that will shape the history of all Middle Earth and all its inhabitants, prepare yourself for Lord of the Rings: War in the North.
Sometimes average is good, right?