Standard procedure for a Lord of the Rings title, for me, is to buy the game. It was the case when the films were released (10 Years ago! I can’t believe it) and has been a constant mentality I’ve taken since then (pretty much). With that in mind, it seemed inevitable that War in the North would join my 360 games collection on launch.
You would have thought that I would have learned from my experiences, though. Lord of the Rings Conquest wasn’t that good, in my book. They tried blending Lord of the Rings with Star Wars Battlefront and managed to concoct something that removed the fun factor from both franchises. That’s what you get for turning a shooter into a melee based game. Still, being Sauron and destroying Hobbits was a spot of fun here and there.
Anyway, I digress. I’m supposed to be on about War in the North: the first Lord of the Rings game on the console by Snowblind. EA had given the franchise a good run (Battle for Middle-earth is amazing) – but these guys now got a chance to sink their teeth into Tolkien’s creation.
I’m not quite sure where to begin with this one. As a Tolkien fan, one who reads a lot of his books, I could spout a lot of very bookish arguments and errors that irked me. However, the game itself has enough for me to work with. Once you load up the game, you go straight to a character select screen where you pick from one of three Heroes to play as. Unsurprisingly, these are Dwarf, Human and Elf and each have their own talent trees to work with, too – meaning you can improving your statistics (strength, stamina, dexterity) and unlock unique abilities whenever you level up. At first glance, therefore, it would look like a promising start to an RPG based game. Considering Snowblind brought us Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance way back when (a really good top down hack and slash RPG), I thought I was on for a winner.
Control-wise, it’s somewhat easy to get to grips with – as you’d expect a Hack-and-slash game to be. You can run around and mash various buttons to hit various people with relative ease. However, gameplay is really broken up into stages. You enter an area, a large clump of bad guys attack you, and then once they are dead, you walk around a barren area until you walk to the next checkpoint. You physically have to interact with the checkpoint to proceed some times. It breaks the game up a bit too much for my liking.
Then there’s the sound. I’m really not enamoured with it either. I guess I’ve been spoiled by the voice talents from the films (and Howard Shore) in previous games, but War in the North really lacks in this department. My Dwarf has a strong American lilt (nothing against the American accent, mind, it just doesn’t fit being a Dwarf in my book), the Elf woman seems quite boring, and a few of the other characters I’ve encountered sound the same (although it may be intentional, as they are brothers). I guess the audio aspect wasn’t their priority. It’s difficult to emote with some of the characters too, but mostly because a lot of them don’t sound interested. Even the Dwarves battle cries seem scripted and a bit forced.
Graphics weren’t exactly high up in their priorities either. There’s nothing too wrong about the visuals, though. The Giant Eagle you encounter looks pretty good, and some of the scenery looks pretty, but character models don’t seem amazing and the lip-syncing of speech isn’t fully up to scratch though.
Come to think of it, I’m not quite sure what their development priority was for this game. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m getting some enjoyment out of this game – but there are a lot of disappointments, errors and little irritants that make the whole enjoyment factor difficult to find. Its nice to see some of the characters from the books being brought to life in the games and, as your quest takes place at the same time as the story of the One Ring, they do a good job of keeping you informed of how well Frodo and Co. are getting on without shouting it over a megaphone.
Playing the game is an underwhelming experience. So much so that I’ve gone back to Assassin’s Creed again (I’m now a Level 40 Assassin on Xbox Live). I think my brain hyped up this new Lord of the Rings game more than it should have, leaving me with heavy feeling of disappointment.
The Lord of the Rings title is a gift and a curse for this game. In terms of sales, it’s a gift – as people (like me) will play it simply because it is a Tolkien title. However, people expect a certain amount from Middle-earth, something which War in the North hasn’t delivered. If this was another hack and slash RPG, without hype, without the Tolkien-standard expectations, then maybe I would have enjoyed it more. They could have gotten away with exploding Orcs in another fantasy universe, but not in Middle-earth.
So, it is with regret that I reveal War in the North for the disappointment that it is, and recommend you rent it, or avoid it – just don’t spend your hard earned cash on it.
+ A new perspective on Middle-earth during the Lord of the Rings era.
+ Nice to see some of the characters from the book being introduced.
- Poor Audio
- Broken up gameplay (too many checkpoints)
- Not as good as any other Lord of the Rings title that I’ve played (yes, including Conquest).