Lord of the Rings: War in the North seems like it’s flying under the radar a bit, which is odd, considering the lineage behind the game. It’s developed by Snowblind Studios, creators of the excellent Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance on the PS2 and XBox, and the source material is a side of the Lord of the Rings saga that diehards of the series have been waiting to see adapted correctly. I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest LotR fan, so when I went in for a hands-on with the game, I was afraid that it wouldn’t click with me. However, after having a nice session with the game, I’m actually looking forward to it, thanks to the addictive gameplay and well implemented co-op elements.
War in the North tells a different side of LotR lore; it does overlap early on to the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, but when the ring starts traveling south, the game follows a group of dedicated armies north, through areas such as the Misty Mountains. Snowblind has assured me that throughout the journey you’ll come across some choice locations and cameos that should make LotR fans pretty happy, but time will tell.
Gameplay is similar to Baldur’s Gate, in that it feels a bit arcadey, like the natural progression of a multiplayer beat-em up with RPG elements added in. The main draw of War in the North is the new “severing system” that they’re boasting about. When you string a nice amount of single attacks into a combo, you’ll eventually be able to hit the special attack button. When that happens, you’ll let off a critical hit and enter Heroic Mode, a state in which your attack damage will be severely increased, and you’ll actually be able to inflict some surprisingly gory damage to the enemies. During my hands-on, hitting a huge troll with a special attack during Heroic Mode resulted in me climbing up the troll’s back and impaling him through the top of his skull with my sword, God of War style. You’ll also be able to completely sever limbs from enemies and disable them, although this wasn’t clearly shown in the demo. It’s meant to be a way to reward players for their skill, and if handled correctly, it might be an intriguing feature to the game.
In terms of gameplay variety, you’ll have a choice between three characters: Farrin the dwarf (the tank of the group), Erodan the human (the stealthy, ranged one), and Andriel the elf (the mage for healing and support). Each of these characters plays and handles differently, and additionally have different special abilities to help you along in your quest. Farrin, for example, can see which seemingly blocked pathways can be broken through with the swing of his axe, while Andriel can spot herbs on the ground to use for healing purposes.
The balance between all these abilities makes for an unexpected truly co-operative experience. Andriel is the healer and support, so she constantly stays behind, heals the other team members, and puts up barriers and whatnot in front of them to prevent further harm, while Farrin can get right in the enemies’ faces and beat them down with not much trouble. Additionally, once one of your team members goes down you can go back and rescue them, much like in Left 4 Dead.
Ultimately, War in the North felt like a really promising title with a lot more potential than initially thought. As mentioned previously, I’m not even a huge fan of Lord of the Rings, but I found myself having fun based on the gameplay alone. I can only imagine how much more fun it might be to fans of the actual books. Snowblind has said the game should last at least 12 hours, which seems more than reasonable for a multiplayer-centric co-op RPG experience. While there is no release date yet, Lord of the Rings: War in the North should be releasing sometime later this year for the PS3 and XBox 360. In the meantime, check out these screenshots and brutal new trailer highlighting how it rightfully received an M rating.