You Face a Dúnadan Now!
HIGH The environments and weapon/armor models look great.
LOW "Defend this point for X amount of time" wears out its welcome fast and early.
WTF Three people defeat an entire siege by themselves. Maybe Aragorn should have taken them with the Fellowship instead.
Playing The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is a disappointing experience.
Snowblind Studios has done the "action-role-playing game (RPG) based off of an MMORPG" before with Champions of Norrath, but War in the North can't match up. Why? The combat is slow and repetitive. The story is ridiculous, and the AI companions are pitiful. The online is busted in fundamental ways.
Five hours into the game, I was so bored that I wanted to quit outright but I persevered to the end, and truth be told, I didn't wait for the credits to roll before I ejected the disc and sought something else to do.
I do have some sympathy for Snowblind Studios, as it's not easy coming up with an original story for a universe as detailed as Lord of the Rings. I think they deserve at least a pat on the back for not rehashing the narrative of the movies or novels, but instead trying to write a parallel story. Now, if only that story didn't play out like a Lord of the Rings fanfic...
War in the North's players get to choose between one of three characters: Eredan, the Human Ranger that rubs elbows with Aragorn, Farin the Dwarf Champion, and Andriel the Elven Loremaster. The characters play similar to their Lord of the Rings Online counterparts: Farin acts as a stout tank-type, soaking up the most damage; Andriel heals and buffs, and Eredan slaughters everything.
Experience gained allows for leveling, and each level awards a point for players to allot to skill trees. I turned my Eredan into a dual-wielding swordsman that could pop in and out of stealth, but I could have just as easily specialized in ranged combat and been as good with a bow as the film version of Legolas. Whichever character isn't chosen by the player is controlled by either the AI or in co-op with up to two other friends. The game is best online with human players to control the other two members of the party because the AI is dumb-especially for Andriel the healer. While she's smart enough to use her healing shield when I'm low on health, the instant I took a step outside the shield she would dispel it, even if I hadn't finished healing. The AI also appears to be incapable of using manned ballista during the frequent "Defend X Point" or "Defend X Character" missions that would pop up, which left me scrambling to do all the work myself. There are other examples, but in fact the AI just doesn't cut it.
Online or off, progression through the adventure starts flat and stays there: choose a destination on an overworld map and spend the next half an hour or so hacking and slashing through enemies to get from Point A to Point B. Areas are broken up by the occasional mini-boss and the not so occasional "Hold this position for X amount of time" goals which become wearying towards the endgame as the circumstances surrounding them become increasingly improbable. Holding off an entire siege on a Dwarven stronghold with just three people? Come on.
Sadly, although I do think online is the best way to play, it has its own problems. For example, a quick match using an AI-assigned character dumped me into a random game-in-progress with a character that had no equipped gear or assigned skills. I died repeatedly, totally ineffective in combat. Choosing my own character and then joining a game resulted in my level 20 Ranger dropping in with a level 6 Champion. I discovered there was no difficulty balancing as I one-shotted everything with impunity. Hosting my own match seemed the best way to go as I could proceed with the AI while people dropped in and out, but I quickly discovered that whenever a human player leaves, the AI character they controlled resets to the default (read: level 1) gear no matter what was previously equipped, and my game progression would immediately halt. The kicker? When all three of the live players in my game went into our inventories to check items at the same time. This prevented a mandatory cut-scene from playing, which meant the zone transition never triggered, and this completely halted all progress until I reloaded.
I might have had less aggravation if I had a dedicated group of other players to go through the game with from beginning to end, but I wouldn't ask any of my friends to pay full price for The Lord of the Rings: War in the North. Thankfully, since War in the North was released after Dark Souls, before Skyrim, and on the same day as Uncharted 3, there's a good chance the game is already in the bargain bin for a fraction of the MSRP. Although really, with all the other choices available, maybe it's best just staying there?
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, 5 hours of play were spent in multiplayer mode, and the game was completed once.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore and intense violence. This is the bloodiest Lord of the Rings game I have ever played, with numerous decapitations and dismemberments and blood flowing freely. An in-game option allows the gore and dismemberments to be disabled.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Players should be advised that there are no on-screen indicators for where damage is coming from and the minimap does not show enemy locations, forcing camera-sweeping hunts to locate attackers. Important dialogue is subtitled by default, and there is an on-screen indicator for when a character can enter a critical hit state. All other dialogue is subtitled.