Take control of this game’s 3-person fellowship, battling against Sauron’s army to the North —running concurrent to the main storyline of Frodo and the One Ring. Only briefly touched upon by Tolkien, the War in the North played an integral part in the defense of Middle-earth. Without the defeat of Agandaur, Sauron’s top lieutenant and steward of Carn Dum in Angmar, all of Middle-earth would have fallen into darkness.
The story follows the 3-man fellowship: the Champion of Erebor, Farin the dwarf, the Loremaster of Rivendale, Andriel the elf, and the Ranger of the North, Eradan. In the cover of darkness and torrential rain, your party arrives in Bree and meet up with Aragorn at the Dancing Pony own by Butterbur the Inn Keeper. Strange things are brewing in the lands to the North known as the North Downs. The once great Northern Fortress of the Kings, Fornost, is just a shattered memory of its former glorious self. It is now overrun by goblins, orcs and even worse things deep in the darkness.
You pick one of the three characters for yourself to control and the A.I. manages the other two — you are never alone on your quest. If you are playing the campaign in a multiplayer session, which I would highly recommend, other players can drop in and drop out at will to replace the A.I. Farin is a tank class, slow, powerful and able to take the most punishment. Andriel is quick and light on her feet and as a lore master she is able to conjure up magic — of course it is no where near as powerful as the well known wizards of Middle-earth, such as Gandalf the Gray or Radagast the Brown. Eradan rounds out the group with his flexible skills – he’s the DPS character of the group and meant to dole out the damage while the enemies are focused elsewhere.
Players are able to use two main attacks, one being a light attack and the other a heavy attack. As you progress through the game and level up, you can unlock additional skills that use mana points. You are able to perform “critical” hits when the icon appears on top of an enemy; this will perform a devastating attack and sometimes you will cleave limbs clean off. This is the first mature rated Middle-earth title, so orc heads will roll — lots of them.
As a loot whore game, War in the North doesn’t disappoint and you should expect to collect tons of loot. Prepare to spending much of your time comparing that +1 Axe of Goblin Cleaving to the +1 Sword of Orc Slaying. Every shoulder piece, every gauntlet, every weapon can be seen when added to your character, so the decisions are even harder on whether or not to use an item for its stats or for its aesthetic beauty. Sounds crazy I know, but I’ve seen it before.
The lands are beautifully crafted and give off the feel that you are in Middle-earth from the ruins of old Fornost to the dread filled Barrow Downs. The levels can feel a bit restricting however as they are mostly linear. There are branching paths, but they are too few and far between and amount to nothing more than a single room off the beaten path most of the time. There are secret areas that each of the characters can open up, but everyone can reap the rewards inside. Each of the eight chapters are broken up into multiple parts that are connected through a gate that won’t let you advance unless all the characters are ready. This helps to keep everyone working together as a group. After completing the game, you are able to play through the chapters again on the hard mode — this is where all the best items can be found.
The gameplay does feel arena based, as you become trapped in space and have to defeat wave after wave of Sauron’s minions before the next area will be open for you — rinse and repeat and you have a simplified version of how the chapters are structured. Character movement feels a bit stiff and the A.I. has some problems here and there. The game also features a split screen co-op mode, although there are some freezing issues with it currently, so I wouldn’t try it until it is patched up.
Overall Lord of the Rings: The War in the North is a game for fans of J. R. R. Tolkien and fans of loot whore games in general. While it is rough around the edges, it is a pretty game to look at, especially with the heavy rain effect that makes every battle feel like the epic scene at Helms Deep. A lot of the sound effects are taken straight from the trilogy, where as the music has been created solo for this game, but still adds to the experience conveys the Middle-earth feeling.
Note: The Lord of The Rings: The War in the North review was written based on the PS3 version of the game.