Xbox 360
2 stars
Amazon
19.98
In Stock. Buy Now»
Overall Grade
2 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
2 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
2.5 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
3 Stars
Replay Factor
1 Stars

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Street Date:
November 1st, 2011
Reviewed by:
Chad Goodmurphy
Review Date:1
December 26th, 2011
Game Release Year:
2011
Platform:
Xbox 360
Publisher:
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer:
Snowblind Studios
ESRB Rating:
M (Mature)

Editor's Notes

This review assumes that the reader is knowledgeable about The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Frodo's iconic journey to destroy the one ring is made mention of, as the game parallels it.

Introduction

If you’re reading this, then you surely know all about the one ring and its powers. After all, it’s the main reason for the formation of Frodo’s fellowship, and its resulting journey throughout Middle Earth. The wonderful and perilous journey was well told by author J. R. R. Tolkien. Though, Peter Jackson, the talented director, also deserves credit for bringing the three novels to the big screen. He helped make the series a household name, delivering award-worthy films that honoured their source material.

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Although many unique and interesting characters were met along the way, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy told a somewhat closed-in narrative. It focused on one group of selfless heroes, as well as their helpful allies. Despite the fact that the story concluded well and felt finished, fans would be justified in asking questions about other areas of the fantastical land known as Middle Earth. The most obvious would be about what was happening in certain regions, around the same time. Were any other groups fighting for good, in an attempt to help Frodo’s cause? Snowblind Studios’ latest video game release, The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, says yes.

What War in the North presents, is a parallel narrative, telling the story of a few heroes who did their best to aid their burdened allies. Its action takes place at the exact same time as the tale we’re all familiar with, although the groups’ pathways only ever cross once. Your goal is to keep the enemy occupied in other regions, so that part of its focus is off of the hobbits. That’s exactly what Aragon requests when he speaks to your threesome at the beginning of the game, in a dark pub located in a friendly village.

During that inaugural meeting, the shadow-lurking ranger tells his new friends about the evil that threatens Middle Earth. He shares the secret of the ring’s discovery, briefly discussing the brave ones who plan to destroy it. Of course, those talks lead right into words about Sauron and his horde of orcs, which plans to put an end to that saintly goal. It’s also said that his right-hand man and his accompanying minions have taken a bit of a different route. They must be occupied and (hopefully) taken out, so that they’re kept far away from the ring.

Up to three players can hack, slash, conjure and shoot their way through this game in co-op form. As mentioned previously, it’s a small group with which we get to control. They contain three of the role-playing genre’s most common character archetypes: the warrior, the mage and the rogue. Each one has his or her own abilities and benefits, allowing them to work well as a complementing team. Not surprisingly, the best way to play this game is with friends. Solo players must choose one character, with the option to swap being given at certain checkpoints.

Since War in the North is an action-RPG at heart, each character has its own melee weapon attacks, which are complemented by unique ranged weapons (such as a bow or a magical shot.) It’s important to make good use of both, or else you’ll become overwhelmed by a large assortment of ugly foes. Those are the times when special attacks can be of assistance, allowing your party to heal and reflect bullets, dole out extra damage or become invisible. Energy draining special attacks like those, can sometimes become the difference between life and death.

Previous video games based on this property have shown how great its translation qualities really are. The timeless story of Frodo, Sam and friends, can easily move from one medium to another. Unfortunately, War in the North doesn’t do a great job of creating innovative, interesting and/or unique gameplay mechanics to surround its premise. As a result, the entire experience is one that becomes repetitive quickly, failing to set itself apart from its peers. What you’ll find upon booting this one up is a missed opportunity, which is mediocre at best. It’s a shame considering the potential with which it was created.

On this branded game disc, is a very linear game. It tries to get you to explore for secrets, but most of them happen to be just off of the main map, in corners of battle arenas or amongst rock ledges. Stages are generally comprised of one main path with a couple of branching paths available for discovery. This means that each play through will be mostly similar. The differences will lie in which character you play as, as well as the way that you set-up each character’s skill trees.

Despite featuring some varied and interesting indoor and outdoor locations, the game plays the same from start to finish. Players are continuously presented with hordes of enemies who must be taken out, before they can move on towards the next battle. There’s a lack of variety to be found within this design, which lacks puzzles or any interesting secondary content other than searches for the aforementioned secrets. Those who don’t mind repetitive combat will be able to overlook this fault. However, most players will find that it becomes dull after a while, especially since the utilized combat system is quite basic and uninspired.

One of the main issues with this focus on continuous combat is how much damage most enemies can take. Regular battles take a lot longer than expected, as some foes seem to be almost invincible at times. This artificially lengthens the game, especially when trolls come into play (which is pretty often.) They’re damage taking tanks, able to endure a ton of attacking before going down. A lot of the time, it feels like your attacks are doing next to nothing. Considering that this is based on the supplied normal difficulty level, it’s surprising that the enemies are so damage resistant.

Over the course of the game, its difficulty will occasionally spike and then drop. There are times where it’s almost overwhelmingly difficult, and then things will cool down for a brief time. This is easily noticed during sections with the aforementioned trolls, as well as times where you’re completely overwhelmed by enemies who are nearly invincible (under some sort of a spell.) This means that a lot of time will be spent trying to slink away, in order to quickly bring your allies back to life. One heavy attack will stop the revival counter, so getting far away from the pack is important. Unfortunately, your fellow heroes’ artificial intelligence is mediocre at best. They will run over instead of using a stealth ability, leading to following enemies who club them to death as they try to walk towards you. Then again, the enemy A.I. is mediocre as well.

Adding artificial difficulty is the use of frustrating choke points – something, which the development team at Snowblind, seems to have fallen in love with using. They’re everywhere in this game. None of them are more frustrating than the one at the end of the second last chapter, where two trolls are rushing towards a fragile door. It’s nearly impossible to take them out in time, because of how much damage they can take. The game purposefully makes you underpowered, in order to try to lengthen the experience through countless trials. Even playing online, this part of the game was a poorly designed mess, full of frustration and curse words.

Your first play through will take between ten and fifteen hours, depending on different parameters, such as the amount of trips taken back to town. You’ll want to do this on occasion, in order to repair your items, although none of the hub towns are very exciting. Challenge maps are also present, adding a bit of extra time, just like side quests, which occasionally promote backtracking.

Make sure that you do everything you’d like to, before approaching the game concluding battle. Once the final boss is slain, you’ll be forced to start a new game on a higher difficulty. Normal is the only option available at the start, as the game forces players to battle through its campaign three times (once on each difficulty) in order to obtain all of its trophies or achievements. Most gamers won’t want to do that, taking into account how bland this experience is.

It’s not all bad, though. There were times where I enjoyed myself. However, they were infrequent and ended up being matched by times where I wished I was playing something else. Some of the co-op finishers are interesting, as is the conjuring ability. Hacking away at orcs also feels quite good at times, even if they do seem to be invincible for the first few minutes. Plus, I liked the ability to summon a gigantic bird that can rip hardy enemies apart with his beak. There should have been more uniquely interesting mechanics like that, included within this game.

Unless you’re a huge Lord of the Rings fan, this game is easily skipped. It’s not bad, but it’s also not good. You’re not going to miss out on anything by avoiding it. Well, other than a writing crew’s decent interpretation of what happened while Frodo was trying to rid the world of the all-powerful ring. It has its moments, as well as a likeable set of new NPC allies, but everything is so formulaic and uninspired that the entire game becomes forgettable. Its negatives outweigh its positives, which is too bad considering how much potential this development had.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Going in, you should not expect a colourful experience that uses a diverse palette. That certainly is not the case with this role-playing game. It uses earth tones to a fault, delivering visuals that are nowhere near impressive. Instead, things tend to look quite bland after a while - especially some overused enemy types. War in the North can’t compete with some of the graphical powerhouses out there, and tends to look quite dated and bland.

One of the main visual detractors found within, is noticeable during darkened sections. When you’re inside of a tomb, cavern or hidden area, blacks tend to become a bit muddy and over-prevalent. It can occasionally be tough to make things out, unless you up the brightness level. Even during outdoor gameplay, some of the character models are a bit dark, eliminating detail potential.

On the bright side, there are some decent locations shown. Select character models also look pretty good, resembling the actors who portrayed them in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy. They act as NPCs, who can occasionally be talked to throughout the experience. A couple of them will initiate collection-related side quests.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

One nice thing about this game is that it’s fully voiced. The addition of a voice cast gives each character (playable or non-playable,) a chance to establish its own personality. For the most part, the voice acting is decent, although it’s nothing award-worthy. The latter descriptor could also be mentioned in relation to War in the North’s original soundtrack. While it’s decent and serviceable, without any faults, it’s also nothing remarkable.

As with a lot of other cooperative action games, this game’s three playable characters are somewhat vocal. They’ll quite often yell out to their pals, mentioning that they need healing assistance or something of that sort. Those one-liners, as well as some of the others, are overused and can become a bit annoying after a while.

What you’ll hear most are its sound effects. Not surprisingly, of course. They’re pretty good and do their job quite well, providing an audible experience that sounds like it should. Swords will clang against enemies, arrows will make their iconic sound and magic attacks sound all right. Sure, the melee combat effects do become repetitive after a while, but that is what you get with this type of game.

Replay Factor

Mentioned previously, is the fact that War in the North has artificial replay value. Folks who like to fully complete each game they play (especially when it comes to achievements or trophies,) will find that this one will take them three play throughs to complete. It’s a forced style of replay value, which happens to be pretty much all that there is. For some, it will be compelling.

At its onset, only one difficulty is available. When you complete the campaign for the first time, your skills are boosted to make them compatible with the next difficulty option. It becomes available, while the third (and toughest) is still locked, until your second play through comes to a close. Considering the quality of this experience, most gamers will most-likely skip out on a second or third run through.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, The Lord of the Rings: War in the North suffers from the licensed game curse. Even though it’s based on a great, and incredibly rich license, the experience is so ho-hum that it’s tough to recommend to most gamers. While some of the writing is pretty good, and character development is not an issue, its gameplay is repetitive and forgettable. It’d be OK if there was more to its campaign than combat, but that’s something which is thrust upon players from start to finish. More variety could have helped break up the monotony.

In the end, this game will appeal to die-hard fans of the fiction the most. They will gain the most from its relatively interesting narrative, although it could have used some more depth. Those who aren’t familiar with the series, and haven’t invested hours of their lives into Tolkien’s created lore, will be less kind to the game than those who have. Loving the source material makes some of the title’s downsides easier to overlook. However, they’re still there. Even hardcore fans will notice that this game is far from stellar.

Tech Specs:

  • DVD Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 720p
  • 1080i
  • 1080p

Audio Formats

  • Dolby Digital 5.1

Multiplayer Mode(s)

  • Online Co-op
  • Offline Co-op
  • Split-screen

Motion Controls

  • No

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Amazon
19.98
In Stock. Buy Now»