Those who don’t want to read through Tolkien’s lengthy flora and fauna descriptions to get to the “good parts” can always play Lord of the Rings: War in the North. Developed by Snowblind Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, War in the North is not the most perfect hack and slash (or RPG) and can get tedious, but it is mostly simple fun, and much to my surprise, true to part 1 of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novel.
Design & Writing
The main characters are Eradan, a Dúnedain ranger, Andriel, an Elven loremaster of Rivendell, and Farin, a champion or warrior from Erebor. Essentially, Eradan is your basic DPS using bows and swords, Andriel is your mage, and Eradan is your tank.
The plot is woven into the events of the Fellowship of the Ring and I was pleasantly surprised how well they made it work. I assumed the game would tie strictly into the film, but I found it a better tie-in to the novels as I felt the connections to be more obvious. For example, when the player arrives in Rivendell and meets famous characters such as Elrond, Gandalf, Frodo and even Gloin (hardly present in the first film), they speak particular lines and story details from the novel. As a Lord of the Rings fan, this was pretty exciting.
My only question: why does Arwen look like this?
Besides Arwen, the game is pretty, and each zone is very unique so you don’t get bored. The zones are a decent length each; it took me approximately 1.5-2.5 hours to complete each zone, though I take many breaks. My favourite zone is the Barrow-downs because it’s how I imagined the area to be when I read the novel: creepy, dark, and full of glowing, green necromancy.
While there are RPG elements to the game, it is primarily an action-adventure hack and slash. The RPG elements consist of skill points after each level-up and skill trees. One has the freedom to build their selected character to their preferences and use weapons they like. For my first play through, I played Andriel using a staff and focused on strength and dexterity. She’s actually quite versatile; she hits hard and can get into the middle of a fight, but is also powerful with spells from afar. I didn’t care too much about dedicating points to will (power/mana) so I ran out of power pretty quickly during fights. I tried to balance this out by keeping myself stocked up on potions; I bought them as often as I could, and crafted my own.
The gameplay and combat are generally fun, but become exhausting quite fast as the game is clunky, glitchy, and slow. You can’t block damage but you can dodge, and given how slow you move, dodging is very useful. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every dodge or requirement for a dodge will make sense. In comparison, dodging in Dark Souls makes physical sense and is fair; if an enemy is lunging for me, and I move away from his reach, I’m safe. But in this case, the hit boxes can be very strange, so you can dodge but if you don’t time it “right”, your enemy’s hit which may not have even touched you could still send you flying. In some cases, I would attack an enemy from behind while they were targeting a party member, but I’d still take damage and be thrown away. I would understand why an AoE attack would cause this, obviously, but it is annoying coming from seemingly single-target attacks. On top of this, at times I would have to position myself in an arbitrary way to actually have my hits count, especially with larger enemies. The bigger the enemy, the weirder the hit box (i.e. trolls, Bargrisar).
There is some inconsistency with enemy mobs, and not in an exciting or spontaneous way. As you spend most of your time with them, it makes the game feel like a chore. One mob would be easy enough, the next one much more difficult, and the one after just really long. Much of the time I found myself in the midst of a never ending mob of trash, whacking away at one guy, on and on, with no prompt for a critical hit or a finish. Sometimes, I’d clear an area, and begin to loot, and some more show up out of no where. I found myself wondering whether enemies re-spawn or if those random three orcs that just showed up were asleep and finally woke up. However, most areas made sense and enemies would be clearly triggered based on how far you walk and position yourself in a designated spot. I honestly dreaded combat by the time I was in Mirkwood because it took so long and had so little payoff.
As for the boss fights, they’re not hard, they just tend to be more or less tedious. I did enjoy the evil aesthetic of the final Barrow-downs boss.
Of course, in the midst of all this fighting, you hope your comrades provide aid, and they mostly do. If you are close to death, they will try revive you. Most of the time, it’ll be you running around trying to get enemies far enough off your ass in order to safely crouch down and revive your teammates.
I won’t say too much about multiplayer because I only tried it with one other person briefly, but once they entered my game, the difficulty was extremely imbalanced. It became far more difficult to deal with trash and we were stuck redoing one small area over and over. Perhaps our difference in level caused this, but as a result, I felt it more enjoyable to go solo. Plus I don’t know many people who play this game.
Sometimes I really couldn’t tell whether the developers were just aiming for an adventure game, or more of a freer, spontaneous RPG. There is definitely a lot going on for such a simplistic game, and I can’t tell if they tried to do too much or if they did too little; probably a bit of both.
Overall, the game is clunky which makes it difficult to take seriously, but I found it enjoyable. The combat gets old fast, but the story and culture are key here. I think LOTR fans will get a kick out of it; I know I did.