I’ll admit: I had never heard of Lord of the Rings: War in the North before I saw it demoed at E3. I enjoyed the movies, and I even read one of the books before losing faith in the face of Tolkien’s florid verbosity, but the games, well… there just seemed to be so many of them. I couldn’t keep up with all the subtitles. War in the North, the yet-to-be-released action RPG from Snowblind Studios (Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance on PS2), may change that.
Middle Earth is not a happy place. Under Sauron’s eye, the forests are a place of danger, the fields are full of traps, and even the skies aren’t safe. This is where my preview opened. An elf, a dwarf, and a human (but not Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn) are flying over Mirkwood Forest on the backs of eagles. They are on a never-before-told quest to find the wizard Ratagast.
BAM! Out of nowhere, the dragon being ridden by Wolfrun the Beastrider collides with the dwarf’s eagle. The dwarf falls down, down, down, into the forest. Wolfrun follows; the dwarf’s allies also pursue. Quick cut to the ground. We have a brief cutscene using some pretty decent in-game graphics where the eagles take out the dragon, leaving our three heroes to deal with Wolfrun. Fight time!
War in the North is all about the interdependent co-op. The human’s magic, the elf’s bow, and the dwarf’s axe must all work together to conquer foes, or they will fall. First, the human casts a protective bubble around the heroes to shield them from Wolfrun’s projectiles. The elf can still shoot his bow through the shield, however. It reminds me a bit of the not-well-received Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles on the GameCube, but instead of a bucket, you just have a human at the center of your bubble.
Anyway, the human keeps his shield going as long as he can while also shooting off fireballs at Wolfrun, the dwarf runs around to try and ambush him from the back with his axe, and the elf shoots off arrow after arrow in a third-person shooter style (and headshots = instant kill on normal enemies, so aim well). It’s close, but eventually the teamwork of the three heroes saves the day.
This is followed by a short dialogue with Valerie the eagle (who sounds vaguely reminiscent of Patrick Stewart, but he’s already in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, so it couldn’t be him… could it?) which employs the Mass Effect-esque circular dialogue choice-maker. I’m sure this dialogue ring has a cooler name, but it’s escaping me at the moment. They should call it a Mood Ring.
So after Valerie flies off to do some eagle stuff, our heroes are left to traipse through the forest on foot. Here we see a few key differences between the three characters. The elf sees some footprints through the woods that the others missed which leads to a hidden treasure chest. The human finds some magic mushrooms that he harvests to make into health potions. The dwarf senses structural instabilities in rocks, and smashes through the weak walls with his axe, leading to even more hidden treasure. There’s a lot of hidden treasure in this game, apparently.
The treasure from chests and fallen enemies is often equipment for your characters. There’s the typical RPG head/chest/feet/arms/legs equip slots like in an Elder Scrolls game, so it’s not too big of a learning curve for experienced players.
After walking a bit, our heroes get to fight a giant troll. It’s the same basic fight as the one with Wolfrun, but we get to see a few more aspects of battle that we didn’t see before. Let’s run down a few last things about combat in no particular order:
- The troll’s underlings are able to cast the protective bubble spell, too, but are also susceptible to graphic dismemberment and finishing moves at the hands of our heroes. Get close; hit hard.
- The elf can use some minor stealth moves, and flaming arrows! Ooooohhhh.
- If you get caught by a boss, you can dodge its attacks with QTE button-presses like a God of War game while your allies try to free you.
- When you lose all your health, you can still crawl around to escape harm’s way. An ally can revive you by standing near your sad, broken body and holding the A button for a moment. This happened quite a few times during the troll fight – trolls are tough. The heroes prevailed, however, and we were sent away with our War in the North t-shirts and a tale to tell.
This game could be the best use of the Lord of the Rings license on a console since the Two Towers game on the PlayStation 2. See for yourself when it drops next year on PS3, 360, and PC.