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Lord of the Rings: War in the North Review

by Matthew F. Hibben
11/17/11

Publisher: WB Games Developer: Snowblind Studios
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3

The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) franchise has always been a great platform for gaming.  In recent years the series has grown cold, but with the upcoming release of "The Hobbit" the series has renewed life.  With the renewed interest in Tolkien's universe a new RPG LOTR: War in the North has been released, hoping to capitalize on this. This edition of Game Tech reviews LOTR: War in the North and examines the merits of this latest addition to the legacy.

I want to first take a step back and state that I have been a fan of the books since the earliest days I could read mature literature. I have read the entire series multiple times as well as the various other works Tolkien wrote related to the main story.  The story in its entirety has been one of my favorite examples of fantasy writing if not my most.

At First Glance

War in the North (WITN) is a basic action RPG that revolves around a party of three characters.  WITN installs simply, although a Steam account is required to install and play. The Game is focused around the party composed of a Dwarf Warrior, Elf Caster, and a Dunedain Ranger.  The game follows the standard RPG/MMO trinity of tank, healer, and damage dealer.

Combat and UI in WITN

Combat in WITN is pretty run of the mill, with players using left and right mouse clicks in conjunction with the action bar to complete various combat moves.  What players cannot do in WITN is freely change between their group of three without quitting to the main menu, and this becomes more of a noticeable problem when coupled with the erratic behavior of the characters not currently in direct control by the player. Players cannot quickly toggle between various party members, and players cannot issue complex battle commands like in Dragon Age.  The coolest thing in WITN is a great use of siege weapons to destroy the hordes of Orcs, and an eagle that you can summon down to dispatch single targets.

The combat in WITN is fairly challenging due to the endless hordes of orcs and goblins the players must face.  Each character in the party has the ability to revive fallen members, either by player control or AI behavior.  Players are given a talent tree style progression system in order to combat the larger numbers of enemies they will face, with abilities focused around their class. I focus on the numbers of enemies because it is easy to get overwhelmed in WITN. 

This facet of enemy distribution is the most true to the books, where it seemed that heroes were always pitted against insurmountable odds.

Story in WITN

To back up again I want to touch on the main aspect of the Tolkien novels, the story of characters, heroes and villains.  This learning process of getting to know each character is completely absent in WITN.  Background stories of each character are not explained to the depths that make me feel this is a game based within the LOTR universe.  There is no real interaction between members of your party, your fellowship, outside of moving from one quest to the next.  This vacancy of story is instead replaced with unending hack and slash.   I personally would have preferred less combat and more story.  

In the LOTR novels readers would learn more about each character as the story progressed, and the overall experience would be strengthened because of it.   Readers could track the evolution of a character such as Strider from lowly beginnings as the unsavory character in Bree, all the way to his apex as the King of Gondor.  This learning process was every bit as important as the action that was needed to achieve these goals, and the story was better for having it.

Final Thoughts

WITN is really a game I can't recommend to anyone, primarily because there are games out there that do what WITN does, only so much better.  For fans of the LOTR series I would shy away from this title, because this game will not deliver a gaming experience that adds to what most fans crave, the in depth story and lore.

  • 1.
    First Glance
  • 2.
    Combat and UI
  • 3.
    Final Thoughts
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