When I think about hack and slash RPGs on a console, my mind naturally goes to Snowblind Studios, creators of the Baldur’s Gate series, Bard’s Tale, the Everquest games and others on console. Needless to say, these guys know what they’re after. Their current project is Lord of the Rings: War in the North which moves to more of an over the shoulder 3rd person view.
While at E3 this year, I had the opportunity to take on the multiplayer demo of the game with two other gamers. Similar to Lord of the Rings Online, the setting is not that of the books or the movies, and doesn’t focus on the Fellowship. As per the title, War in the North takes place in the northern reaches of Middle-Earth where the forces of Agandaur work to secure the land for Sauron. It is up to an elven mystic, a dwarf warrior and a Duneadin ranger to work together in their effort to defeat these forces.
Now, I had played a demo of this back at SXSW, so I knew the basics of the game: It’s third-person over the shoulder as opposed to Snowblind’s previous games which featured an overhead view. The game supports up to three players either locally (up to two via split-screen) or via Xbox Live or PSN, with each player taking on a different character. If you don’t have three players, don’t worry: the computer will take over the remaining one or two to allow you to have three characters in the game at all times.
War in the North features all of the sights and sounds that we’ve grown used to from Lord of the Rings with foes, allies and locations which are all familiar. You’ll run into hordes of orcs and trolls, venture into Mirkwood Forest and face giant spiders, and travel through the Ettenmoors and to Rivendell. Just as you and your allies will work together, the enemies are smart enough to do so as well. Monsters will buff each other, attempt to flank your party and work to try to make sure that you are not left alive by the end of things.
The controls are fairly easy to pick up, especially if you’ve played another Snowblind game. You have light and heavy attacks, and by pressing a bumper or the triggers (or shoulder buttons on the PS3), you can use your special attacks or items. Of course, being a game from Snowblind there’s a ton of items and equipment to select to help you get through the challenges before you, as well as the ability to level up your character, increasing your stats and skills to help you survive just that much longer.
Visually, this is a very bloody game, and will be the first Lord of the Rings title to (easily) earn a Mature rating. Everything looks horribly beautiful, however, as you would expect of a war, and the sounds help carry the illusion across to the player. Special attacks look and feel special, the tougher monsters such as the trolls in the demo look impressive and very hard to kill. The most impressive thing visually, however, was the new quirk revealed at E3: the ability to summon Beleram, a giant eagle. Admittedly, you’re limited to only a few summons per area, and there’s a timer involved, but it’s very impressive and nearly cinematic to press the button to bring him against your enemies and watch him swoop down and just lay waste.
Of course, there’ll be achievements to collect, as well as lots of loot. Loot will be important because the items in the game have durability and can become damaged through your adventure, needing repair or replacement as necessary. Reports are that the game will take approximately twelve hours to complete although that doesn’t include trying different classes, possible side-quests and different difficulty modes.
As far as the E3 demo itself, I took on the role of the human ranger. We were in Rivendell, on the way to meet up with Elrond’s twin sons so that we could help fortify the elven fortress. Much of the combat was basic stuff with orcs although there was a spot where orcs would charge us with explosives, which made for a great opportunity to pull out my bow and pick them off before they got too close. A bit later on was a place where a number of orcs were shielding another one, and until we took out the one maintaining the shield, we couldn’t damage the main guy in the group.
Once we got to the fortress, we had to protect Elrond’s sons as orcs came at us from three different directions. Compounding this was the appearance of a troll to one side, and then another one on the other side. This is where the ability to summon Beleram came into play, as we could target one troll and pull him in while we worked on the orcs and the other troll, then switch it up and send the eagle against the second troll so that we could mop up. While the demo was barely fifteen minutes long, it was easy to pick up and jump into, and given the developers and the property, this looks like it could be a very strong game when it launches in August.