I’ll be honest: I haven’t read through any of the Lord of the Rings novels from start to finish. In fact, I have yet to finish the movies – what can I say, I just never was much of a movie guy, though I did manage to watch The Hobbit multiple times as a kid. So right away I’m forced to review Lord of the Rings: War in the North not as someone who’s all excited about the prospect of jumping into Middle Earth and exploring a magical world I’ve known mostly through books and film. Instead, I have to approach it as a guy picking up a game to have some fun with – a guy who does love to jab sharpened pieces of metal into virtual orcs and goblins, mind you – and running with it from there. So bear that in mind as you read through the rest of this review.
Now, I’m not so detached from Lord of the Rings that I can’t identify right away the big draw it’s going to have for fans of the series. War in the North is a kind of side-story to the actual events in the movies and books, taking place in the northern realms that are otherwise largely alluded to rather than directly covered, at least given what I know of the story. This fact alone is probably going to be enough to entice numerous fans of the series, since it constitutes some actual brand new material based in what’s so far been quite a fleshed-out world – even if, of course, it’s not presented by the original author. All I can really say about the story is that, while it’s serviceable, it leaves me with a somewhat different impression than I’ve always had – remotely, keep in mind – of the series and setting. Sure, even in The Hobbit there was a lot of fighting and bloodshed, but here the whole ‘stab and loot’ thing just seems like an odd thing to emphasize. A little like finding out The Chronicles of Narnia was made into a Diablo style game.
Unfortunately, gameplay is where War in the North starts to suffer somewhat, and where I’m going to be devoting the majority of my attention. First, let’s focus on what the game does right. For one, you get a trio of decently diverse options to choose from – the aforementioned dwarf warrior, human ranger and elven mage. While you can pick to play any one of them, the three serve as a package deal while you play. So even if you decide to play the ranger, you’ve still got the mage and warrior watching your back either in AI-mode or (more appropriately) co-op mode. It’s pretty easy to learn how to play any of the three, and while you can upgrade their skills in numerous ways it’s ultimately a pretty straightforward endeavor. Chop, shoot or spellcast at the enemy, try to go for nice combos and finishing moves, loot their corpses and move on.
There’s another aspect to this reptition, and that comes from the trio you’re playing – or rather, from the trio you can either play and have AIs or friends take on the role of. The game feels a bit more fun – and quite a bit easier – if you’ve got live humans at your side. The easier part can be expected, since generally AI partners in these games either come in flavors of ‘way too powerful’ or ‘kind of hobbled’. But I couldn’t help but get the impression that, while it’s certainly not being marketed as primarily a co-op game, War in the North really does better as exactly that. So if you’ve got two friends who are into both Lord of the Rings and co-op play, this actually may be a title worth checking out. On the other hand, if you’re more of a singleplayer gamer… well, are you REALLY, REALLY into Lord of the Rings? If so, then you may not even be reading this review: you could take one look at the name on the box and know this is the title for you.