Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lord of the Rings: War in the North Review

One of the most epic fantasy stories ever created sees new life through the eyes of a new side story in War in the North. The Lord of the Rings franchise has seen many different titles created over the years, from hack and slash movie based games, to full-fledged MMORPGs, to turn based strategy games. Snowblind Studios takes the formula of Baldur's gate and Champions of Norrath that they previously worked on and applies them to Middle Earth. To a point, this works really well, making for an extremely fun and enjoyable experience, but also struggles at times. The voice acting is only mediocre, and the story struggles to have the same epic feel that The Lord of the Rings exudes. Overall though, War in the North provides fans of the lore a new way to experience familiar locations and extend their time with The Lord of the Rings.

 The Lord of the Rings story should be no stranger to anyone. Frodo Baggins takes the One Ring to Mordor to destroy it once and for all, in short. The story of War in the North follows three characters, an elf, a ranger, and a dwarf (Surprise), as they fulfill their destiny. Throughout their journey, they will cross paths with many of the characters from the Fellowship, and from the main storyline as well. Angandaur, a wicked man in the northern region of Middle Earth claims to be the right hand of Sauron himself, and must be eliminated. It's up to the three heroes, of which you get to choose, to eliminate the threat so that the Fellowship can destroy the One Ring. Though this sounds amazing, the story seems to be a bit disconnected at times, more like running errands for characters, rather than embarking on an epic path that will ultimately help destroy the ring. Though the story isn't as amazing as it could have been, that's not really the main focus. Its enough for a longtime Lord of the Rings fan to be playing yet another game based on Middle Earth, with brilliant set pieces and weapons straight from the series.

The gameplay of War in the North is really where it the game shines. It plays as a hack and slash RPG, with a very streamlined straight story path. Unfortunately, it isn't open world, but you will travel to many familiar locations such as Rivendell, Bree, Osgiliath and many more. The combat is very easy to master, which makes it pretty accessible for any type of gamer, even those not really familiar with RPGs. Each character has many different play styles, whether you prefer ranged attacks, sword and shield, or even dual wielding, there is a unique play style for every gamer. The leveling system is very straightforward as well, having three main skill trees, each with about 6 different abilities and a few different levels for each ability. There are also 4 main attributes, strength, will, stamina, and dexterity, which allow you to deal more damage, wear better items, have more health, or be better at ranged attacks. Even though its an RPG, it really appeals to everyone with its easily accessible gameplay, and tons of rewarding loot. Speaking of loot, there's a lot of it, almost too much. Along the way, there are plenty of places to sell unwanted loot, but sometimes you'll run out of inventory space, making you figure out what to keep and what to drop. Sometimes this loot is easily found, either in chests or by breaking boxes, but other times its in secret areas, or down paths that aren't as clearly marked.

The environments and detail in weaponry and armor are actually pretty great. It may not be the prettiest looking game ever, but the environments are lush, with many things to break and admire. The biggest drawback with the environments, though, is that even though you're limited to a certain overall location, you're limited as well in terms of each area. There are only specific paths on which to tread, meaning your character can't jump. Usually, this doesn't prove to be too bothersome, but in this game, the limits are somewhat frustrating at times, with areas seemingly accessible being blocked off by the limitations of the game. For such a wonderful world, it should be entirely explorable, not limited. The weapon design is great though, with many different types of weapons and armor, each with minor detail changes. The character design looks decent, as the characters somewhat resemble those seen in the movies, but struggles with some characters. Overall though, the animations are fluid, with minor glitches through bigger battles. The enemies are also pretty varied, but become a bit repetitive at times, settling into predictable patterns. Bosses are fun, sometimes frustrating, but fun. The Mature rating for this game also shows in the brutality of the kills.

Multiplayer is probably the most fun part of the game, with 3 player co-op available online as well as 2 player split-screen. It lends so much more to the game, as your AI is occasionally frustrating. Having another player, especially the elf, will help a lot to keep your party healed as you battle the larger groups of enemies. The co-op itself works pretty well, yet struggles a bit when you attack the same enemy simultaneously since it lags a bit.

Story - 7
The overall story of Lord of the Rings is the backdrop provided to War in the North. The main quests are obvious, and some of the side quests just seem like random errands. It lacks the epic quest feel.
Gameplay – 8.5

It never gets old battling endless goblins, orcs and trolls. The RPG elements are easy to maneuver, and the gameplay is overall pretty smooth.
Graphics – 8
The environments, weapon design, and animations are all pretty well done. Its just frustrating that a 1 foot tall ledge blocks the exploration of an area since your character can't jump.
Sound – 8.5
The soundtrack is pretty good, emulating the one found in the movies. The voice acting is good for characters not from the movies, but poor at times finding replacements for the main characters.
Replayability - 9

Challenge maps and multiple difficulties allow for varied gameplay. Also, 3 different characters each provide a new way to play the game.

Overall Rating – 8


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