E3 2011: Lord of the Rings: War in the North hands-on
One of my biggest surprises at the show so far is how much I enjoyed the upcoming Lord of the Rings: War in the North, which I got a chance to go hands-on with today at Warner Bros. booth. A side-story taking place during the events of the core Lord of the Rings trilogy, it stars a fellowship of three attempting to stop Agandaur, a lieutenant of the Dark Lord Sauron. Agandaur is attempting to open a second front in the north and it is up the new fellowship of heroes to stop him.
The classes will be familiar to anyone who has read, watched or played anything in the core Lord of the Rings franchise. The action-RPG features a dwarf, an elf and a human character, each with their own skills that players can enhance as they work through the game. For the demo, I got to play the ranger class, which gave me access to both sword and bow. As the demo opened, we were approaching a destroyed and obviously ancient fortress. Playing with two others cooperatively, we didn’t have to go very far to stumble into our first battle.
War in the North incorporates traditional hack-and-slash controls, with light and heavy attacks. Where the game differs from past Lord of the Rings games is that it intended for adult consumption. This is the first mature rated game in the franchise’s history, and it didn’t take me long to see why. Early on, we encountered a band of vicious orcs. I slashed at one with my sword, which gave me enough breathing room to take aim with my bow. My aim was true and my arrow landed in the orc’s skull. There was a very, very satisfying explosion of blood and guts as his skull tore apart.
The successful headshot also netted me bonus experience points. Players will be able to tailor their character to their play style by spending earned experience on a skill tree. There are three separate skill trees depending on the character that you’re controlling. For the ranger, I could upgrade my ranged attacks, evasion skills and melee. If you want to duel wield, you can. If you prefer the sword and shield route, you can do that too. There aren’t a huge amount of options and I won’t say that it offers a level of depth that you’d find in a more traditional RPG, but there should be enough to give players an incentive to replay and start again.
What was most impressive to me was the fluidity of the combat. Everything is fast. Switching between your ranged and melee attacks is a breeze (Peter Molyneux, take note). You can also easily trigger special attacks. When a giant troll appeared, I was able to call in a massive eagle to come and help us out. While the eagle kept the hulking troll (easily 15 feet tall) pinned to the ground, I was able to hack away at him unscathed and utilize a contextual finishing move to kill him with gusto. Lord of the Rings: War in the North is due out at the end of the summer and it seems safe to expect a solid release from Snowblind Studios.