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Lord of the Rings: War in the North

As the year comes to an end, I find myself playing yet another disappointing action RPG. Last year, it was Fable III, and this year, it’s Lord of the Rings: War in the North. I had the opportunity to take in War in the North at E3 2011 and left feeling very impressed, going as far to call it my favorite game of the show. I was pleased with the combat and presentation, and hopeful that the final product would live up to what was on offer at the show.

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Sadly, it didn’t. I honestly don’t even know how the final product ends due to a severe glitch that a number of users are affected with that prevents players from moving on in the campaign. The developers are working at it, as numerous topics on the Snowblind Studios site demonstrate, but nothing is more frustrating than putting twenty hours into a game you aren’t enamored with and not being able to finish it.

What I was wading through up until that point wasn’t the greatest, so maybe I didn’t miss very much. The game brings everything you’d expect from Lord of the Rings: great presentation, a cinematic score, all of the expected character archetypes and a brutal conflict between good and evil. Everything seemed in place for an excellent entry into the Lord of the Rings universe.

In execution, the game lacks any of the depth you’re probably hoping for if you’re a fan of the franchise. I’m not the biggest Lord of the Rings fan, outside of having read some of the books and having seen the movies, but the plot didn’t do too much for me. Essentially, the three main characters are sent by Aragon to the frozen north, to do battle against one of Sauron’s lackeys. The plot runs concurrently with Frodo’s quest.

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You’ll encounter a lot of characters along the way, including many recognizable faces and some new ones, but these interactions play out more like interrogations. The best moments in the books and film were the relationships formed between the core characters, but War in the North never develops strong relationships between any of its characters, perhaps most disappointingly between the primary party members.

Instead of meaningful character development, we’re instead given waves after wave of foes to slaughter as we’re funneled through linear levels. The combat itself actually isn’t too bad. Though it could really use a lock-on function that allows for strafing, combat is visceral and exciting. Chopping through progressively more difficult waves of enemies is entertaining for a while, particularly when you chop off a head or limbs.

But the fights that should be the most fun and challenging, the boss fights, are fairly flat, never approaching anything as imposing as the fights seen on the silver screen. Though you’re facing a literal army of enemies, you’ll never feel challenged by any of the foes on offer. Boss fights are complicated by the lack of lock-on targeting more than regular fights since of the larger orcs, trolls and giants you’ll face have wider attack ranges, so the only real challenge is working your way out of the range of their back swing as you dive back and forth around them.

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I was perhaps most excited for War in the North simply because of the dearth of cooperative hack-and-slash games available, and the game does offer multiplayer for two players on a couch or three online. But with the bugs and glitches and the severe lack of anything to do in the game besides slaughter, it’s hard to recommend. There seems to be no ETA for a patch, and with Snowblind soliciting fans looking for help, it may be a long time coming.

It puts me in a tough place as a critic. As it stands, the copy of War in the North that I am playing is broken and copies that many other players are saddled with are having issues as well. It does not allow me to progress to the conclusion and perhaps the only real way for me to finish it is to start all over again and hope the glitch doesn’t strike twice.

After punching 15 hours into a game that I wasn’t enamored with to begin with, I’m not willing to do that. Lord of the Rings: War in the North will remain unfinished, my trophies still locked, and I don’t mind all that much because it wasn’t that great. Being entirely truthful, I was only finishing it in order to have the complete picture for my review. In its present state though, I cannot recommend Lord of the Rings: War in the North. If patching is successful, I can only recommend this to starved genre fans, but don’t expect much.

4 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

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