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LotR goes mature with War in the North: movie, hands-on

Wednesday, 9th March 2011 14:31 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Lord of the Rings: War in the North is the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and the mature Tolkein game you’ve been waiting for. GDC impressions inside.

War in the North

Developed by Snowblind Studios.

Announced in March 2010.

Coming to PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 in 2011.

First M-rated Lord of the Rings game.

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is an RPG which takes place in the northern regions of Middle-earth, up near the Misty Mountains. It’s based on a line uttered by Gandalf in the main story of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: “With his far reaching rich hand Sauron might have done great evil in the North. Yet all that has been averted because a handful of heroes stood in his path.”

From what we were able to play of it at GDC, it’s a long overdue entry into the series’s vast gaming library.

Over the years, fans of Tolkien’s trilogy have been tricked or treated with a large variety of games based on the franchise. We’ve tried almost all of them, and, in our opinion, one of the last good console games released in the series before Warner took over was Stormfront’s The Two Towers in 2002. Not so great.

Snowblind Studios plans to change all that with War in the North, apparently giving long suffering fans the bloody, mature LotR game they have been dreaming of since reading The Hobbit when they were six years old.

The internet groaned “not another Lord of the Rings game” when the title was announced back in March 2010, and with damned good reason. However, one must take into consideration the resume of the folks behind the project: Snowblind is the team who released gems such as Champions of Norrath and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance on PS2.

The GDC trailer. This is not pussy-assed fantasy.

As a matter of fact, Snowblind considers War in the North the spiritual successor to Dark Alliance, and while playing the new LotR game at GDC last week, we were truly convinced of this.

Our health we drank a thousand times

In the game, players take control of a hero: a human Dúnedain ranger, Elf loremaster, or Dwarf champion. Each character can be played cooperatively – with the ability to adjust the percentage of experience the co-op partner receives – or can battle it out in single-player with AI.

Split-screen co-op is included for those who want a couch buddy to play along with, and players can drop-in and drop-out of the game at will. Basically, you can play with up to three players at any time, with AI filling any gaps.

Each of the characters’ skills are upgradeable and can be customized. Chests are also shareable, so you won’t have to roll on a specific drop from it: instead, each player will loot a chest and have different outcomes of treasure or weapons. If you are more into dual-wielding, you can trade over the two-handed axe you looted to the dwarf, and vice-versa.

In our GDC hands-on, we played the Dúnedain Ranger, who, at the beginning of the playthrough, was soaring along with his party over the forest of Mirkwood on the backs of the Great Eagles of Manwë. The Black Númenórean Agandaûr appeared on his pterodactylic wyrm, and we were set down by the eagles and preceded to do battle.

This is when your character’s inherent traits come into play. The Ranger can use different bow and sword attacks, while the Champion can use his two-handed attacks and bow, while the loremaster in our group cast a protective bubble shield to protect us from aerial attacks. Each character can perform special attacks by holding down the right bumper and hitting particular console buttons – we played the demo on Xbox 360.

After this battle was over, and we’d given the Orcs and Uruk-hai a good drubbing, we trotted up the mountain to battle it out with a troll. This was a bloody battle, seeing all three of us getting tossed and battered many a time before winning. The game’s revive feature came in handy here.

Snowblind considers War in the North the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance on PS2.

Upon the death of the nasty, smelly troll, the party moved into a cave: the dwarf could see a weak area on the wall, and thus exposed us to some lovely treasure. Humans and elves have special abilities too. The Dúnedain, renowned for their healing, can find herbs, and the elf can see trails which the other two cannot.

Much obliged for such a pleasant stay

There are hints that War in the North could be a sizeable adventure. At the beginning of the game, you’ll be in Bree chatting with Aragorn, as he’s waiting on the Hobbits to arrive at the Prancing Pony; you’ll get to see more of Middle-earth than just the Misty Mountains, the Ettenmoors and Mirkwood. Rivendell plays a part as well, as Lord Elrond and you even get to fight along side of him and his sons, Elladan and Elrohir.

After that, the Ring goes south and you and your party go north. If you think about how much you’ve seen over the years of Moria, Rohan, Godor and Mordor, it’s worth noting how much is shown of the north of Middle-earth in this particular game.

Tolkien created a map that you can sustain and tell epic stories throughout, while allowing its lore to stay intact.

Snowblind understands this, and has created a game that looks to be everything Tolkien fans always wanted: blood, battles, mature themes, and stabbing trolls in the face.

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North ships for PC, 360 and PS3 later this year.

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9 Comments

  1. Blerk

    I’m actually pretty interested in this, Dark Alliance was a great console RPG-lite. Hopefully it won’t be too reliant on the co-op.

    #1 4 years ago
  2. Blerk

    By which I mean ‘playing the game with others’, not the supermarket.

    #2 4 years ago
  3. ManuOtaku

    just sound to good to be truth, wheres the catch??? ah…ah….

    #3 4 years ago
  4. RockTwist

    Hoping this’ll be great too, at least it’s made by Snowblind Studios so hopefully that means it should be if they just upgrade the Dark Alliance engine.

    #4 4 years ago
  5. UuBuU

    When I first heard about this game, I really wanted it to do well and stand out in front of all the other average lord of the rings games. I’m slightly disappointed by how it’s turned out though.

    Firstly, there seems to be far too much emphasis on combat.

    Secondly, despite claiming to be true to Tolkien’s work, they’re making up characters that don’t exist in Tolkien’s history of middle-earth (Agandaur).

    Thirdly, they’re relying a little bit too much on imagery and other aspects from the films in my opinion.

    Basically, it’s just going to be a hack and slash action game with a generic storyline more influenced by the films and the designers’ own imaginations than by Tolkien’s work. Oh well. I’m sure it’ll still be fun; but i’m still waiting for someone to make a nice open-world RPG set in middle-earth that’s true to Tolkien’s work and doesn’t rely heavily on combat or imagery from the films.

    #5 4 years ago
  6. aleph31

    @UuBuU you know, since the films came to life, The Lord of the Rings is that famous work by Peter Jackson…

    In any case, regarding Tolkien, I think it is really -I mean, really- difficult to live up to expectations. Even famous Tolkien artists like John Howe are crap imho…

    #6 4 years ago
  7. UuBuU

    @aleph31 –

    It’s a sad fact that the films are widely considered as the ‘standard’ ahead of the books when games and such are made. I honestly hoped that a game set in the north of middle-earth would owe more to the books though.

    And of course, any visual representation of Tolkien’s world is never going to be able to surpass a reader’s own idea of how things should look. I can sort of live with that. What bothers me more is when the story is manipulated, or when characters and events are made up. There’s just no need for it. There’s enough going on in Tolkien’s history of middle-earth to make dozens of games without resorting to creative liberties and deviations.

    #7 4 years ago
  8. aleph31

    @UuBuU nothing to add, agreed :)

    #8 4 years ago
  9. Dralen

    Looks like the next gen version of The Two Towers/The Return of the King games.

    #9 4 years ago

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