Like the movies: grand, ambitious, and a bit slow at times
Aragorn doesn’t really sound like Aragorn. And that’s about the only bad thing I can say about War in the North as far as its dedication to the license goes. Sure, the developers didn’t nab Mr. Viggo Mortensen to voice the Ranger/future king (who’s not one of the primary characters anyway)—they didn’t even get an accurate soundalike. But, boy, did they nail just about everything else in this game.
If you’re any bit of a Lord of the Rings fan, you’ll be blown away by the lengths the development team went to make this look, sound, and feel faithful to that universe. The characters say all the right things, referencing history, locales, legends, and other bits of lore as if they were all real (made all the more believable with top-notch voice acting—no one’s really going to miss Mortensen or any other stars at all). The graphics paint a lush, vivid Middle-earth with crumbling ruins, wind-brushed grassy fields, and a pristine and radiant Rivendell that would make Hollywood proud. Even the soundtrack sounds as if it were lifted straight from a big-budget flick.
Need further proof? My nerdy girlfriend, who once read The Silmarillion because she was that into the LOTR canon (and very few people are that into the LOTR canon), thinks this game’s simply awesome. Some of the dialogue spoken between characters here is so dense and, well…Lord of the Rings–ish, that it was almost putting me to sleep. Not my fangirl significant other, though. She ate up everything these Dwarves, Elves, Wizards, and Hobbits had to say, and she was thoroughly impressed that so much detail went into an action game.
On the gameplay side, War in the North does little wrong. It’s very clearly meant for cooperative play, and you can tell the designers put plenty of thought into that. If you’re short a three-person online or system-link party, the AI takes over (and it’s more than capable as a partner, too—it’ll usually do a better job of reviving you than a human player will). If you give a computer player any gear, it’ll keep it in its inventory in case you ever want to switch to that character later. And if that happens, you’ll be able to level up right away, because the other warrior’s been racking up the same experience points you’ve been gathering that entire time.
In other words, everything’s consistently persistent in War in the North. Whether you want to play with friends or play with the computer, whether you want to stick with Farin the Dwarven Champion or switch to Eradan the Human Ranger or Andriel the Elven Lore-master, you won’t lose out on anything (from XP to skill points to gold), no matter how you play.
The game’s co-op smart in other ways, too. You don’t have to compete with your fellow Fellowship teammates when you pilfer piles of loot or treasure chests. For example, if you grab everything out of one container, another player can come up, look inside, and find a fresh heap of goods, visible to just him. This way, no one gets his loincloth in a bunch when someone else swipes a power potion out from underneath.
War in the North can get slow at times, though—not the best trait for an action game to have. Ironically enough, some of this is due to the animations being a little too thorough. Though you can almost feel every broadsword swing or battle-ax smash because all those movements have solid weight and physics behind them, they take a little too long to see all the way through from start to dead-Orc finish. Of course, this game looks a lot better than most button-mashing hack-and-slashers, but you’ll find yourself wishing the combat were a little snappier. With tons of stages and all of the repetitive combat contained within, War in the North starts feeling like it wants to compete in length with the extended-extended super director’s cuts of the movie trilogy.
But, hey, this isn’t some Final Fight jaunt across town. This is epic-freakin’ Lord of the Rings we’re talking about here. This should be a big game, in more than one sense of the word…and it is. It’s slow at times, and it’s incredibly dorky, but it’s also truly worthy of one of the grandest licenses around.
SUMMARY: Perhaps the best Lord of the Rings game yet, with great acting, writing, and storylines—though the action does get a little slow.
- THE GOOD: Excellent production values
- THE BAD: A little slow-paced
- THE UGLY: Taking the time to run errands for lovebirds—Middle-earth needs saving!
Lord of the Rings: War in the North is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.