Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Platform: PS3*/Xbox 360/PC
Genre: Action RPG
Players: 1-2 (Online: 3)
ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence)

While it doesn’t make a lot of sense, a fun game is not always a good game. War in the North is a prime example of this.

The story follows a man, elf and dwarf, all three of whom are foreign to established Lord of the Rings lore. The three run into various characters from the books and films and embark on a quest to secure victories against Sauron’s forces in the North – a portion of the climactic course of events eluded to by Tolkien, but never expanded upon.

First off, let me say that this game is really fun with a friend or two. Local co-op is a welcome feature, one too often overlooked in today’s market. A hack-n-slash loot fest with some cool kill cinematics and stat tracking at the end of each section make it perfect for both “Look what I did”s and “In your face”s between friends. You don’t have to be particularly invested in the story, so no one will be sore about small talk if someone is losing interest.

And it’s definitely a pretty game. The environments are easy on the eyes, and the pre-rendered ending cinematic will catch your attention (though I don’t give it too much credit, being pre-rendered).

That being said, there are a lot of things that make this game not good. Not bad, but not good. First off, the RPG elements are thin. There’s some character customization and a skill tree, sure, but the story is completely linear and side quests are few and far between – largely not worth the time.

Combat isn’t varied all that much and isn’t particularly complex. Keep mashing one button until you hit another button once, then go back to mashing. In most cases, one particular skill move is no better or worse than another in any given situation. Enemies get bigger and stronger, sure, but I feel that opportunities to mix it up were lost. Archery air-battle between riders of a Great Eagle and a Fell Beast perhaps? There were a few situations where a little ingenuity would have gone a long way.

However, good games with repetitive combat exist. God of War is the hack-n-slasher of hack-n-slashers. But we remember Kratos. He’s that awesome pale white guy with red stripes who screams a lot and mercilessly tears apart gods and titans with copious amounts of blood. There was an impact factor. War in the North doesn’t have that. The three main characters are forgettable. You might remember some side-characters from the fantastic movies, but that’ll be the extent of it. This game would’ve been worlds better if either gameplay or plot received a big face-lift, if not both.

Which is really unfortunate. Snowblind nails the fun factor here and had a huge opportunity being the first to explore the North for fans of the series. On this front, they dropped the ball. The raw materials are in place, but not all fun things are good expenditures of time. And believe me, I’m a firm believer that many video games are a great expenditure of time. This one, however, while certainly worth a weekend rental with a friend to blow through, isn’t something a critic elitist mindset is going to enjoy.

Bottom Line: 7/10

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