There is a point when you look at Lord of the Rings: War in the North and inevitably think to yourself, "Well, then. I don't think I've played a Lord of the Rings game quite like this before." Perhaps that moment arrives when you see your first feral goblin decapitation. Or maybe it's when a mountain troll saunters along, picks up your elf friend, and quite literally rips her in half. Regardless of when it happens, the point remains: War in the North is certainly treading new (if slightly bloodied) ground with this beloved license.
It's no coincidence, either. Developer Snowblind studios has made violence one of its main areas of focus for War in the North. As an action role-playing game, there's very much a focus on the combat. Playing three-player co-op as either a dwarf, human, or elf, you're sent on a journey through stretches of Middle-earth filled with some of Sauron's nastiest friends. Your fighting style depends heavily on your race of choice, as there are abilities and skill trees unique to each race, but the result seems to be just as bloody no matter the selection.
The demo we saw here at Gamescom 2010 was set in a hilly area to the west of the Misty Mountains. It was a wilderness setting, with tall trees and patches of melting snow on the forest floor. Among the smaller enemies in this demo were feral goblins who quickly skitter around on hands and feet, and orc guards who grimace and growl much the way you'd expect any good orc to. Then there were the giant guys who seem to act as magnets to pull any potential wayward teammates together to act as one. These included the hulking orc champion who's so big he makes a dwarf look like, well, a baby dwarf. There's also the aforementioned mountain troll who, as we said earlier, is capable of picking up a teammate and ripping the poor thing in half unless you or a friend hurries and offers a helping hand.
Snowblind calls the style of teamwork driving the game "interdependent co-op," a reference to the unique abilities that each race brings to the table. The human is a master craftsman who, unlike the others, can collect plants in order to make helpful items like healing potions, while the dwarf has the ability to spy structural weaknesses in order to find hidden goodies behind a crumbling wall. It's then up to that dwarf whether he or she wants to share the loot with teammates or simply hoard it. Add to this your standard revive mechanic and special attacks that combine two or more characters' powers, and you can see how Snowblind is looking to mold players into a harmonious trio.
We didn't get a chance to see what any of the storytelling has to offer, but Snowblind seemed keen to reassure everyone that despite the high level of violence inherent to the combat, there is indeed a heavy focus on narrative as well. It's a brand-new tale that adheres to Lord of the Rings canon, and with both the book and movie licenses firmly in place, we're told to expect some familiar faces from the movies popping up every so often to connect the game's plot back to the original story of Frodo and company. Hopefully we'll have the opportunity to check out those story elements sometime before Lord of the Rings: War in the North is released in 2011.