The Lord of the Rings: War in the North First Impressions

Snowblind and Warner Bros. Interactive toss players into the War of the Ring.

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is an original title from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, the latest holder of the Lord of the Rings license, and Seattle-based Snowblind Studios. The game will be the first title from WBIE that will take advantage of the Southern California-based publisher's consolidation of Peter Jackson's epic movies and JRR Tolkien's book rights by blending elements of both in its narrative. We were recently able to see reps from Snowblind demo the game to get a feel for what to expect from the upcoming title, which puts a new spin on the events from the classic story.

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is a self-described action adventure role-playing set during the War of the Ring, which found Sauron tearing through the free people of Middle Earth on his run for the one ring and dominion over the continent. While the Peter Jackson films showed off one front in the battle, War in the North drops you into the northern end of the conflict and casts you as one of a trio of fighters. Our live demo consisted of a short run through Mirkwood that showcased the game's three character classes and cooperative gameplay mechanics.

The start of our demo began with an introduction from Snowblind studio head Ryan Geithman who laid out the studio's goal of incorporating cooperative gameplay and then segued to a cinematic that set up the level. The impressive movie showed the game's trio of characters--a human wizard, an elven archer, and a dwarf warrior--flying on great eagles to Mirkwood in search of another wizard. Unfortunately, Sauron's forces attack, causing the trio to make an unwieldy landing that went straight to a battle with an armored foe.

The fight quickly showed off the unique dynamic needed for success in the game, as each of the characters had a very specific role to play. The human wizard is the team's spellcaster, which means he'll be keeping mostly to defense and support in combat. For example, his sanctuary spell creates a sizable dome of mystic energy around him that will shield players in range from magic and ranged attacks, as well as restore their health over time. The elven archer is a ranged attacker, although he appears to be serviceable in close-quarters combat. The dwarf warrior is pretty much exactly what you'd expect him to be: a pit bull with an axe that wades into enemies. Once the trio dispatched the foe, another cinematic kicked in, showing the eagles doing their part by taking out a wraith and setting up the first objective in the area--seeking out Beleram the eagle for directions to the wizard they came to find. Once the eagle was tracked down, we got a look at the game's conversation system, which organizes the chat tree into two basic categories; those that let you plow through on the story's main critical path and those that fill you in on lore for more background on events.

Once the trio had its marching orders, the next order of business was making its way through Mirkwood to the wizard, which is where we got a better understanding of how Snowblind is structuring the game to encourage cooperation between players. In addition to their unique roles in combat, each member of the party has unique racial traits that are invaluable while exploring because of the way each character sees and interacts with the environment. For example, the elf is the only party member who can see tracks made by enemies, such as wargs, which are a good sign that there's trouble ahead. The human is able to harvest certain types of plants and other items that are only visible to him; he can then use them to create magical artifacts or potions that he can give to other party members or sell. Finally, the dwarf is able to detect secret doors and treasure the other party members can't. detect As a result, it's in the party's best interest to stick together when exploring.

The demo took the trio through a chunk of Mirkwood where the enemies scaled up from standard warg packs to orc warriors and shamans. The shamans could cast their own version of sanctuary, which required the party to coordinate closely. We were able to see what happens when party members go down, too: They'll limp around for a bit and can try to make their way to a comrade for a revival before going down for the count. The demo ended in a series of caves where the group came face-to-face with a cave troll that appeared to be incredibly tough, even when the team members were sticking to their individual roles. The dwarf got the worst of it because it's never a good idea to go toe-to-toe with a cave troll. On the upside, the beating he took showed off a button-mashing mechanic that kicks in when you're being throttled by an enemy.

Besides showcasing combat, our demo also showed off the basics of the RPG elements in the game. As enemies were dispatched, they dropped colored orbs that could be collected for health, mana, and experience. The quantity of orbs dropped will be based on the basic toughness of your foe and if you're able to perform one of the game's brutal finishers on your foe. While we didn't see it in action, we were told that the experience you earn will be used to unlock skills and abilities that will be organized into unique skill trees for each character. While your unlocks will still fall within each character's core role, Snowblind is aiming to offer a range of customization to ensure that you'll be able personalize your character to some degree.

The one aspect of co-op play not specifically shown off in our demo was the range of options available to players when setting up a match. Besides the standard online option of three players on three different consoles, Snowblind is aiming to support different configurations, such as two players on one box joining up with someone else in another location. Another key option is the ability to tweak how much experience is shared among your group. At the moment, the plan is to have the game's default set so that it equally shares experience, but you'll be able to go in and move a slider to tweak who gets how much experience if you want. As with most co-op games, the game host will own the game save, so party members won't be saving their progress; however, they will get to keep both loot and experience. This should be handy when playing their game in single-player, which will pair you with AI-controlled party members. In terms of modes, it appears you'll have three options: quick start, story campaign, and challenge missions.

The visuals in the demo we saw were looking sharp. The in-game cinematic featured a high level of detail the showcased a nice array of little details on characters and the environment. This extended into combat as the various spell effects were well done and added dramatic punch to the action onscreen.

Based on this early look at the game, The Lord of the Rings: War in the North looks like a promising use of the LOTR license. The War of the Ring is pretty rich with story possibilities that should please fans. The visuals are suitably shiny and detailed with a generous helping of special effects. The cooperative gameplay looks solid, although we're hoping there will be significant customization options for the three different classes to keep things interesting, and the online play is always a welcome feature. We'll be curious to see how the save system winds up working out, as well as how the AI bots will work when you're playing solo, but what we've seen so far looks good and promising. The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is slated to ship in 2011 for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Look for more on the game at the Electronic Entertainment Expo and in the coming months.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

Did you enjoy this article?

Sign In to Upvote

191 comments
ronnet
ronnet

@lukegladyswelby, they were working on it... then they cancelled it. Anyway this game seems to be just the wrong mix between RPG and Action. It had the RPG elements that Action fans find unnecesary and it lacks the (modern) RPG elements that wRPG fans consider a must.

MuffinMan1014
MuffinMan1014

lukegladyswelby they were going to make a game like that it was called LOTR: The White Council but it was cancled. :(

candybar_65
candybar_65

LOTR is the reference point for all things fantasy, and is one of the richest most immersive fantasy worlds ever created. Not tomention the dozens of books written by him and his son as backdrop for the main story. All in all they have over three thousand years worth of richly detailed lore to draw from but despite this, every lotr game i have ever played has been bad. i mean, you know its bad when the highlights are EA's crappy movie based lotr games. They havehundreds of square miles of terrain as imagined by tolkien but they have yet to make a true open world experience other than lotr online. LOTR games have always sucked and I'm afraid this one will to

Calvin079
Calvin079

Sounds good. Don't fail us now deveopers...

lukegladyswelby
lukegladyswelby

i think they should make a lotr game like the elder scrolls series with a open world environment and the abilty to follow the main quest or others eg helping defend a village from orc invaders or something but i just think an open world environment game true to the tolkien lore would be awesome !!!!!!!!!!

elze2512
elze2512

Give us an open world RPG please, with a lot to do and a lot of time to spent in it please!!!!! Something that gets a 9.5 like Red Dead, lot of people would buy!!!

Squirrelatwar
Squirrelatwar

Interesting...unfortunately i'm getting Too Human vibes from this game, but that's just me. Hopefully they make the game large and varied enough to stay interesting.

CaptainAhab13
CaptainAhab13

This could be good, but like some other posters before me have already said, what I *really* want is an open-world Lord of the Rings game, possibly set before the events of the Hobbit and the LotR trilogy. Oh, and @QuicklyJo: 3 classes = boring? Guess what. The original incarnation of Dungeons & Dragons had 3 classes of characters. People play it to this day. 3 classes ≠ boring, just more opportunity to expand on each one for the developers.

QuicklyJo
QuicklyJo

Only 3 classes, already boring!

-Snooze-
-Snooze-

Im dissapointed. Too much focus on multiplayer. I just want an open-ish world RPG based in middle earth, that plays like Demons Souls, but more RPG elements, such as choices etc. Not too much to ask is it???

bennae66
bennae66

it smells like fable of the rings

reddo123456789
reddo123456789

what? dragon age is awesome. its probably better than this is gonna be. most lotr games suck.

alzeer1
alzeer1

every world belong to fans if u not from these world find your world on google

Alex_09
Alex_09

And by nothing I mean small, unknown city nobody cares about, not boys in the hood nothing.

Alex_09
Alex_09

No matter how much I love lord of the rings and action games, I won't pay more than 20 bucks for it if it doesn't have a 10 hour single player game. With the amount of material they can work off, they have no excuse if they make a short game. @MagnusShade Badly. That game just blows. It's one of those great games that a company refused to fix when it broke apart. I hate Bioware passionately after the way they let down their customers and fans. Can you imagine the backlash if Activision never released a patch for MW2 when it first came out? But since Bioware is a "trusted" company that came up from nothing(my home city, so I know exactly what nothing means), they used their over zealous fans' unquestioning loyalty to back out of any post release updates, and nobody even gave a rat's ass! I own Awakenings, that might explain why I justifiably hate them while you don't, but the way Bioware released DLC while the content already out wasn't even functional, is shameful, and even the story of Dragon Age was one of the worst fantasy stories I've experienced. Also, action games are what those kind of RPGs should be. This game probably won't require pauses in combat every two five seconds.

datot
datot

Wow their fighting the ogre thing with swords and arrows and hammers! I just fought it yesterday on RE5 with dual Machine guns.

MagusShade
MagusShade

The way they talk about using all 3 characters to their full potential because they have different skills and if you dont use them all you will die, and the gory finishing moves.... Have they played Dragon Age : Origins? Its already been done!

bs23baller
bs23baller

Amen to DrEvil...fully customizable RPG, kinda like Oblivion, not this stupid Baldurs Gate stuff...

SilkB
SilkB

Ahhh...good luck competing against Diablo 3 ...this game is doomed to fail I am sorry to say

DrEvilKoala
DrEvilKoala

Ok, there's been the jRPG-ish "The Third Age" and now we have this Hack-'n-slash. Now can we please get a REAL RPG set in Tolkien's universe please?

Nfzn
Nfzn

was excited for this.. then i saw this video and now im not so sure...

DredpiratWestly
DredpiratWestly

let's pay a little attention to Tolkien's lore. human's can't actually be wizards - it is wizards that choose to look like humans. they're Mayar. if we really want to dig into the mythology, i feel that we should credit them with more than just "human wizard". that sounds way less cool - BECAUSE if you read back into the Silmarillion and so-forth, you will see that the Mayar have a skill-set and a heritage that is deeper than your average wizard, as far as fantasy goes. certainly much more than your typical abra-cadabra. just a thought.

DredpiratWestly
DredpiratWestly

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

UnitedGamerz
UnitedGamerz

It better be better then conquest because that is the worst lord of the ring game ever created

canadagamereh
canadagamereh

Some of my best memories with my old PS2 were playing the movie games with siblings and friends, hoping this game lives up to that at least.

tobelight
tobelight

High Hopes. Would suck if it disappoints.

drago9876
drago9876

I really like customizing my character and making my guy look cool..... Hope that feature is included. Also, an option to join Sauren as a orc?

Cipher_8
Cipher_8

Please let this game be good, I'm practically dieing for a decent RPG and for it to be Lord of the Rings would make it that much more epic!

Charliesix
Charliesix

i hope this continues the cinematic feel of the Return of the King game

jasopan
jasopan

Could it be? A decent Lord of the Rings game for once? Dare I hope?

gormo4
gormo4

@atomicpie - they did a lord of the rings RPG a while back- it was called 'the third age' for PS2.. :) Is this going to be another conquest styled lackluster battlefront? i hope not.

DjTIEST0
DjTIEST0

epic i miss the mythology game and real deal story

ukrainerules
ukrainerules

wow that guy looks so passionate to talk about his game. obama would give a more enthusiastic pro gun speech (which he hates, for those of you stuck in the lala land) than this guy about his game.

JTR_IceBerg
JTR_IceBerg

So basically WB is taking the LOTR license (also note the recent acquisition of LOTRO) and making it look, feel and play like Dragon Age Origins. ...that just might could work

atomicpie
atomicpie

It looks good now, but I hope it lives up to its expectation. I really love RPGs, so a good LOTR RPG would be amazing. Wait and see...

fi3ldsy
fi3ldsy

A mature LOTR? Sweet....

Jshaw71
Jshaw71

sounds like an action game, maybe a longer version of the movie games we have seen in the past from EA, or forgotten realms: demon stone for the ps2... we'll see i guess...

DuaMn
DuaMn

No EA you say? This may be good.