The Lord of the Rings: War in the North Hands-On Preview

Snowblind Studios explores the previously unseen northern battles of Middle-earth in this action role-playing game.

We've seen games individually based on the Lord of the Rings films and books, but we haven't seen a game that encompassed nearly all major media birthed from Tolkien's fantasy universe until now. Warner Bros. and Snowblind Studios have license to use both the films and the books in their upcoming action role-playing game Lord of the Rings: War in the North. While this ostensibly lets the development team at Snowblind borrow visual elements from the films and stay closer to the lore of the books, their relationship with the fantasy universe created by Tolkien even goes deeper. The Tolkien estate is working in conjunction with the development team on the new story, overseeing details to ensure that it fits in within the rest of the Lord of the Rings canon.

War in the North occurs around the same time as the War of the Ring in which Frodo and Sam make their way to Mordor as the rest of Middle-earth fends off Sauron. And much like that story, War in the North focuses on the fellowship of a dunedain (ranger), dwarf, and elf attempting to fend off Sauron's armies in the north headed by one of Sauron's top lieutenants, Agandaur. Using this fellowship as the foundation for gameplay means that you're never alone. You always have direct control over one member of the fellowship whether you're playing alone or with two other people. But if you are playing solo, then the AI will take over the other members. Additionally, if you're playing as the dwarf but feel like switching to the ranger, you'll have opportunities to switch at various hub areas.

The reason you might want to switch, and the reason why you're always playing with two other characters at any given time, is that members of the team have their own strengths and skills that are designed to work more effectively when used in conjunction with each other. For example, Farin the dwarf is the tank of the group, which means he's most effective when engaged in melee combat. In fact, one of his special abilities, called war cry, is even designed to draw enemies toward him and away from his teammates who might have a harder time standing toe-to-toe with more powerful foes. This war cry skill also makes him impervious to knockdown strikes, but he can still take damage, and you would do well to use evasive moves while in this state. Meanwhile, Eradan the ranger is formidable at both close and long range, but he has the ability to surprise enemies with his special stealth skills. Finally, Andriel the elf can be used primarily as a support-ranged character because one of her skills lets her cast an orb that simultaneously heals other members of the fellowship and deflects enemy projectiles. However, she can also dual-wield various weapons, which can make her effective in close combat.

The key to all of these abilities is to find a balance and recognize what tactics work in certain situations. For example, while Farin is best suited for melee, it doesn't mean that his ranged attacks are completely worthless. In fact, Snowblind wants you to think of his range attacks the same way you would think of a powerful weapon in a game like Resident Evil and its magnum handgun; you may not get a lot of ammunition, but the ammunition you do have is quite powerful when used properly. You'll find similar characteristics for other members of the fellowship as well.

Sauron's forces are on the move.

In terms of mechanics, ranged attacks are quite easy to execute, thanks to the third-person perspective, which lets War of the North use a control scheme not unlike those found in other shooters. This camera perspective also brings you closer into the game's melee system, which often produces some rather violent results. War in the North utilizes a combo system that ultimately tries to reward you for smoothly linking your attacks together. As you hack away at your enemy, a bar appears over the enemy's head, indicating how close you are to executing a critical attack (performed by pressing a different button). If you do land a critical attack, your character will go into heroic mode, which gives bonuses on damage and experience. It's worth mentioning that while in heroic mode, combat gets especially brutal--limbs and heads will go flying.

When you earn enough experience to level your character, you will be able to put points in various stats, such as strength (for melee damage), will (for power), dexterity (for range weapons), and stamina (for health). As you gain levels, you will also gain access to more abilities and skills, some of which involve weapon specializations. Of course, leveling and messing around with stats isn't the only way to customize your character. As with Snowblind's previous action RPGs, War in the North relies heavily on loot as a means to enhance your character's abilities, as well as provide some incentive for light exploration within the game's environments. When the fellowship happens upon a treasure chest, members get their own set of loot that they can also trade with other characters (or players).

To get the really good loot, you'll have to make use of some other special skills the fellowship has, but the catch is that they only function in multiplayer with other human players. Farin has the ability to see weaknesses in walls and can smash through them to find hidden loot. Eradan can see tracks in the wilderness that lead to new areas, while Andriel can spot special herbs, harvest them, and then give them to other players. These mechanics represent much of what War in the North is about and how the development team encourages you to play with other people as often as possible.

What's interesting is that when you are playing with other people, the characters you bring are still your own. When playing in single-player, you're still collectively leveling up and gearing your entire fellowship--not just one character, even though you have direct control over one at any given time. Additionally, Snowblind is giving numerous options for multiplayer, including two-player local split-screen with one online player, two to three player LAN, split-screen with just two players, and, of course, three players online. It's worth mentioning that the fellowship is always Farin, Eradan, and Andriel, so you won't have a team of three elves, two dwarves and a ranger, or any other such combination. Snowblind is trying to weave an intricate story within the Lord of the Rings universe, and granting the ability to customize your fellowship would alter the narrative aspects of the game dramatically.

We only got a brief taste of the game as the three were dropped off on the Misty Mountains by the eagles where the ground encountered a small sampling of the 40 or so enemy types that are a part of War in the North. We're interested to see more interaction between the various character abilities play out and more of the story unfold before the game is released on the PlayStation 3, PC, and Xbox 360 later this year.

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The Lord of the Rings: War in the North

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Discussion

74 comments
deathdoc
deathdoc

Epic Fail!! Keep it for the kiddies on their consoles. PC's don't need this clutter.

Nemezzis
Nemezzis

Dark Souls, Skyrim and now this. What a great year!

NightStein
NightStein

Lotr games on consoles always dissapointed me a little, some were ok and some quite bad, i hope this one could change that since the licence it's great.

lostboy85
lostboy85

ugh... "but the catch is that they only function in multiplayer with other human players." that sucks.

xboxgameman
xboxgameman

It will be the first M-Rated Lord Of The Rings game. That right there is a win.

egyptian2388
egyptian2388

I've been waiting for a good co-op game for a long time! Cant wait!

senjutsu
senjutsu

Hoping it's gonna be like Champions of Norrath on the PS2, I loved that game! =D

HarDcore_RpG
HarDcore_RpG

I love how he addresses the lack of action-rpg's at 1:40 in this generations consoles. I hope we see more games like this one being developed.

Notelessinferno
Notelessinferno

i hope the demo will let you play two player and give a good taste of how the game is. i'm hopeful for everything with lord of the rings in it.

Uhagi
Uhagi

I think this will be better than the last LOTR1

GetafixOz
GetafixOz

You cant be the Dwarf Butters Im the Dwarf.

TheoleDominion
TheoleDominion

Heavy customization is a MUST if there are only 3 characters to choose from...I really hope the game doesn't force you to have to be one of each in order to play together.

bullsfan769
bullsfan769

looks promising, combat sorta reminds me of dragon age 2 with more action

flyer80
flyer80

here's a WILD & CRAZY idea............... Actually show us some proper gameplay footage and not just clips of random junk, i might be able to get excited that way !

alpha_unit97
alpha_unit97

i hope the combat doesent make you feel like your in a pokemon battle, and also, i hope the role-playing is not just leveling up afew atrributes, i wanna be able to really customise my character, like their weapons armour and even face.... otherwise i probably wouldnt be so interested

eddieham13
eddieham13

I have confidence that this Lord of the Rings game will be one to rule them all.

cerberusdest
cerberusdest

With a director like that this game is bound to be good

ivanfred
ivanfred

I have confidence in Snowblind Studios. This game is a day-one purchase for me.

Rush_Gremlin
Rush_Gremlin

Yes yes yes, everybody is very happy and cheerful...finally a REAL LOTR game......I heard all of this nonsense before Pandemic went under after they delivered their piece of junk. And before that when EA was publishing Battle for Middle Earth. Take a game like Kindom Under Fire II where massive MASSIVE armies march and meet in large areas and castles...then you will have your awesome LOTR game

slayersith1720
slayersith1720

sounds like we are finally going to get a great LOTR game with some Diablo style looting going on. cant wait for this to come out.

Raginfrijoles
Raginfrijoles

@fratstratraz Perks/weapon customization in COD will never win against looting and attribute distribution....Never.

fratstratraz
fratstratraz

Would be way better if there was greater individual customization. You know, the whole point of an RPG. This sounds like your just upgrade three or four attributes and that's it....you can do that and more in FPS like COD and Rainbow Six Vegas

burn6
burn6

Now that is different LOTR! you've got me at the first bash!

Flarejdog
Flarejdog

Looks like a legit game, punkwad can go suck a fat one.

CEMETARY_GATESx
CEMETARY_GATESx

I've been waiting for a good co op fantasy action RPG. If they get this game right, and so far it looks promising, this game will really be something special.

Drakkengoth
Drakkengoth

as long as its fun, like the last generation licensed games.

fin
fin

Looks like a pretty interesting game, but if you are fighting against Agandaur (or whatever), maybe they didn't need the LOTR licence after all.

gamerdude1076
gamerdude1076

if they want to make the combat really fun, they should let you stab and impale your enemies instead of just hacking and slashing and dismembering. Overall though, this game looks pretty good.

params7
params7

That Conquest piece of **** scarred LoTR gamers. We have some healing to do, so don't be surprised if this receives a lukewarm response.

ThePurpleBubble
ThePurpleBubble

So a Ranger, a Dwarf, and an Elf walk into Angmar... Lots of trolls and goblins die.

gormo4
gormo4

Hopefully this will be a lot better than Conquest ;) I never ended up buying Conquest because of the reviews and playing it around a friends house, but this is looking really awesome.

BLADE7715
BLADE7715

hmmm this game where theres blood and face off 40 or more enemies with friends? Or Kingdom Under Fire 2 which is a MMOAST (Massive Multiplayer Online Action Strategy Game) and you can fight up to 3 to 4 thousand enemies on screen with hundreds of friends in your army? I think we already know who one this match lmao KUF 2 Baby!

XxdiabloxX1
XxdiabloxX1

be great if lord of ring and dragon age will be online

Scradin
Scradin

It sounds like its what Dragon Age: Origins should have been IMO

sacrilege83
sacrilege83

It's looking good, but I'm a bit dissapointed that there's no 3-player local offline co-op.

SPBoss
SPBoss

100,000 AI battles please? Rather optimistic i know :D

Jinroh_basic
Jinroh_basic

looks great. hopefully it delivers what it promises.

Dominicobaggio
Dominicobaggio

@King_Luke actually in lord of the rings there is casting, read the books. Gandalf actually has a big battle with the Nazgul at the tower (the place in the film where frodo lights a fire and they come for him) and he kicks their asses, from a distance frodo and aragorn can see the lightning and flashes from the battle. Also there are fireballs thrown about etc. They just decided not to have it in the films for whatever reasons and as a wizard Gandalf was made more of a... hmmm sort of conjurer i guess. Not much wizarding compared to the "real gandalf" This game is based on the Tolkien (read proper) version so has casting. Saying that i loved the films and cant wait for the hobbit too, but they are not true lotr (i personally liked the films more lol)

Netherscourge
Netherscourge

This looks amazing. I prefer the PC version, of course, but I would like to see the PC version support the Xbox 360's USB controller. I love playing PC games with the Xbox 360 controller. It's like the greatest thing ever. I'm also glad it's a MORPG and NOT and MMORPG. MORPG/ARPG = more actual action, movement and strategy. More engaging and more intimate. MMORPGs = just standing around and auto-shooting, while popping the occasional "skill" button to do a "pew pew" attack. Yawn. Just play LOTRO to get that.

TheDragonManiac
TheDragonManiac

finally a good MMORPG game that will break down world of warcarft(this game is realy starts annoying me beacuse players always like it even that its looks even worse from diable)

King_Luke
King_Luke

Ugh. Hasn't the female elf character been done to death? How many female elves in LOTR actually run around killing stuff (there are some, sure), and what is this caster crap? Magic in LOTR isn't like that. I would take a Legolas clone over this crap any day.