The Lord of the Rings: War in the North Q&A

We speak to Ruth Tomandl at Snowblind to see how Tolkien's world comes together in this upcoming action role-playing game.

In our last couple of visits to Middle-earth, we were struck by how much more brutal the action has been recently. It is interesting that this is the first time Warner Bros. has been able to use the rights to Tolkien's books in conjunction with Peter Jackson's movie trilogy. Another feature to point out is that this action role-playing game features a strong cooperative element as you delve into Middle-earth's violent conflict. We spoke to Ruth Tomandl about Lord of the Rings: War in the North to find out more about the story, the added features, and what the game has in store for fans of the lore.

GameSpot: This is the first time that you've been able to work with the movie license while you have the rights to the books. How does this change your approach to a new Lord of the Rings game? What can you tell us about the story?

Ruth Tomandl: Having both the rights to the films and the books has definitely allowed us to take the approach we want: We're not restricted to just what was shown in the films and can work with the entire background of the world as revealed in the books. We really wanted to use the opportunity to go to new areas of Middle-earth that players haven't seen before and to tell a new story. Everything in our story is based directly on the books, which have tons of detail and history to draw from, and we're very careful that all of our work fits within the lore.

The story of The Lord of the Rings: War in the North takes place during the War of the Ring, but instead of following the Fellowship of the Ring, you'll be sent on your own quest to the north to investigate the gathering armies there. You'll encounter characters that appeared in the films, but as the game progresses, you'll go farther north as Frodo and the One Ring travel farther south. Basically, you're fighting the same war but different battles.

Having the film license is great as well because the films set a very high bar for visual quality, and we're excited to work in that style. The films have been what most people think of when they visualize Middle-earth, so we've worked to make the new locations and characters in War in the North look like they're from the same universe as the films.

GS: What can you tell us about Agandaur, the story's main enemy?

RT: Far back in the history of the men of Middle-earth, a group of Numenoreans basically went over to the dark side and became servants of Sauron. Like the mouth of Sauron, Agandaur is a descendant of that group. He's Sauron's top lieutenant, sent to the north to organize an army and attack the free peoples on another front. Agandaur is ambitious and ruthless and is unfortunately doing his job very effectively.

GS: How hard is it to balance the narrative and the action? Does one outweigh the other?

RT: Particularly with a license like The Lord of the Rings, where narrative is so important, it's vital that the story and action support each other. Because The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is an action role-playing game and combat is what you're spending most of your time doing, we make sure that what you're doing during combat helps tell the story. For example, conversations in town unlock new areas and battles. The Lord of the Rings is the story of a war, so we're trying to do what J.R.R. Tolkien did so well and tell that story.

GS: The game appears to be much more violent than anything we're used to in this franchise. Why did you decide to take the bloodier route?

RT: We're really glad that we're able to show the brutality of combat the way that The Lord of the Rings books did. The War of the Ring was a violent, dangerous time in Middle-earth, and like the films, we're able to show that danger by making the combat more realistic. We haven't added gore just for its own sake but to reemphasize the danger of your quest along with the price of failure.

Middle-earth is a beautiful place, but it's also a very dangerous place, and it's important to stick with your allies and protect your home from your enemies. J.R.R. Tolkien didn't sugarcoat that, and we're not either.

GS: Tell us about this "interdependent co-op" in War in the North. What was the reason behind focusing on cooperative play rather than single-player?

RT: We wanted to focus on co-op for The Lord of the Rings: War in the North for two reasons: First, that's where Snowblind's strengths really lie; and second, working together as a fellowship is one of the major themes of The Lord of the Rings.

Snowblind Studios has a long history of great co-op action RPGs, and The Lord of the Rings is the perfect match for that kind of game. We want to make a game that's fun to play with your friends on the couch, so you can experience more of Middle-earth together. The co-op is a blast, and the AI allies that take over in single-player are pretty smart, so all the work we're doing to make the co-op great will directly translate to single-player as well.

The story of The Lord of the Rings really emphasizes how important it is to have allies you can trust, work with, and rely on, especially during wartime. So working as part of your own fellowship helps tie the gameplay back into the overall narrative.

GS: On the subject of co-op, will there be offline split-screen or online?

RT: We're supporting two-player split-screen on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, or you can play online with two other players, or you can play split-screen on one console and have someone else join you online over Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. You can play online on the PC, too. We want to let you play multiplayer however you like, and we're making it really easy to get into a multiplayer game.

GS: What kind of areas will we be visiting in the game? How much of Middle-earth do we get to explore?

RT: We've revealed very few of the areas in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North so far, but if you look at a map of the northern part of Middle-earth, there are very few places on that map that players won't be traveling to. At the beginning of the game, you're close to the Shire, but as the game progresses, you'll travel all over the north as part of your fight against Agandaur's armies.

GS: Could you tell us a bit about the three classes and their features, as well as how they evolve throughout the game?

RT: The Lord of the Rings: War in the North's three main characters are all fighting against Agandaur for their own reasons and in different ways.

Eradan is a Dunedain ranger and part of the Grey Company, and he's a master tracker, quick fighter, and an expert archer. One of his unique skills is evasion, which allows him to move undetected by enemies. This not only lets you flank enemy groups, but can also let you revive your fallen allies without being seen.

Andriel is an elf from Rivendell; she's an agent of Elrond, sent to investigate the armies gathering in the north. She has more crowd-control abilities than the other two, but she can be customized to be very effective in melee combat as well. She has the ability to create a shield that protects the whole fellowship from enemy ranged attacks that can also slow down, damage, or stun enemies, depending on what choices you make in her skill tree.

Farin the dwarf is from the Lonely Mountain, Erebor, and has come to help repay his people's debt to Bilbo Baggins. He's the best tank of the three and has abilities that let him draw aggro and increase his armour and stamina. He has some crowd-control and ranged abilities, but his strength is really wading into a battle and fighting in close quarters.

GS: What do you have in store for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's work?

RT: Being fans of Tolkien's work ourselves, we're very excited to travel to new places in Middle-earth. There are a couple of places in particular that I've always wanted to see, and I'm thrilled with what they're like in the game! I think that'll be one of the most exciting things for Tolkien fans. Seeing more of how the events of the War of the Ring have affected Middle-earth and how wide-ranging those effects were will resonate with fans too. The books tell of many battles in the war; Lothlorien, Erebor, the Shire, all came under attack and had to be defended. Playing the role of one of the heroes called upon to fight those battles will be very exciting for those of us who love The Lord of the Rings.

GS: Thanks for your time!

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Discussion

134 comments
Garnog
Garnog

This might just get me through until Skyrim ;)

Ryan606Rev
Ryan606Rev

@CEMETARY_GATESx Don't worry about the graphics man, in the new demo the grapics look great, does anyone know if the elf will be able to use swords? they did mention melee combat

slainta
slainta

Am I the only one that would like an RPG LoTR that follows step by step the book? I mean, this is supposed to be great, but after reading the book and watching the movie(s) I'd really like to live the whole experience!!

pattixaris
pattixaris

we(tolkien fans) have a lot of expectation for every game that is based on Tolkien's books, i am looking forward to try it

CEMETARY_GATESx
CEMETARY_GATESx

I'm feeling real iffy about the graphics on this game. They don't need to be amazing, but some of the gameplay I've seen looks like upscaled ps2 stuff. Hope I'm wrong because I want this game to be amazing.

nickharvey86
nickharvey86

@terry_tate They are difficult reads not because of complexity but because of poor design. As for Twilight and Harry potter, nothing in my argument states that they were better written. However, considering a zeitgeist comparisson, HP and Twighlight are better books (I can't wait for the fanboys to rip that comment). The current writing zeitgeist has changed since WW2, and as I see it HP is the good comparisson to LotR. When LotR first came out its following was largely what modern standards would call 'cult' and regarded as a child's book. Similar to HP no? Where HP differs from LotR is that it was just better written. Clearer, stronger narrative, excellent pacing. Look at Edgar Allen Poe's "Casque of Amontillado" for instance, it manages to capture more in it's short length in better detail than LotR does in a whole chapter. I love LotR the films are fantastic and as such we live in a era where modern literature is film, you cannot deny that. As such LotR will be remembered as a film and has became the new canon for which future projects using the licence will derive from. Tolkien's imagination is second to none. There is nothing specifically wrong with his writing diction. However, his story telling capabilities and pacing abilities are lacking. The Hobbit while far from Tolkien's most original work, is widely regarded as his best, simply because it is his best written in terms of pacing, plot development, narrative etc. LotR is particularly a narrative mess.

ggregd
ggregd

People complaining about character customization and classes: I don't think this is much of an RPG, it's an action game. This is closer to Diablo than Oblivion.

Anicsin
Anicsin

Only three characters... but it sounds good anyway!

WitteKraai
WitteKraai

I've loved LoTR since I first read the books (in the 20th century, no less!) There have been good games and bad games to come out of the series/history. This one has very limited options as far as character selection goes, but if you compare it to other RPGs where there is one main protagonist then it's fairly open! When character selection is limited and the plot is linear, I try not to look at it as detrimental to a game that hasn't lived up to expectation, but rather alter my expectations to include games with tight parameters. I really loved LoTR: The Third Age.. Loved it.

windwave
windwave

Can't play as a hobbit? I know they are not much of a fighter but it's a game and they should think of something.

AOldDog
AOldDog

I did not understand, is this coop or not ??

Blackcourt
Blackcourt

I'm a little disappointed about the lack of class and race options. I was hoping for a more open choice style of game. Middle-Earth is such a rich world, full of untapped potential because the companies who hold the licenses are too afraid to break away from the core story.

kurtisburkhardt
kurtisburkhardt

this game looks frickin sweet. but i dont want to wait like 6 months for it 2 come out

thorughfire
thorughfire

@-Geo Pretty much all LOTR games are the same. I have pretty much given up on them. I bought Conquest expecting it to be good but it was crap. They claim to offer a great experiance when really its a great disapointment.

-Geo
-Geo

Only 3 basic & unoriginal classes? My hopes have plummeted severely already

smoke_dog_4ever
smoke_dog_4ever

I really want to believe this game can be good, but after so much promise was made in LoTR: Conquest and then that game more or less flopped, I'm having a hard time getting my hopes up for this title. At least they're branching the story out. It's hard to make games about the same story over and over and over again.

stantheman12345
stantheman12345

i have very high hopes for this game but i am afraid that it will suffer from mediocrity :(

darshie76
darshie76

@Choonyos: bashing solid writers? Maybe you never heard of Shakespeare,Joyce, Hesse, Twain and the list is long.... Then remember that I don't have to look intelligent on a videogame forum; I have better to do than putting myself on the spotlight playing the game of the troll; and also remember that not everyone speaks english as first language; so maybe you will excuse my poor way to express my point...I do not have to speak correctly english to judge how poor a writer is, like you don't have to be a pilot to see how much a car sucks, or gotta be a music player to say how much an artist suck....wanna wait to be dead to talk about God then? :) Cmon.... Who said that he was a good writer? Did you actually read my post or just got mad because you love HP and TW so much? I said that he knew how to write, since he was a professor...hands down; but know how to write and be a writer is not the same thing....need the Webster to get it or my poor english is good enough ? :)

choonyos
choonyos

@darshie76 I love how you are bashing solid writers, and clearly trying to come off as intelligent, when you can barely piece together a properly structured sentence yourself. Being a professor of English didn't make Tolkien a good writer, his love for writing made him that. It was his ambition outside of the classroom, or structured academia that made him what he is. His writers club with Lewis and others, his constant writing of short stories, quips, novels, and poems... his LOVE for it, not his PhD...

darshie76
darshie76

Nick was talking about the way that the books were written....obviously he heard it from someone else since he didn't explained it well. Tolkien was a professor; so about his skills on language there is no comparison with the funny people that writes HP and TW today (i give them the fact that they are good writers thou). From the narrative and purely academic structural point of view, LOTR and the previous books are totally out of any canon or scheme (again, we are talking about how you write a novel, not about the contents or the grammar; novels has specific rules and has been written like this since ages), same as music has composition rules that you must respect (but you are free to break if you like and create something new). I will leave to people with more knowledge on how to write a novel (not a book, a novel, story....and such); but in more than one occasion, Tolkien was criticized for not being a writer to the full extent of the word "Writer" (there is an interview with the publisher or LOTR about the fact that he didn't want to publish the LOTR because of these reasons explained earlier....is in the extended edition content of the trilogy version). Anyway I am glad of what he wrote; I am no professor so I just enjoyed the books, like many other millions of people; and I am thankful for that.

kentusmaximus
kentusmaximus

I hope this game will be good I am really looking forward to a game with good split screen and thats lord of the rings

kentusmaximus
kentusmaximus

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

008Zulu
008Zulu

I hope the AI for the single player game is smart, dont want to see the elf/mage run in to close combat to use her spells.

riftrunner
riftrunner

For the love of God, please stop shoehorning multiplayer into everything and give us a single player campaign that we can actually respect? I BEG you....

terry_tate
terry_tate

@nickharvey86 So your basically saying that the harry potter and twilight series are better written than a series that was written pre/during world war 2? Are you bloody serious? Grammar and diction have changed quite abit since then, and claiming triumph of modern writing over classic writing simply because you CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE WAY IT WAS WRITTEN is a joke. LoTR's diction, while not NEARLY perfect in any way, should NEVER be compared to ANY modern work for anything other than literary content. If you like twilight more than lotr fine, but dont claim you know more about writing than Tolkien did. Also, harry potter and twilight have mass appeal due to the content written for younger audiences, thats why they were followed more than lotr's books. THYE WERE EASIER TO FOLLOW. Your arrogance smells of ripe cheese.

sykopat99
sykopat99

@nickharvey86 Perhaps you should consider reading cartoons instead as they clearly suit you intellectual level better.

ggregd
ggregd

I liked the movies too, but they were good because they were mostly faithful to the books. If a game is good, I would play it. But I have my doubts about this one because they've changed it a lot over the last several months. And because if this wasn't a LoTR game it would be Generic Action Adventure Game X. They wouldn't be the first developers to put license lipstick on a pig to sell games.

nickharvey86
nickharvey86

The books from a written point of view are some of the crappiest and poorly written literature I have ever come accross. If it was not for the books uniqueness at the time (which since elves and dwards has become extremley saturated) it would have not have been published. If you look at the Harry Potter or Twilight books series both of them had a very strong following with the films. But when LotR came out people couldn't give two craps about the books. The fact of the matter is Jackson's LotR has become the canon for what modern LotR is. And you know what they are a HELL of a lot better than the books are.

beardforce
beardforce

I am baffled as to why they set this game during the War of the Rings, rather than the *actual* War in the North in which the *actual* Witch-King brought down the Kingdom of Arnor. So much more potential for story-telling and using *actual* characters. I'm not convinced at all that they know the source material.

beardforce
beardforce

I am baffled as to why they set this game during the War of the Rings, rather than the *actual* War in the North in which the *actual* Witch-King brought down the Kingdom of Arnor. So much more potential for story-telling and using *actual* characters. I'm not convinced at all that they know the source material.

RavenXavier
RavenXavier

@ naryanrobinson : They say they have the rights to use the Books AND the Movies. By all accounts that should give them permission to use the voices from the movies. They might not be able to get the original cast to come in and do "new lines" but they shouldn't have a problem using lines that were recorded for the movies.

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

Looks like an OK game, but without the voice actors and the rights, I think it's got a score cap of around 8.

DISavowwED
DISavowwED

Really hoping this is good. Looks awesome, but I don't wanna get too excited though because LOTR games have disappointed in the past..

Alex_09
Alex_09

I love Lord of the Rings and mature games, but not too sure about this one.

jakethesnake888
jakethesnake888

Best looking lord of the rings game to date. I simply cannot wait for the release of this one!

Tulkastaldo
Tulkastaldo

@ggregd - Agreed on them not seeming to be sticking too closely to the books. I'm shocked that they have a female elven warrior - that was basically unheard of, but an elven warrior that also has any healing abilities is canonical heresy. I do wish they'd take some time to read not only Lord of the Rings, but the other books which give one so much information on the lore and cultures of the various races. Not to mention, if they want a time with lots of fighting, and a number of races, they could always go with the War of the Silmarils. No need to invent spurious names (Agandaur, Andriel - neither of these have any halfway logical translation into Elvish) either. At least Eradan means Lonely man, which somewhat makes sense.

Decardcain
Decardcain

looks like diablo clone with the perspective of elders scrolls ... a lot of customization about loot and endless combats

Ares360
Ares360

Hoping this is great and wondering if it will be free, but thats just foolish thinking it took LOTRO forever to become free but was well done and this looks good so far but looks can be deceiving.

ggregd
ggregd

BTW2 if you want a good LoTR RPG play LoTR Online - it's free now.

ggregd
ggregd

@nickharvey86 There are no wizard men in the books. The original wizard character that flung fireballs and lightning didn't fit with the lore at all. Gandalf (who isn't human) didn't even do things like that much less a man. Tolkein Holdings or whatever the estate is called probably cried foul and made them change it. BTW that's why I personally have a hard time taking them seriously when they talk about being faithful to the books.

nickharvey86
nickharvey86

I saw this game at PAX last year being played I watched the demo of it twice, and the game play for it was fairly solid. However, they had an elven ranger, human wizard, and dwarf warrior... So does the character load out change each time? or did they just redo the characters.

djwood84
djwood84

@docsmiley Amazing when expressing your point of view gets you flagged. I would love for this game to be good, but anyone with a brain should be very hesitant to get excited about a LoTR game. They have been with very few exceptions very poor games indeed. A dead cow being milked? I couldn't agree more.

Andy9Beans
Andy9Beans

@warhawk-geeby Definitely, The Two Towers was a wicked game!

warhawk-geeby
warhawk-geeby

LOTR has such potential to make a brilliant RPG.. Especially if done in the style of Oblivion. Shame all the games coming out seem kinda naff. The two towers on the PS2 and Xbox was quality, since then I haven't played anything worthwhile. Meh.

bushkav
bushkav

The narrator on the vid is a living joke.

DeadManRollin
DeadManRollin

Doesn't sound too convincing...they can still make a proper game based on the Fellowship