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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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alireza74

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this is so great to play another LOTR game because I love the movie so I love the games of lotr

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jokerman_28

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this will be awesome. i've been wanting to play a good LOTR game

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Karnage108

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Game sounds really cool. Even better than 3 player co-op would be playing with the entire Fellowship :D Although it doesn't look like they're using any particular characters.

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mariostar0001

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@Chris_Watters I like it when the editors read the comments, it lets you know your opinion gets something done someplace. (If only it worked in politics. :P) It looks better now. :D

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colo734

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Looks brutal

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atrofiado

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what about the Prrrreeeciious?

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BaOK-8

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I want.

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Dan7aylor

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@mardinn, well seeing as its not out for another year, i doubt it would be a good idea for them to show a half complete game with bugs, low texture quality etc etc.

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ThePurpleBubble

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@Chronous Indeed... if someone could handle the movies or, heck, even the books (or even really read the books for that matter ;) ) they could probably handle dismembering some orcs. (I'll admit, I'm one of those people that doesn't think blood and dismemberment automatically makes a good game... It is, however, required when a certain level of grittiness and brutality needs to be captured - such as for a LotR game that takes place in some of the more nasty places of Middle-Earth.) I'm glad that there is two-player split-screen, if only because it's proof that that aspect of multiplayer gaming is still breathing, if just barely. (Hopefully, though, it won't be like Borderlands splitscreen: "ha, you want to play split-screen? Alright, we're literally going to slice your screen in half... deal with it!")

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Darth_Pietrus

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Wow this could just be the game Ive been waiting like forever for!

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TheVGamer

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Finally, LotR game that isn't tie-in movie (yes I know that online game)! This could be interesting if it's a real RPG, because they already have excellent setting and thats hard to make.

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nikniklol

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3 man co-op awesome no i can get to play 2 of my friend at once and not just 1 like in the conquest

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Davo-C

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I'm so glad EA doesn't have the licence to LOTR anymore.

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Chronous

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Since I'm obsessed with LOTR I'll be pre-ordering this whenever available. At last they made it an *M* rated LOTR game. They need to realise that the gaming audience is mature enough to handle some blood.

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cpinheiro2

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I'm not buyin' that.

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IncipitOmega

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If I can't play on the evil side I aint buying... -.-

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Jajathinx

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is that online co-op or slipt screen?

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Gelugon_baat

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Heh-heh, at this moment of writing, the article has been pulled away a bit for correction. Anyway, sweet stuff. Tolkien left plenty of gaps in his saga, with plenty of room for interpretations of all sorts despite his epic attention to detail, so here's looking forward to whole slews of interesting Tolkien-based games.

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Jajathinx

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Looks like a big improvement on the last couple of games. I hope it is as good as it looks.

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jasper-ah-

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always loved evey thing about LOTR... movies, books, strategy games, and now this game.

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mardinn

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Stop with the CGI trailers, show me a real gameplay trailer. I don't want to be fooled like LOTR :Conquest..

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raichou

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BFME 2 campaign at ground zero! awesome~

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Seto_Akari

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Looking forward to this LOTR game.

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green_dominator

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A LOTR game based on the books and films but not set directly in the same struggle, it sounds like this will go far........

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uglypinkmoose

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@Soulk slowing time in action RPG's has been around forever.... making it into a bubble isn't such a genius idea that you should accuse games of copying each other... bubble effects have been around forever as well... so in the end neither idea was original

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manman64

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This should be very cool.

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Soulk

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@Fancelot You do know that the "who copied who" is endless, so drop this kind of argument since this is not the point. Its unquestionable that games like D3 and SC2 influence games even if they are still in the works, and the bublle to stop incoming missiles is obvious where it came from. This game looks promising, that is just a comment. And dont make assumptions when other ppl are born, since chances are im way older than you and play games even before you born. Drop this crap argument. @uglypinkmoose Just tell me an action rpg where a bubble slow time of incoming missiles and monsters

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Soulk

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

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woonsa

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Following!

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robbieeeeee

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Exciting.

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starduke

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Finally, an M rated Lord of the Rings game. I'm actually going to be a able to use an axe and actually have it work like an axe!

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starduke

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Looks cool.

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Saerain

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I'm fine with the skills essentially being locked into each character, but we had damn well better be able to customize the gender and appearance of our character in a bloody RPG.

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Gigas_Yuu

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The music is abysmal. Oh my gosh- I am so sad at the music. This game had so much potential.

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ciava13

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Looks amazing. Reminds me a bit of Oblivion.

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UACmarine2O8

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Can't bloody wait!

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Theamazing55

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Depends on if it's linear (like Too Human) or nonlinear ( like Mass Effect)

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acerpg007

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I'll watch out for this one.. more updates!!

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zymbo

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Kinda reminds me of Demon Stone. Cool beans.

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atc-fanatic

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i would love another lotr rts. lotr2 on the 360 was my fav rts on the 360.

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Twin-Blade

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Sort of annoyed that there are only the 3 classes, but I play the Warrior class normally, & I like Dwarves, so no big deal.

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aldahya

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cool i like it

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Pajamasammi

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Snowblind made the Champions of Norrath and Champions: RTA games, which were alright, but I wonder if they can take a huge game like LotR and make it shine.

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therealeu

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Elven archer, dwarven warrior and human mage... I know this is LotR, but that is so generic sounding I lost interest.

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params7

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alec_mcg

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typo, last paragraph lol. 'The War of the Ring is a pretty rich with story(...)" sounds kinda cool, although I've never been a fan of AI co-op partners.

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Chris_Watters

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@Np_Pro We all have our nerd niches here. I claim the LOTR nerd mantle and have thusly corrected all misspellings of Mirkwood. Good lookin' out to you, @Sova_Reaper, @ThePurpleBubble, @mariostar0001, @reckeweg, and @FallenAngelXBL. Honorary mentions to @balrogthane for his curiosity about a mysterious new forest and @Franko_3 for his own delightful misspelling. @couchtater12345 is stripped of his pointing-it-out props for asserting that a spelling error indicates a total lack of knowledge about a subject. You think Gimli knew how to spell "Galadriel"? Doubtful. But he still wrote a killer article for DwarfSpot titled, "The Lady of the Wood First Impressions."

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organbank

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I really hope this turns out well. Can't wait for a decent co-op ARPG for consoles.

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vadagar1

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looks cool but, only 3 characters !! hmmm well can't we have a human ranger or warrior or something :P. anyway it looks good but I wonder how much depth is in it, both story wise and skill combat engagement wise, o well we have to wait and see.

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-Elementalist

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@Fancelot - True in some ways. Most fiction I read actually has elves shorter than humans. That's one of the few things I've always thought rather interesting/odd about Tolkien literature. Snow White dwarves aren't really that far off from Tolkien, if you think about it. They're more like the nerds of the Dwarf Clans. :)

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