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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ivanfred

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I simply cannot wait for this game to be released. 2011 seems like a decade away.

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cloudy14

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If the film-based ones are anything to go by then im sold

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Superzone

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I really want this to be good.

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Fancelot

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@Soulk You do know right that a lot of the spells/abilities from Diablo or Warcraft series is heavily influenced by D&D (cone of cold/fireball/charm/etc are exact same name as D&D spells). Blizzard's games are also heavily influenced by the Warhammer Fantasy series which has been in existence since the 1980s. Both Warhammer and D&D ultimately are influenced by JRR Tolkien's works. One can argue JRR Tolkien himself was influenced by previous mythological stories/tales, etc , but I think most agree that Tolkien was mainly responsible for fleshing out the fantasy genre; his image of orcs/goblins/elves/dwarves/etc are what is considered canon till this very day. (we think tolkien tall slender elves instead of santa elves, tolkien tough sturdy dwarves instead of snow white dwarves, etc, etc) Seriously though, people born after the year 2000 should really stop posting...

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Np_Pro

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Murkwood...i thought a video game site would have some decent nerd editors. Apparently not...

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soapman72

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Oh it is on the 360 YES!

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Hunt270

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Looks Great. Hope it's good. Past LotR games have been terrible.

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Dan21278

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@Sanligo What are you telling me?! Are you saying that they are making a family oriented LOTR game?!?!? say it ain't so!

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Sanligo

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@ Dan21278 You won't have to imagine just how bad a "family oriented" LoTR would be when Aragorn's Quest comes out. You'll be able to experience it firsthand.

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nitsud_19

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@ Soulk Without LotR, no Diablo... "funny thing" that you don't realize that.

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uglypinkmoose

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@Soulk lol stuff like that has been around forever dude... play more coop RPG's

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uglypinkmoose

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seems pretty interesting.... bloody lotr would be nice ;P

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Dan21278

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@ ironcreed LOTR is a dark and brutal fantasy. You're right about that. I can't imagine LOTR being "family oriented". Just think how bad that would be lol

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thequickshooter

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well it looks nice and all but thier is no real story based on its like a fake but i my can enjoy it

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PKA34000

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No Hobit thats to bad well anyway looks good so far cant wait to see more at E3

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Dan21278

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hmmmm..... I don't like the fact that they created their own characters they should have read and researched ALL three books and took characters from there.They should know the source material like the back of their own hand BEFORE they even think about making a game. I understand trying to put your own spin the game BUT I feel that the developers should stay true to the franchise. Looks good but now I'm worried...

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Kats_RK

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Sounds good to me ;)

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Soulk

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The buble wizard spell, the health and mana globes, seems Diablo 3 is influencing games even before launch. The funny thing is ppl will play this game first, and when D3 launch, say it copied lololol

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DarkFantom1

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Looks cool but I hope the co op is good and it doesn't mess up the gameplay like in other games.

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couchtater12345

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sova_reaper I was thinking the exact same thing. So much for knowing anything about LOTR

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Barighm

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Please play like Champions of Norrath...Snowblind, only you have that power...

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Sova_Reaper

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Please tell me I didn't actually just read an article about The Lord of the Rings in which Mirkwood was spelled incorrectly every single time it was used. The difficulty with the LOTR license is the fact that there were only five wizards in the world. It doesn't gel with the source material at all to allow playable wizards (unless they're actually one of the five Istari Tolkien invented) but how can you have a fantasy game of any kind without having a magic-based character?

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smoman5000

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sounds good, im gonna keep an eye on this release, hopefully theres offline co-op.

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pakhair

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

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pakhair

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Its looking interesting but i want to see more of it!

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centuryslayer

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looks cool judging from cgi. I hope dismemberment is in the game as well! :D chop chop! and I would prefer if I could choose my race and class independently. though I'm amazed that it's not the elf that is a mage :0

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ThePurpleBubble

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@balrogthane I was just wondering if I was the only one who noticed that... First time it appeared, I figured it was a typo... but what are the odds of making the same typo... twice?

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SuperMegaMaster

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Great news!!! LOTR with blood and gore..Hell yeah!!

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monktheking

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Trailer looks awesome. I just hope the game will accomodate single player action as well. I hate being forced to adventure with others.

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aaronfhff123

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I JUST SAW GORE AND BLOOD! Now I am gonna cross my fingers that it is not just the cut scenes that show blood and gore but the ACTUAL GAMEPLAY!

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aaronfhff123

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The thing i never liked about the LOTR games was slashing enemies felt like i wasn't even slashing them at all because there is no flesh wounds or blood...WHY THE F NOT?????

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legolas95

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Looks awesome, cant wait!

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dkdk999

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im sure it will have same tv coop.

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wavelength121

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AGAIN with this crap? The movies ended, like, five years ago.

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Phaze2

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If it has Split-Screen co op, i'll buy it. If it doesn't...well, i'll probably still get it. Im a sucker for anything LOTR

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ElderonWise

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@SniperFire 17 Lol, yeah I am a LOTR fan, shameful I know. :D But 2011 is supposed to be when it is released, The Hobbit Movie that is, part 1. Only issue is, Del Torro has actually left the Directors Chair as he cannot commit to a life in New Zealand, but will help to write the scripts. As for peter Jackson as the Producer, maybe we will get another Jackson styled prequel to LOTR :). P.S. Damn you for thumbs downing my comment! Took me ages to write that! Lol :)

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ironcreed

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It appears that this will be in traditional third person instead of top down like Champions of Norrath. As much as I love Champions, this is a welcome change. I also love it that it is firmly dark and brutal fantasy. Which is what Lord of the Rings should be like, in my opinion.

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thestrateger

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mdboomer, Yeah, you're totally right. It was really weird to see him interviewed. :)

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SniperFire17

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Thumbs down @Elderonwise for knowing all that stuff omg...lol. But the game looks sweet and we definitely need more co-op games! but 2011? this is depressing... Maybe "The Hobbit" movie will be announced soon also?

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Liam-1992-2006

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This intrigues me but I want to learn more. Is it like Dragon age or more elder scrolls like. Ill definitely keep an eye on it.

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mr3bdulla

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i wonder if this will work on consoles

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RoOodriGowW

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Wow that looked gorgeus , didn't see this game coming , can't wait for it. :D

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Oyeboy94

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@ DamnedApples I've read the book and didn't even realize Gandalf wasn't human. It did mention it in the books right? Since he's a "lesser god" it explains how he came back though.

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ElderonWise

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By the way, that claim of all the "humans" staying behind is technically wrong. Even after they had left The Grey Havens for the West, Gimli and Legolas remained in middle-earth for quite a long time, before escaping into the West. I imagine the other 2 Maiar, Alatar and Pallando, the blue wizards, who were never really explained in any of Tolkien's writings, remained in the East of Middle Earth. So technically the Age Of Humans was not what it should have been :).

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ElderonWise

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It is Radagast The Brown :). Yes Gandalf, Saruman and Radagast were 3 of 5 Maiar. They are demi-gods as such. The other 2 wizards went into the east and never mentioned a lot of in Tolkien's writings. Tom Bombadil is ancient. We do not know what he was. He was not of any race. He has magical abilities though, so at a guess, we may guess that he is actually his own race. The most unique of all characters. He remembered the first raindrop, and when the first acorn fell. He is not affected by The One Ring, but he would of course, be affected by Sauron if he regained full power. Despite all that though he doesn't seem to care. He holds great power and possibly powerful magic. Ancient in every manner and Tolkien refers to him as the 'Eldest' and the 'Master'. There is speculation that he may be one of the most powerful beings of Middle-Earth, even more powerful than the Maiar, a possible Ainur. Ainur are the spirits or forms of Eru Illuvitar/God. If not, he may actually a unknown and powerful Maiar. I would say nature spirit though as he has very unique characteristics, and as Gandalf and the other members of The Council Of Elrond highly respect him, I would say he is actually some race Tolkien never wanted us to believe. I myself, am looking forward to this game, and am now wondering if we will see Ents in this.

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balrogthane

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I'm really glad to hear about the all-new forest they've created, Murkwood. I wonder if it's anything like Mirkwood.

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ketchup_addict

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I really hope they don't screw the franchise up like Pandemic did with conquest, Lord of the Rings is THE original fantasy and to see it in terrible games is just depressing.

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Oyeboy94

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When he said 2011 release date. Shaun looked like, "Thank you captain obvious..."

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naruto_myc

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tl;dr But it looks good enough

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fetusfart18

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Oh god this looks awesome. Finally, M rated. The movies could have been easily rated R if only for the battles alone. The battles in the books depicted scenes of complete violence, but in the movies Orcs got slashed on their armor and died.

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