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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True_Chaos_UK

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Sounds really good just just hope the AI for single player is up to scratch.

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mdboomer

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Is it just me or does Ryan seem uninterested with the interview?

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100proofsoco

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Well I stand corrected, I was under the impression that Gandalf and Saruman were humans. My bad.

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DamnedApples

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@dutchgamer83 Gandalf was a Maia (yes I'm a nerd) which is a sort of minor deity. Tom Bombadil wasn't human either. Radaghast (definitely spelling it wrong) the Brown was also a Maia. Tolkien derived a lot of his material from Norse mythology which sort of explains why many of the his characters had inhuman elements. Sauron was an Elf. Notice how Gandalf and most rest of the nonhuman characters left for the Grey Havens at the end, and the all the "humans" stayed behind. That being said, Tolkien didn't omit the possibility of human wizards, although anybody who was depicted as having the slightest bit of magical ability weren't human.

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Son_of_Bane

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Let's not forget people that the developper said that it wasn't a mage but a loremaster. And like we all know we haven't heard of any other loremaster in the lords of the ring saga, so that doesn't mean that if you never heard of it that it doesn't excist. @dutchgamer83 Gandalf was a lesser god, called a maiar, who had to take a human form, ordered by the valar (=upper gods), so people would trust him more.

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assasinaaron

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The wizards in LOTR weren't human. They were Istari, from across the sea in the undying lands. A branch of the maior, much like elves but a higher race. They were sent as helpers. He's reading the right books, What books are you reading 100proofsoco?

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GamerLegend10

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sounds really promising, i had return of the king on the original xbox which i found really good at the time.

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Son_of_Bane

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@100proofsoco Well actually he is right mate. Wizards aren't humans, they are lesser gods, Maiar if I'm right, which had to take a human body to wander on earth so people would trust them more than they would in their godly form. The only difference between humans and wizards are that they age considerably slower, but all the rest is the same like normal humans, they can die due to diseases, wounds, ....

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GamerLegend10

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JRR Tolkien is a genius in a way (of writing that is)

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GunGriffin

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It's nice too see good RPG titles without guns for those fans who hate the ones with. (I love ME2 on my PC thank you, and I loved ME1 on my Xbox360) So it's nice too see western developers fighting back on the RPG front with true RPGs. I tend to agree with Bioware FF13 was not an RPG there was never a connection with the charicter you controlled. Instead it was more of an advature platformer with RPG elements on top. (Not that it was a bad thing, but calling it an RPG is pointless when the biggest draw to RPGs is that you make your own history, person, and representation of your self in the game first and then have at it in the games world) I use the stock face in ME1/2 because I like it (The one from the vids and stuff), but often I change the history, and first name too suit my personality so it's still a personal thing for me, I also often change the class I play as well. In FF you can't do anything like that. But Back on Topic looks great! I hope it runs great on all platforms!

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100proofsoco

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"The wizards in LOTR arent even human" What books were you reading!?

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SirSpoon84

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well, heres to hoping it will turn out good

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dutchgamer83

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@ Jerler: Wasn't Gandal a wizzard and wasn't he human? Game looks nice, hope its more than just looking but will be nice to play aswell.

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King-And-Knight

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great

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loggens

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Sweet..cant wait.. JRR Tolkien IS a Genius lol

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Arrancar6

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A dwarf that cant beat a cave troll?! What madness is this?

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FallenAngelXBL

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How can you mispell Mirkwood? lol :P Proof read much GS? Anyhoo, looks interesting.

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47gunner

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lets wait for a real time trailer.

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q8360

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Finally a Lotr gory bloody game

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Kos1c

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The last LOTR game wasn't that impressive, the controls were abit boring to play, the game play it's self seemed pretty locked to a simple path, so open exploring. This game doesn't have much to show right of now, so i think i'll pass on this.

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shasta588

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looks really good but when they said co-op arpg I was hoping for something my along the lines of the open endedness of oblivion with co-op in lotr universe. it sounds like this is gonna be a lot more linear. also I don't like how the certain species are linked to certain classes. I mean what if I want to be a human archer or a dwarf wizard? (which by the way in the original books wizards were their own species) what they should've done is given you bonuses for playing a certain species with a certain class but don't make it completely limeted. other than that it looks awesome, I love how it has blood and such.

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reckeweg

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It's actually spelled Mirkwood. I hope you get to fend off against the spiders in the forrest and the wood elves. That would be sweet.

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businessfox

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oh great!, another one..,. I hope this one is actually good this time around.

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Franko_3

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There is like 5 wizards in Tolkien world and in this game you can play as a human wizard??? That's stupid, so many other way to add a human race... Also it's Myrkwood, not Murkwood...

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me4656

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Made up characters but you cant choose what they are (as in wizard, ranger, knight or whatever)?Pass...

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bowlingotter

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I'm not a big LOTR buff, but that trailer looks pretty badass

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Juki1

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wowwwwwwww :D

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nevershoutnevea

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i can't wait for this..it looks like Dragon age

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ironcreed

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Champions of Norrath + LotR = gold. Cannot wait.

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iikefkaii

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yea, looks good. I agree with Ricardo though, I hope it has plenty of customizations & deep character development.

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mariostar0001

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IT'S MIRKWOOD! NOT MURKWOOD! Also, I hope the wizard is Radagast, I liked him even if you barely ever saw him.

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Brazucass

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I didnt get it, he said the word "coop" many times but didnt explain if will be single, multi player or both.

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H3ad0ff

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looks cool

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The_Pc-Gamer

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it looks very good so far, and i have the most of the games.

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Leffe_sweden

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Will there ever be a good LOTR game again or are the good studios done with the franchise? :/

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Balmane

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I'm liking this.

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mats94

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Holy s**t :O If they can fulfill their promises I`m sold!

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snes_vs_ps1

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CRAPtastic

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daveversion1

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Looking good so far.

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