The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is an action-RPG developed by Snowblind Studios. It is the untold story based on the occurrences that took forth in the northern regions of Middle-earth in the background of the main story of J. R. R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings, more specifically in Peter Jackson‘s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy universe. Gandalf himself said, “Middle-earth would have fallen without the bravery of a few heroes in the North.” You play as these heroes below,
Eradan son of Baranor is a Ranger of the North, part of the Dúnedain race that at the time of the War of the Ring could yet be found dwelling in the northwestern lands of Middle-earth. The life of a Ranger is difficult and trying, but it is one Eradan has lived for over thirty years, although that would be difficult for many to believe by looking at him, for like many of his kinsmen, he is older than he appears to be. The blood of Númenor runs strong in Eradan and he can trace his heritage back to knights who served Elendil the Tall while he was yet a lord of Númenor. Eradan is proud of his family’s long history of serving the Heirs of Elendil in spite of the fragmentation and destruction of their Kingdom of Arnor.
Andriel is a Lore-master of the house of Elrond Halfelven, one of those who keep alive the ancient arts and knowledge of the Eldar. She is a skilled healer and practitioner of arts that the unknowing would mistakenly call magic. In actuality, her powers and abilities stem from a keen understanding of the world and the powers that shape it. With this knowledge she is able to perceive and call upon forces that are hidden from others. From her youth, Andriel showed an affinity for such arts and was fortunate to have as her teacher Elrond, the greatest of the living Lore-masters.
Farin son of Norin is a Dwarf of Durin’s Folk, the Longbeards — eldest and most renowned Dwarven clan in Middle-earth. Although Farin makes his home in Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, he was born in the Iron Hills where many of the Longbeards lived in exile during the days when the dragon Smaug was master of Erebor. Farin was considered hardly more than a boy when word reached the Iron Hills that the Dwarf-lord, Thorin Oakenshield had regained Erebor and was in urgent need of his kin. In other circumstances, Farin would have been considered too young to go to war, but the need was great and so he became one of those who marched with Dáin Ironfoot and found themselves facing a host of Orcs and Wargs at the Battle of Five Armies.
Another mention of the events of the north was from Éomer – The third Marshal of Riddermark in The Two Towers. He said, “What doom do you bring out of the North?”
Well by the telling of this story, the doom was very real and very alarming, death and disaster was growing and marching, Middle-Earth was surely doomed. Agandaûr, a deadly Black Númenórean, a shadow, spoken of in whispers and fear, even among the powerful. Sauron’s top lieutenant & cruelest ally, that plays an important, yet still mysterious, role in the plans for bringing Middle-earth to its knees.
To start the game off, you pick one of three playable characters, Eradan, Andriel or Farin. I chose Eradan for my play-through, being more of the kind of style of character I relate towards. The game was built with a strong focus on co-op, you can play split screen with two players and connect up with others players online or via LAN. This is where the game I’m sure is the most rewarding, although I played offline with two AI controlled companions, which for the most part were okay substitute companions, but really to tell the honest truth, this is where my enjoyment was greatly downsized. By focusing on online co-op, the developers didn’t work hard enough on making smart and dependable AI companions for the gamers like myself that only play these type of games by our lonesome and we like it that way, we just do. The AI partners were most apparently unreliable in the crucial moments, rushing to revive you and dying in their attempt, but if they were smart enough to take out a few or all surrounding enemies, they would be able to revive me or the other AI without dying themselves. I played the game on normal difficulty and it proved harder because of the unreliable AI, I can’t imagine the harder difficulties, if you were to play alone without online help, a definitely flawed concept, which sadly plagues many games nowadays.
One instance in the game that really bothered me at one point was while defending a gate against multiple trolls, my AI companions would attack the orcs and other enemies instead of the main threat of the trolls and left me battling both trolls on my own, normally I loved fighting trolls, always was very fun fights, but not this battle. I had to tell my AI companions to defend, by pressing down on the d-pad, they would then come to my aid slowly, but then they still wouldn’t attack the trolls enough. Luckily on my tenth or so try I managed to finish the mission, with barely any help from my AI companions. Also, I got annoyed by the fact that the Dwarf had the least amount of kills by the end of the levels almost every time, of course I was guilty of mowing down the enemies before the dwarf would have the chance, especially the final blow attack that I would quickly initiate. What bothered me about that was that he is a dwarf, dwarves are known for their skill in battles and if Gimli is anyone to go by, dwarves are also known for their banter and bragging during battles and after battles. I guess, it bothered me that the dwarf Farin, seemed like a wuss in comparison to what I’ve come to know dwarves to be like. I mean on average per level, I would average 80 kills and the dwarf would average about 10. I know, if he hogged all the kills, then I wouldn’t get to enjoy battling as much, because they’re all dead, before I could get an attack in. But here’s were a shared kill or combined kill would be ideal. Imagine a tag-team attack if I may call it that, where the dwarf, elf or ranger teamed up for impressive combined attacks or finishers. I would have really been impressed by something like that, but the combat was pretty decent, a bit simple if I may say, needed to be more complex, the same attacks you do at the beginning of the game will be the same by the end of the game. The game needed more progression of the characters skills and move-sets.
However, I loved the cinematic finishers on the trolls, needed more of those on the other enemies though. Also the combat was poorly explained, I didn’t even realize there was an evade roll to get myself out of danger, until many hours into the game, as well I had to learn the block button on my own by just experimenting. I kept wishing for a counter attack tied into the block button, but I didn’t realize until after finishing the game and doing research for this review that there was in fact a counter attack. It wasn’t implemented with a button prompt or anything like I thought it would have been. It wasn’t obvious, it was set around a window of time after the enemy had bounced away from your blocked sword or shield or whatever you blocked with, you then land your counter attack in that time. Moreover I had to learn to press triangle when the yellow icon appears over an enemies head to trigger the final blow to the enemy in a brutal swing or stab that would dismember or bludgeon your opposition, you receive more experience points for this move, once again wasn’t explained either. Speaking of which, there was instances where the final blow attack wouldn’t register while the enemies lay on the ground, I would press triangle when the yellow icon appeared and I would stab them and nothing would happen, then the enemy would stagger back up for battle, it didn’t happen a lot, but was kinda annoying, when it did. I mentioned I played as the ranger Eradan, well the ranger’s evasion skill to go invisible wasn’t interesting to me, didn’t take advantage of it, not saying it’s a bad skill for those who master it, but it was unused by myself. I even told myself I would upgrade it and give it a try, but I just couldn’t give up upgrading my two-handed sword attack strength among other more beneficial skill upgrades available. Each character also has ranged attacks which they can use, Farin has a crossbow, Eradan has a bow and Andriel can cast ranged spells at enemies. I used my bow a lot when at a distance from enemies, instead of sprinting with R1 towards the enemies, I would stay back and let my arrows fly. I also finally figured out that if you hold down the arrows shot that it would power up and your shots would cause more damage, but stupid me, forgot about charging up my shots as I continued to play the game on another day and shot my arrows normally for the rest of the game. Each class also has a unique ability. The ranger Eradan’s ability was to locate Ranger’s Caches in secret locations. These caches are identified by a glowing blue symbol and generally contain armor and weapons that are slightly used. I didn’t play as the dwarf, however apparently the dwarf Farin can mine for gems which can be used for crafting purposes and he can also smash walls down where hidden treasure can be found. I didn’t play as the elven Loremaster Andriel either, but apparently she can cast a spell that would make walls in specific secret locations go translucent and you could then walk through them and receive the treasure chests or whatever was hidden within. She also can pick various kinds of plants and mushrooms, which she then uses to prepare magic potions or cakes with special properties. One thing this game did that some others in this chosen genre sometimes doesn’t do, was display your equipment when you equipped new armor or weapons and such. I really love to see my new threads or armor and all equipment I purchase or stumble across on my adventure. It gives a feeling of progressing throughout the game and strengthening the characters. One thing that bothered me though, was that you didn’t have an equipment menu for your AI companions. There was many times I would give a strong weapon to my companions and most of the time they would equip it. However I progress through the game just a little or turn the game off then play it later and they have all new equipment and weapons. I was told that they equip the strongest weapons for any given area on their own, but seriously how hard would it have been to give the player a menu for equipping, leveling up and allocating the skills of your AI companions, like DragonAge did? Also the boss fights were okay, but I wish they could have integrated a more ingenious method, like make the party work together to trap the boss while the others take advantage of the situation and dwindle down the boss’ health or like the boss’ of Zelda were you have to learn the routine of the battle and exploit the boss’ weakness.
The sound of the game was great, everything from the grunts, growls and snarls of the orcs and goblins to the hissing and scurrying of the spiders in Mirkwood. The atmosphere was creepy and menacing at times and the blaring sounds of the battle horns as you are discovered by the orc parties sounded authentic and you knew that the enemies were approaching swiftly and in great numbers. The voice acting was very well done, with Nolan North of Uncharted’s Nathan Drake fame fronting the voice actors with the voice of Eradan. Also Fred Tatasciore did an amazing job with the voice of Beleram, which he is best known for voicing the Hulk in multiple cartoon and video game series as well as voicing Saren from Mass Effect and Damon Baird in the Gears of War video game series, he also voiced the character “8” in the Tim Burton-produced film 9.
I also loved the feeling of weight and mass the trolls put off, when they would slam their clubs, the screen would shake and when they walked and ran you felt it. The graphics was very well done, sometimes I would stop and enjoy the scenery, wishing to explore the beautiful areas in the distance or marvel at the detail put into the great eagles or the trolls and the dragon. The graphics really were done great, even the beards on the dwarves or the detail in their muscular arms, the spiderweb clinging to Radagast’s beard, the details like that were done wonderfully.
Now onto the quests and therefore the disappearing quest glitches. Before you play this game, heed my advice. When you load your game, immediately quit out to the main menu and re-load it back up. The game for some reason glitches and makes quests you’ve already accepted disappear, side quests mostly, but the main quest has been very known for this especially later in the game for the main quest, messing up your save data permanently and will not let you finish the game. I luckily came across the double load fix by searching the internet about my side quests disappearing, before I messed my save data up myself. Speaking of glitches, although this was minor and in the category of graphical glitches, not game breaking glitches. There were times while in conversations, the camera would occasionally change angles and go inside the walls and environment and all you could see was the horrible view of broken polygons, then the view would revert back to the characters once the sentence would end. Like I said, a minor graphical glitch, but clearly one that shows some poor attention to detail when it came to the camera placements at times.
The story begins at The Prancing Pony, the heroes meet up with Aragorn and have a conversation that sets the gears in motion for the heroes foreboding and merciless journey into the North. The conversations play out similarly to Mass Effect although without the moral ramifications, the dialogue will normally present a few choices where the player can get the facts only, delve deeper into the lore or perhaps even get optional side quests. Also within the Prancing Pony was a character named Tedder Hedgerow, this hobbit has several riddles he randomly asks you, most of which are pretty easy. He’ll ask you up to five, and each one will have six answers to choose from. I found this to be a welcome sight for the beginning of the game, as well as an acknowledgement and a wink to The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings lore. It wouldn’t seem right to not be asked a riddle in your travels of Middle-Earth, if you ask me. Additionally within The Prancing Pony, there is a mirror near an NPC character named Rowlie (an NPC that needs help winning a girl’s heart) this mirror allows you to change your character’s appearance. It’s not a full-featured facial editor, but I didn’t like the way the developers made Eradan to look, so I gave him long brown hair and a thick brown beard, also made his face more aged and stern looking. You will also come across more mirrors on your journey, if you discover you dislike your choices.
Throughout your journey you will come across allies, two of which are Elladan and Elrohir, twin brothers, so alike that many cannot tell them apart. They are the sons of Elrond, born early in the Third Age and are therefore nearly three thousand years old. Elladan’s name means “Elf-Man” – a fitting name, for he and his brother are descended both of Elves and Men. As Peredhil, or Halfelven, these twin brothers could choose to remain on Middle-earth as a mortals or cross the sea to the Undying Lands as Elves. The brothers are skilled hunters and trackers who have ranged far across the lands of Middle-earth, often alongside the Rangers. They have a close friendship with Aragorn and often travel with him. They have been sent by Elrond to assist those who might help hold Agandaûr and his forces at bay.
Along with the ally Radagast, which is one of the Istari, or wizards, who came to Middle-earth with Gandalf, he is commonly known as Radagast the Brown. He settled in Mirkwood and rarely leaves his home of Rhosgobel. Radagast has formed strong friendships with birds and other beasts, especially the Great Eagles, affording him knowledge of the events transpiring beyond the boundaries of his home and refuge.
Furthermore, you will ally with Beleram and the Great Eagles. The most majestic creatures in all of Middle-earth. These noble beings live under the guidance of their King Gwaihir in eyries high atop the Misty Mountains. While the Great Eagles do not generally interfere with forces outside of their own realm, they have made rare exceptions in the name of honor and trust. Gandalf himself earned the friendship of these noble Eagles. Beleram, a warrior of the Great Eagles, comes to build a similar bond with Eradan, Andriel, and Farin as they drive North together to halt Agandaûr’s advances. His wise perspective, steadfast loyalty, and deadly force in combat are guiding beacons for our heroes as they venture ever further behind enemy lines.
I remember last year The Joker got 2011’s Character of the Year from Spike Video Game Awards, I still believe he deserves it, but I would nominate the Great Eagle Beleram as one of the nominees. I absolutely loved Beleram, he reminded me of what Sean Connery did with the Dragon in the Dragonheart movie. Beleram in my opinion is one of the best characters in any video game this decade, though his presence in the game wasn’t constant and he wasn’t in every cut-scene or conversation, he surely left an impact while he was involved within the terrific scenes and conversations he was in. I especially loved getting to call him in battle by using an eagle feather to summon him down on enemies, I even called him down on a crossbow turret once, but sending him to battle with the trolls was by far the coolest to watch and see him at his best.
As you venture further north, you will eventually come upon Rivendell and you will see familiar faces as in Gandalf, Elrond, Arwen, Frodo, Legolas, Gimli, Gloin, Bilbo and Aragorn once more. This part of the game I didn’t want to end, just being in the beautiful area of Rivendell surrounded by these beloved characters, it was very peaceful and like a dream.
Overall, I loved this game and by the end of it I was begging for more. Although it had it’s share of bugs and glitches and was hampered from the get go by the focus of co-op online play. I truly enjoyed this game and would recommend it to fans of the Lord of the Rings franchise. You could tell the developers loved the Lord of the Rings and tried their very best to represent it. Although I will echo what IGN said about the characters not being engaging enough and that in the movies and books the characters really grab your heart and if there is a death or if things seemed beyond hope for the characters as well as Middle-Earth then you felt it, you were stricken by the events and tragedies if they came to pass. Although you didn’t feel for these characters in that way, therefore they weren’t represented in the way that they should have been. I have to agree on that, it was unfortunately true and deserves a negative point in that regard. I also was dissatisfied with the ending, it just ended, no sum ups, no dancing on the table at the Prancing Pony by the hobbits and most of the characters you met on your adventure cheering along, singing and laughing. I mean come on, give us a little closure, at least let us return to Rivendell and get confirmation and congratulations from Elrond.
I give the game 7 drumsticks out of 10.
+ Closely true to the Lord of the Rings franchise
+ Beleram was a very memorable and awesome character
+ Story kept me engaged for the most part
+ Voice acting and graphics were handled very well
- The three main characters were not engaging, no attachment at all
- Bugs & Glitches, even game breaking ones, not good
- Ending didn’t sum up enough, just ends
- The focus on online co-op sadly hampered the game in many ways for the solo player gamer
Release Date: November 1, 2011 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 & PC.