Guest Author - James Shea
Lord of the Rings: War in the North - PC
An action-RPG designed for cooperative play, "Lord of the Rings: War in the North" takes place in Tolkien's famous setting, but delivers little in terms of gameplay.
"War in the North" is an action game with three characters: a human ranger, an elven loremaster, and a dwarven warrior. These characters are a separate party of adventurers aiding the war against Sauron by fighting his minions in the north. Story-wise, this is hardly new for a LOTR licensed game (as most of them use the exact same "you're helping somewhere else" plot thread), and the connections to LOTR are so vague that it might as well be a new fantasy universe. The characters are stereotypical and the story's not particularly interesting, so getting into the actual "role-playing" element of the game is an unnecessary chore.
The game's three characters (the ranger, the loremaster, and the warrior) correspond to three general combat roles: the fast archer, the spellcaster, and the front-line damage sponge. The game's RPG elements manifest as stats (strength, agility, stamina, and willpower) and talent trees for each of the characters. The talent trees allow for learning new moves and providing bonuses, but they're fairly limited. There's three trees per character, and each has relatively simple upgrade options such as "do more damage with two-handed weapons" or "increase recovery time of an ability". It's not exactly an in-depth RPG system, since it's mostly just there to serve as a background element to the action. Rather, the abilities are just used periodically in between sword-swinging or spell-shooting.
The game's action is okay, but not great. It's pretty standard fare; in melee, characters can execute light attacks, heavy attacks, blocks, and evasive rolls, while ranged combat is a simple point-and-shoot affair. Using abilities is a matter of hitting number keys during combat. Each character has a maximum of three melee and three ranged abilities. The 4 key is a context-sensitive command, while 5 and 6 are for healing and magic potions, respectively. The controls are tolerable, but not particularly responsive or exciting. Enemies tend to come at you in boring mobs, and while they do at least put up a bit of a fight instead of letting you trounce them easily they're just not very exciting to fight. The boss fights are a bit better, since you have to evade their blows and strike when they're weak, but the combat system just doesn't handle that well and even some of the better bosses just felt slow and boring.
The biggest problem with "War in the North" is that it's just not really exciting or distinctive. The story's the same as every other LOTR game that's not about the Fellowship. The characters aren't customizable enough to be enjoyable, but aren't developed enough to be interesting. The gameplay is tolerable, but not particularly responsive or deep. "War in the North" is a LOTR action-RPG, and that's about it. If you want to play an action-RPG set in the Lord of the Rings universe, then it's a game you can probably tolerate. It's not excellent in any sense of the word, but it's not exactly broken or awful either. It's a mediocre game experience that's really just not worth the money. 4/10.
We purchased Lord of the Rings War in the North with our own funds.