Lord of the Rings: War in the North

3.5 Overall Score

It functions as a video game and a test of patience

Just about everything. Monotonous campaign, bland gameplay, absurd amounts of repetition

Written by on November 23, 2011 in [, , , ]

So let’s talk about Lord of the Rings: War in the North. And by that I mean let’s talk about college. Because that’s what this game reminds me of.

See, during my undergraduate years my roommate pat had a PS2, and every year he’d get a pile of Spider-man and Lord of the Rings games to play between his huge projects. I’d hang out with whatever 19th century dead white man I was reading at the time and watch him plow through those mediocre games the same way he approached a textbook on brick. And it’s pretty much every bad bit of those games that comes back to me in War in the North.

The game starts out like a bad LOTR fanfic; your band of brave (and utterly unknown until now) adventurers meets Aragorn as you totally have this secret mission to go on, and the Nine are moving against the Shire, and its up to you to save all of the hobbits! Really. Even digital Aragorn looks embarrassed to be here.

Beyond the kind of horrific writing, the game is just not that good. You pick one of three characters: a human ranger (like Aragorn only more aryan, he’s your jack of all trades) an elf wizard (some attack, healing, and debuff spells) and a dwarf (he has a beard and hits things with axes, clearly). These characters are generic as anything, but that can be fine. Skyrim’s been immensely successful with the same plot of questing to stop a big nebulous bad guy that’s been in basically every fantasy game ever. The problem is the implementation of these characters.

War in the North functions the same way just about any character action game does. There are dudes, you run at them and fight them. But War in the North stands out for making some of the most repetitive, boring combat I’ve seen this generation. Your characters effectively have two attacks. You can mash X for a quick attack, or mash Y for heavy attacks. You can also fire arrows (or a crossbow. Or magic..something? I don’t know). Skill trees will unlock some other abilities, but they tend to be buffs/debuffs or 1-off special attacks, so most of your combat is mash the button until the other guy falls over. Occasionally an indicator will pop up to let you kill a weakened enemy extra-much, in a Peter Jackson-inspired splash of gore. This will key off a combo counter that leads to an experience bonus, and that sounds great, except it’s the same mashy combat. If anything the combo system makes it worse, as you’re punished for not guiding your clunky character around perfectly and not aiming appropriately at the horde of dudes you need to mash X at.

Bland combat is forgivable in other titles. We’re ok with the Fallout games generally turning into “hit VATS and click the head four to nine times,” but that’s because the environments are interesting and the story is (usually) compelling. War in the North offers none of that in favor of even more bland combat. There are about four types of enemy in the game, and by the midpoint of chapter one’s two-dozen sections you’re familiar with all of them. These will be reskinned later (goblins and orc become various kinds of undead, then…well, goblins and orcs again) but all behave identically. The big issue is every single encounter seems to go on for about two to three waves longer than necessary, and the game’s idea of a tougher encounter is one that’s simply unfair. No, Lord of the Rings: War in the North, it is not cool for your turret gunner to shoot me in the back while I’m trying to kill three bad guys and dodge roll out of the way of your suicide bomber guy. Also, what’s up with the suicide bomber guys and turrets?

This is perhaps the weirdest element of War in the North, is the sheer number of concepts it seems to directly ape from Gears of War and other, similar games. The problem is you have a gun in Gears. For example, the suicide bombers will die in a single shot from your ranged weapon, but they will close to you and explode in roughly 2/3s the time it takes to draw your ranged weapon and fire, and the AI doesn’t prioritize this enemy. When downed your guy will crawl around, which means (in a shooter) you can get behind a wall and be revived. Here it means the (entirely melee focused) army will just follow slowly behind you. A turret will always mean you need to commandeer it to hold off wave after wave (after wave…) of bad guys. As maybe 3% of these guys shoot back it’s just a matter of slowly shooting all of these guys apart as they run towards you.

I could keep going with these issues, and the way way none of the components of the game seem to go together (the weapon and armor degrade, for example, but it’s meaningless as you always upgrade equipment before your current stuff breaks), but at the end of the day it’s just saying the same thing. Lord of the Rings: War in the North isn’t a very good game, and you probably shouldn’t play it. There are better co-op experiences out there. Playing with friends does compensate for the idiotic AI, but not the poor mechanics, and I can name six titles this year alone that do drop-in co-op better. There are also better single player experiences out there, and there are simply better games out now. War in the North feels like a ported PS2 title, and that’s simply inexcusable when you compare it to the holiday release list we’re looking at this year.

A copy of Lord of the Rings: War in the North was provided to The Married Gamers for review.


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Author: Zach Snell View all posts by
Hi there. If you're reading this you've probably read some material of mine. If you want more go here and read my stories about a guy who punches wizards. http://www.amazon.com/Zachary-Snell/e/B008G0MORI/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

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