When I was younger the one RPG that I loved to play with my friends was Champions of Norath. There was nothing better than working together to defeat the difficult bosses and collecting all of the different items; there was always a hidden competition as to who could hoard the best stuff. So when Snowblind Studios released a Lord of the Rings RPG, we knew that we had to once again leap into the realms of fantasy, kicking Orc-arse as we go.
Lord of the Rings, War in the North is the newest role playing game set in the Lord of the Rings universe. The story follows three new characters in their quest to save the North from the hands of Sauron and his minions. Like the film, the game unites man with dwarf and elf, but you won’t find no Aragorn, Gimli or Legolas here. The trio consists of Eradan, the Human Dunedain Ranger, Farin, the Dwarf Champion and Andriel, the Elf Loremaster who is versed in the ways of magic. Upon finding out that the North is in Danger from Sauron the trio head on various missions to familiar and new locations to stop this advancing evil. The game brings in different aspects of Middle Earth where players will face dragons, fly eagles and kill goblins to their hearts content.
Besides the new setting and characters this is still a Lord of the Rings game so, of course, hardcore fans will recognize references and characters from both the books and the films. The War in the North includes some interesting conversations with popular characters as well as trips to recognizable locations in the Lord of the Rings universe. Yet it does so whilst maintaining its own structure and story line and the new characters are made interesting enough to encourage players to try and investigate these new additions to Middle Earth. This can be achieved through dialect with NPC’s found around the world. Taking the time to speak to as many people as possible is in itself rewarding, as different dialects for the three playable characters show individual relationships that other characters can’t posses. Talking to Gimli from the Dwarf’s or Elf’s perspective is a particularly interesting and entertaining experience.
The combat works in the same way as most action RPG’s, X is the light attack while Y reserved for heavy attacks. The simplicity to the combat, however, is made richer by the talent system that each character possesses. Different moves and passive skills can be unlocked and upgraded by gaining levels and there is enough variety of skills to keep the combat both interesting and challenging at the same time. Different enemies may be brought down with ease using a certain, more appropriate, set of skills. Enemies will also fall victim to the players finishing moves that occur when a heavy attack is used on an enemy with diminished health; these moves slow the camera to see the player hack or slash the foes limbs sending them flying back to Mount Doom.
After the initial challenge of the game during the first play through, the difficulty of a second play through lets itself down. Once I ventured onto legendary difficulty and decided to give Farin a run for his money I discovered that one of his crossbow moves could cripple every foe that I came across. Swarms which overran me in the past became minor annoyances that could be blasted away with ease. Bosses who I had previously taken the time to slowly chip away at their health were just bigger targets for my badass-crossbow. However, the game was still fun to play even on the second go and the crossbow served as a fantastic backup for those hairy situations.
Snowblind have done something very special with this latest Lord of the Rings installment and created an immersive storyline with characters that are just as interesting as the fellowship. By the end of the game you have a vested interest in what’s happening and it almost makes you forget that there are bigger problems in Middle Earth other than your little quest. From now on, when I watch the films or read the books, I’ll always have this new trio in the back of my mind. For me, they have quickly become the unsung-heroes of Middle Earth. Any game that can add more depth to an already incredibly detailed world is well worth a play through or two in my books.