The adventures of Frodo and Co. are all well and good, but what was happening in northern Middle-Earth while he was taking his epic journey south? It’s a question that’s forever plagued us, and thankfully Lord of the Rings: War in the North is now here to answer it in the form of a co-op action-RPG! Hooray!
Unfortunately, the answers that War in the North initially offers aren't that interesting. Poor production values plague every aspect of the game, from the drabness of the levels through to the puppet-like gawping of the predictable range of characters. You've got a choice between Farin the Dwarven warrior, Aldriel the Elven mage and Eradan the human Ranger - do we really need to explain the specialties?
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Matters don't improve on closer inspection either, with dreary sound effects leading into writing that's more tragic than Tolkien-esque. The conversation options made available to you rarely deviate from 'Yes, I will fetch you X of Y' or 'No, I won't' for the first few hours and, while more defining choices are offered later, they don't really bring much in the way of consequence.
Dialogue and character development clearly aren't the War in the North’s main concern then, which is strange given the promise that it will shed new light on an under-developed part of Lord of the Rings lore. All you need to know is there’s a war, it’s in the North, and you’re in it to win it.
Unfortunately for a game in which fighting is key, initial impressions of combat aren't great either. With one button for light attack, one for heavy and another for block, the first few battles are dull, button-bashing affairs. The combat system also isn't helped by some shocking collision detection, with allies, foes, weapons and limbs all occupying the same space far too frequently.
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However, as experience is earned and levels gained, more skills become available and the game becomes more interesting. Add to this the introduction of the great eagle, Beleram, who appears in a supporting capacity, and memories of the uninspired start begin to fade as War in the North elevates itself to a level of competence.
Still, even at its best, War in the North struggles to be anything more than average and the nicest compliments we can pay to the graphics are that the game offers stable frame rates and mediocre visuals. Like the game itself, the graphics don't hold up well to much scrutiny, but they compensate in terms of scale; dismembered limbs fly through the air and blood flows freely in the most violent Lord of the Rings game yet.
It’s not quite Ninja Gaiden 2, but the amount of gore on display makes battles feel that bit more brutal. It’s a pity the enemy corpses and scattered limbs disappear so quickly, robbing you of the chance to properly revel in the bloody massacres.