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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Preview: The Lord of the Rings - War in the North

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North (2011)
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Platform: Personal Computer
Induction Date: 11/01/2011

I didn't pay much attention to The Lord of the Rings: War in the North during its development phase because it looked like another generic LotR action game like the ones released by Electronic Arts during the height of the movie franchise's hype. A couple of weeks ago, I found out that the game was actually being developed by Snowblind Studios who were responsible for the outstanding Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and the Norrath-inspired dungeon crawlers I have played on the PlayStation 2 and my excitement level went up. The game could have opted for the top down view similar to all of their past action role playing games but with War in the North, the developer is opting for a more stylish and modern presentation while keeping true to the familiar mechanics that has made their former games quite addicting to play.

It's time to hate on all things orcs and goblins all over again.

The game's story is a separate tale that occurs concurrently to the events in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and this is of course, a great thing as it brings with it a fresh perspective into something that most of us are probably very familiar with at this point in time thanks to those epic movies by Peter Jackson. It all starts off with a meeting in Bree between Aragon and the three playable characters: Eradan the DĂșnadan Ranger, Farin the Dwarf Champion, and Andriel the Elven Lore-master. You are soon tasked to create a diversion for the forces of evil to distract them from Frodo and the gang. The game features a branching conversation system when you are talking to the non-player characters and these interactions are fully voiced. The way that the camera moves back and forth between the participants during the dialogs reminds me of a Bioware RPG but without the morality system. The NPCs are engaging enough, thanks to the good voice acting. I have only played about 2-3 hours of the game and the structure seems linear but you do get sub-quests to complete alongside the story missions.

Don't ask me where the dwarf's right hand is...

War in the North is an action RPG and that translates into fast paced, action-oriented battles with RPG-based character progression. All the characters have the ability to attack with both melee and ranged weapons, with the latter played marvelously in an over the shoulder third person perspective, but they gain access to very specialized skill sets that are broken down to three skill trees. Whenever your character levels up, you will gain access to attribute points to improve your character's base statistics and one point to spend on the skill tree. I have spent most of my time playing Andriel in both melee and range capacities. I prefer the game's melee combat because of the responsiveness of the controls. The game can be a button masher, especially during large skirmishes but the characters' unique special abilities, which come with cool-downs, do spice things up a lot. There are also critical moves that can be performed on a dying enemy and it is fun to do so - chopping your enemies into little pieces is always exciting - as it is beneficial because of the extra experience points given when triggered.

Equipping gears alters your character's look. Hope there are plenty of gear varieties in the game.

War in the North can be played with 2 other players via LAN and the Internet or with computer companions. I have only tried the online play briefly and it looks like you can use your offline characters for the multiplayer mode. Interestingly, you can choose to save your online progression on a separate save file but I am not sure why anyone would do that. When playing with the computer allies, you can only switch characters between stages and though the changes you have made to each class is saved, they will not be applicable to your computer companions. For example, say you are playing the Ranger and have equipped him with a certain set of armor and abilities, when you switch to say the Champion, the computer will customize the Ranger with its own set of armor and abilities. The computer allies are smart enough but it would have been great to provide them with your own individual choices of visual alterations and statistical boosts that you have given to a particular character when you are not playing him or her. Overall though, the game is a lot of fun if you are into the genre. I haven't mentioned that the action maps are filled with a lot of crates, barrels, and treasure chests to satisfy all of your looting needs. It is apparent that the PC version is not the game's lead platform since there are a lot of unholy looking low-resolution texture works. Still, there are plenty of visual options to play around with, which is nice to see and it is a solid port with nary a performance hitch with the settings maxed out on my PC. A high resolution texture pack would be great though. The PC version utilizes Steamworks - hurray - which comes with achievements and cloud save.

FIRST IMPRESSION: 4 out of 5

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