Just when we thought we'd seen all there is to see in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga, Snowblind Studios goes and writes an entirely new adventure, chronicling the goings on in the North while Sauron's eye was focused on Frodo and friends. Should you lend it your bow, or give it the axe?
Michael Fahey, who is cool on Tolkien but hot on action role-playing games: When Snowblind Studios and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment announced The Lord of the Rings: War in the North was in development, the action role-playing aficionado in me squealed like a little girl getting a new pony. Nothing gets me going like a good old hack-and-slash action RPG, and having developer Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and both Champions of Norrath titles for the PlayStation 2, Snowblind had established itself as the action RPG developer to beat.
That doesn't mean I wasn't worried about the game. The team hadn't done anything in the genre since the forgettable Justice League Heroes back in 2006, and The Lord of the Rings series has induced more sleep in me than hours of enjoyment. I developed an idea of what I wanted The War in the North to be in my head, certain Snowblind would miss the mark.
Four hours into the game and I've been pleasantly surprised. The combat is satisfyingly tight, each swing of the sword, staff, or axe feeling as if it's falling on a foe rather than floating in their general direction. Gaining experience levels and filling out each character's talent tree is satisfying without being over-complicated. The character models look much better in-game than they did in screens and trailers, and equipping new armor and items changes the look of each character, something much more important to me than it should be. The online cooperative multiplayer for up to three players has performed flawlessly so far, and while there isn't much enemy variety it's still fun to kill the ones we're given.
It might not excel, but I wasn't looking for excellence; just competent, quality action RPG entertainment, and The Lord of the Rings: War in the North has given me that. Yes.
But I'm not normal. I'm a massive Lord of the Rings fan, and the way this game looks like it stepped right out of an unreleased fourth film, while at the same time blending into the established fiction of the universe, is really attractive to me. I'll put up with the doldrums of loot and slashing if there are Tolkien-ish dwarves and giant eagles, and hey, this game has dwarves and giant eagles. That makes it a Yes.
I've only played a couple hours of War in the North, but judging by what I've seen—from the halting dialogue system to the repetitive action sequences—this game isn't on the same level as its competition. Its integrated co-op might make things more fun (I haven't gotten to play yet), but even if that feature is spectacular, War in the North would feel flat and charmless. No.