Why didn't Gandalf have his giant eagle friends drop the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom and be done with it?
This is a question I've jokingly put forth to fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy over the years, endlessly amused by the (often angry) responses it generates. "The eagles' primitive brains would be overwhelmed by the evil power!" they would answer. "The poisonous gasses from the volcano would kill them if they tried," or "They were neutral in the battle and wouldn't commit to aiding any one side," the fans would offer, attempting to explain away what to many seems like a massive plot hole.
The truth is Tolkien doesn't need his fans to rise to his defense; I know the answer to the question. If The Lord of the Rings were the simple tale of an evil ring and a volcano, then yes, having a bird arrange a hasty meeting between the two would make sense. This is not the story about the One Ring and Mount Doom; it's the story of a group of heroes, the bonds they form, and the sacrifices they make in order to do what's right.
Without Frodo's brave sacrifice, Samwise's unwavering loyalty, Boromir's desperate struggle, Aragorn's steadfast courage – without this group of men, dwarves, elves, and hobbits demonstrating their inspiring humanity at every turn, The Lord of the Rings would be nothing more than a well-crafted, scenic but soulless journey from point A to point Doom.
And that sums up The Lord of the Rings: War in the North quite nicely.
A human, an elf, and a dwarf walk into a bar. They have names, of course, but after ten hours of gameplay I'm hard-pressed to remember them. I could look them up, but they'd mean even less to you than they do to me, so what's the point? The bar does have a name, however: The Prancing Pony, located in the heart of the village of Bree. It's the tavern where Frodo and friends first meet Strider, AKA Aragorn.
It was this famous location and my meeting with such a prominent figure from the fiction that gave me hope that War in the North would be more than a generic hack-and-slash role-playing game based in Middle-Earth. My party of three was tasked with delaying a gathering army to the north, giving the ranger and his hobbit friends time to escape the clutches of the Black Riders. For a brief, shining moment, I was an active part of the main story.
The feeling didn't last. Soon I was off on a mission to take down an evil menace never directly mentioned in The Lord of the Rings proper, a generic villain perfectly suited to my generic heroes. Though well designed and rendered, the familiar locations I passed through might as well have scenic postcards from distant friends, informing me how much they wished I was with them on a mission with more meaning.
Perhaps the greatest feeling of detachment from the core story came midway through the game, when elf, dwarf, and ranger briefly stops by Rivendell, legendary home of the elves where the Fellowship is first formed. Here I encountered familiar faces like Gimli, Aragorn (again), and Legolas. While chatting with them about the epic journey they were about to undertake, the question that inevitably came up in the game's consequence-free dialogue system was, essentially, "Can we go with you?" The answer, as expected, was uniformly negative.
They tried to tell my party that their northern tasks were just as important as taking the One Ring to Mordor, but that feeling never sank in. By the end of the game I had completed a task that, for all intents and purposes, would probably have resolved itself once the ring was destroyed anyway.
I said in my Gut Check of The Lord of the Rings: War in the North that I had developed an idea of what I wanted Snowblind Studios Middle-Earth based role-playing game to be, and the developer had delivered. That's not something that's changed since finishing the game.