Game Review: The Lord of the Rings – War in the North

Thanks to OnLive’s cloud gaming technology, between campaign road trips I’ve been able to play through the first hour or two of Snowblind’s Tolkien-inspired adventure game, The Lord of the Rings: The War in the North.

The game’s storyline takes place in parallel to Frodo Baggins’ heroic quest to destroy the Ring. War in the North covers some of the off-screen action of Middle Earth's battle to hold off the evil hordes. Players can play as one of three uniquely skilled and outfitted characters, a melee dwarf, a human ranger and an elf with mostly defensive and healing powers who can also jump into the melee fray. The co-op play opens up offline multi-player.

War in the North’s visuals and environments are stunning, as good as Skyrim’s though the game play here isn’t as deep and the world isn’t nearly as vast. You can obtain new items for your characters and outfit them, giving them new abilities as the story progresses and you level up. But War is more story-driven and less of a sandbox game than Skyrim, and thus feels a bit smaller, and also a bit less of a chore to figure out.

The combat in War is graphic and brutal without crossing the line into M rating territory, which may be a selling point to parents struggling to keep young kids from delving into mature-level gaming too soon. It’s as violent and graphic as any of the LOTR movies, but not more so, and from what I’ve seen the killin’ is confined to those creatures and villains that need killin’. It’s very satisfying to find yourself in the midst of a swarming horde of orcs, commence swinging your sword or axe and see enemy limbs go a-flying. Especially after a long day of writing about politicians. When your health gets low from sustaining injuries in the battle, your elf mage (if you’re one of the other characters) can heal you, bringing you back into the fight. If you’ve ever pondered being in the middle of one of Tolkein’s epic battles then War in the North should be on the “buy” list. The combat can get a bit repetitive, but that’s true of pretty much any game on the market. The three characters could be more customizable and interesting, but they’re not bad. The game's focus is more on what they do than who they are or what they say, making them a bit forgettable.

For me, the bottom line on any game is whether I find the story, strategy and button mashing compelling enough to keep wanting to play. Some games look great but just don’t bring it, and you lose interest. The story in Batman: Arkham City, which I reviewed here in November, on the other hand, is as strong as any Batman movie and motivates you to burn up hours to get to the end, and the game looks and plays fantastic. War in the North’s story isn’t that strong and the combat isn’t quite as compelling, but it’s strong enough to have held my interest despite my being on the road so much lately.

It’s Tolkein’s world, brought to life in co-op close combat. I give The Lord of the Rings: The War in the North 3 stars out of 5.