It’s no secret that The Lord of the Rings is a franchise that has succeeded in practically every form of media. From J.R.R Tolkien’s original fantasy epic, to Peter Jackson’s film trilogy and everything in between, so we knew it wouldn’t be long before we were tasked with reviewing the next game set in the franchise’s fictional universe. Unfortunately, we never anticipated Snowblind Studios’ RPG effort to be quite so dull.
The game focuses on the events taking place in northern middle-earth, during the main story of The Lord of the Rings. Giving Snowblind Studios some creative freedom, whilst ensuring that they stay true to the franchise, this is a good idea on paper. Somehow though, it’s one of the game’s biggest drawbacks. The story, if you can call it that, will have you playing through quests that are never really explained. In order to advance through these you’ll have to defeat hordes of orcs and goblins, before advancing to the next area and defeating more hordes of the same, repetitive enemies.
Every once in a while the game will treat you to a troll, which you’ll have to take down using long ranged weapons such as arrows, or magic if you’re playing as the mage. It takes a fair while to get them to ground, especially before you’ve had the chance to upgrade your character, but you’ll have to face harder challenges throughout the game; the real difficulty comes when you have to try and convince your co-op partners that the game is actually fun so they don’t leave you to fight another few hundred orcs alongside the game’s AI, which is useless for the most part.
As repetitive as the enemies are, it would be hard to deny that killing them is fun for a short while. Regardless of whether you’ve chosen to play as Farin, a dwarf skilled in melee attacks; Eradan, who can use almost any weapon from a mace to a bow or Andriel, a mage who specializes in long range attacks, the action is fast, slick and satisfyingly gory. However, the promise of XP bonuses for performing combos or finishing moves does little to extend the novelty of the combat by more than 20 minutes.
If you want to take a break from the repetitive action, then you can return to one of the game’s hubs, such as Bree or Rivendell, via one of the warp gates that are scattered throughout quests, which will also give you a chance to buy and sell items. Once you’ve reached a hub town you’ll have the opportunity to repair your weapons and armour at a blacksmiths or talk to familiar characters like Gandalf, Frodo, Legolas and Aragorn. The characters here will set you up with new quests, although you’ll probably never return once you hear how lifeless the voice acting is. Thankfully though, you won’t have to hear it again; dialogue options that don’t affect the game at all ensure that you’ll never want to embark on a second play through.
The facial animations may be stiff, but that’s not to say this is an ugly game. The game’s levels, whilst often extremely linear, have clearly been crafted with care and the settings and scenery will demonstrate just how expansive the universe is. It’s just a shame you’re never given the freedom to explore it properly.
Fans of the franchise will appreciate the use of familiar locations and characters and may enjoy learning more about the new ones, but Snowblind Studios have been so bothered about gaining the attention of hardcore fans that they’ve completely forgotten to attract anybody else. RPG fans will be insulted that what is essentially a generic hack-n-slash game has been so wrongly included in the genre, whilst everybody else will just become downright bored after a matter of minutes.
With a lot of work, this could have been a decent game, but other than strong references to the franchise it represents, everything else you would expect from a game of this nature is lacking, which is why it’s impossible to recommend, especially during such a crowded time of the year.
Rating: Below AverageReview Policy
The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is available now on PS3, PC and Xbox 360. You can order a copy here (PS3), here (PC) or here (360).