The Lord of the Rings: War in the North Review

By Morgan Webb - Posted Oct 31, 2011

Lord of the Rings: War in the North is a buggy, unbalanced mess of a game that doesn't even feel like it takes place in the LOTR universe.

The Pros
  • Hanging out with your giant eagle friend will make you excited for The Last Guardian.
  • Accurately represents the way spiders die - not upside down with their legs in the air like most insects, but right side up.
  • It is a long game (maybe this is a con).
The Cons
  • Doesn't actually feel like you are in the Lord of the Rings universe.
  • Egregious balance issues plague all elements of the game, including combat, leveling, and loot.
  • There are an inexcusable number of bugs and glitches.

Lord of The Rings: War in the North Review:

I will admit to playing, and even enjoying, a mindless crappy game because of the Lord of the Rings license. This is not one of those times. Lord of the Rings: War in the North is an action RPG that fails on many levels, not the least of which is that it doesn’t actually feel like it takes place in the Lord of the Rings universe. You have a man, an elf, and a dwarf traveling together on what amounts to a sidequest. They try to make you feel like a part of Frodo’s main story by having you run into the fellowship at Rivendell, but it really just makes you feel like there’s something more interesting going on somewhere else.

I’m not a fan-girl, I’m a fan-elf

It’s true, I don’t need to replay the story of the main fellowship, we’ve all seen it and done it a thousand times. I would have been open to following a band of heroes who set out to fight a dragon, or kill an evil orc king, or accomplish some random task that was utterly unrelated to the fellowship. However, quest aside, there really isn’t anything very LOTR about the game. Since elves and dwarfs and wizards are all part of standard fantasy lore, their presence alone is not enough to make the game feel like it belongs to that world. You do run into some characters from the films, but they are so stone faced and bland you can’t wait to stop talking to them and get on with it.

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From Dusk to Dark

When you play a game of this type, you expect certain class archetypes. The person with the staff and magic is likely the healer, the dwarf is melee and probably a tank, and the guy that’s left is probably a well-rounded combination of ranged and melee combat. However the characters all just end up as melee characters. The magic wielding elf never seems to have enough power to keep the projectiles coming, and since power regenerates insanely slowly you just end up whacking enemies with your staff. Her healing dome spell is slow at the best of times and useless in the later levels as Uruk Hai and other enemies can smash it immediately. The dwarf and the ranger both have incredibly overpowered arrows but you never have enough of them. This is especially frustrating when enemy archers are positioned out of melee range.

Your AI compatriots however, never run out of ammo. They can shoot arrows all day long. Too bad their aim sucks. This is especially shocking as my reticule just has to be somewhere in the vicinity of the target to get a hit. Despite this, the game is strangely hard. Hard maybe isn’t the right word, because you don’t feel like any of the game’s challenge is skill based - no one gets better at this game. If you can hit the X button and roll around, you will eventually make it through. It feels hard because it never seems like your armor, skills, and weapons are well matched for your opponents. The situation is not helped when your compatriots choose to take a stand in the middle of an exposed walkway flooded with arrows, rather than over by the side where they are shielded by a wall. Or there are two trolls and 10 Uruk Hai hammering you with huge swords, and your buddies are off in the corner happily shooting their infinite arrows at the infinitely respawning low level grunts. You just watch and think “There? Really? That’s the best spot you could find? Sigh, well, we’ll be doing this one over again.”

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

I could go on forever about how they should have made arrows lower power but more abundant, or that the loot drops were rare and always useless, or how your spells never had enough power to bother with. The basic issue was balance. Most of the pieces were there, but the game wasn’t properly balanced so you always felt underpowered. You never, ever, felt strong or awesome, you always felt like you took too much damage and couldn’t deal enough. Your spells weren’t the big fiery panic button they should have been, they were incredibly underpowered, even when they were fully leveled up. You even fought zombies, that video game trope of the easy to kill baddie, and you had to hack away a ridiculously long time to kill them. These are all balance issues, and they could have been solved with a modicum of time and skill,  but since it wasn’t done, the game is sunk.

Other issues include an annoying and useless repair mechanic, an anemic rune mechanic, a complete lack of loot, a menu system so bad you end up writing down lists of item specs because it’s the only way to compare new items to those already equipped, and a debilitating lack of pertinent information. For example, it would have been really nice to see the health bars of your friends.

Oh, and you like trolls? I hope so because you are going to fight a lot of them. Here’s a tip. Hit. Roll. Hit. Roll. X. B. X. B. Trolls are tedium defined.

One of the worst sins is that the game is buggy. One of my AI allies somehow got stuck in an overhang 8 feel off the ground. Arrows would freeze and hang in midair. Bosses would seemingly get confused and stop, or rapidly float back and forth, stuck on some invisible path.

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

We Merry Three

The game supports three player co-op (which is so odd, why not two or four like everyone else? I suppose it’s because the engine couldn’t possibly have handled four players, it could barely handle three), and it is helpful to have a real person in there fighting with you. When you invite someone into your game, they enter at their own level. Say you are level 20 and your friend is level 5, and you invite him into your game. He still has his level 5 armor, skills, and weaponry, meaning it’s impossible to invite a lower level person into later levels. You will have to take your high level to his low level game. It’s OK, because playing against enemies way below your level will be the one time you feel awesome in this game.

Single player issues still plague multi-player, for example It still would be incredibly helpful to see other player’s health bars, instead you just have to give a running narrative of your health over your headset.

Multi-player is not immune to bugs either. Frequently enemies would disappear the moment they died. I don’t mean they would fall to the ground and fade away or animate out in a puff of smoke, I mean they would blink out. It’s a bit disconcerting when the enemy you were just hitting is no longer there.

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Things I Like

I like that if you fill the enemies with arrows the arrows are still sticking out of the enemy until he dies, and some guys are running around with tons of arrows in them. I like that if I am playing as the dwarf he takes the lead in conversations, and if I am playing with the elf she takes the lead. I like the eagle character model and animation, as well as that of the dragon and the Nazgul mounts. I like the way the elf’s coat moves in the wind. I like...umm...nope. I’m out.

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Things I Hate

I wanted to like this game. I am a big Lord of the Rings fan and was ready to enjoy this experience. I would have been quite receptive to a mindless Dynasty Warriors-style hack and slash, or a Diablo-style dungeon crawler. What I got instead was an unfinished mess that should be played and studied as an example of bad game design, and it didn’t even feel like Lord of the Rings. There is no excuse in this day and age for such a buggy mess. I am very sorry to say you should avoid this game at all costs.