E3 2010: Lord of the Rings: War in the North PreviewBy Paul Semel - Posted Jun 15, 2010
A few weeks prior to E3, Warner Brothers Interactive held an event to show off some of their upcoming games. One of these was The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, a third-person action-RPG based on both J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novels and the LOTR movies they inspired. But the big news was that the game has a strong emphasis on co-op play, as illustrated by a level they showed in which a human, a dwarf, and an elf head through a forest towards Mirkwood.
Being developed by Snowblind Studios (who previously made 2001’s Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and 2004’s Champions of Norrath), the game lets you play any of the three characters, though rather than have your character’s race and class be linked, characters can actually use both ranged and melee attacks, though specific combat abilities can be augmented by your choices when you level up. In other words, dwarves can be big on melee combat, or ranged combat, or some combination of both.
To maintain uniqueness, each race has its own special abilities. Elves, for example, can see footprints in the forest, which can help you find your way, while dwarves are good at finding secret doors, and humans have the ability to mix potions they can then use, sell, or share.
Sharing is, of course, caring, and War in the North has a heavy emphasis on sharing the burden. While you can play solo with A.I. controlling the other two characters, you can also play with up to two friends online or via a local network or with one friend split screen, or even with two people playing split-screen and a third connected via online or on a local network. Cohorts are also encouraged to work together, and can not only revive fallen comrades, but can cast protection spells on others as well.
The developers also revealed that when people do play co-op, the host will retain how far in the story the group has gone, but those joining in will keep any items and experience points they gain. What’s interesting is that you’ll actually be able to decide if everyone shares the XP equally, or if the person who did more to earn it actually gets more. There will also be specific side missions not connected to the main story that are made specifically for people who play well with others.
While the game is decidedly focused on action -- the combat is real-time -- there’s still a strong emphasis on the RPG aspects. Besides the usual character customization and leveling up you’d expect, the game also employs a similarly circular conversation system as Mass Effect (so similar, in fact, that someone might want to call their lawyers).
Another interesting aspect of the game is that its slated to be "M"-rated, a first for any title connected to the LOTR movies. And it seems that the rating will be well-deserved. While we didn’t get to see it happen, we were told that if your dwarf goes down while battling the cave troll in Mirkwood, the troll might actually rip your head off.
Overall, War in the North looks like it might be one of the more interesting games to be inspired by the LOTR books and movies. While there were some minor moments of concern -- like when a giant eagle started to talk and sounded like Sean Connery -- the action, focus on co-op, and assurances that this game will deserve its "M"-rating, should compensate nicely.
The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is scheduled to be released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC next year.