Gamescom 2010: The Lord of the Rings: War in the North PreviewBy Jem Alexander - Posted Aug 23, 2010
What We Know:
The Lord Of The Rings: War In The North is an action RPG set in the Lord of the Rings universe during the events of the books. With emphasis squarely placed on co-op action and violence, the game will see a separate set of heroes exploring the North, where Sauron is amassing his troops. At Gamescom we were shown a new level, the Ettenmoors, which lie west of the Misty Mountains.
What We're Seeing Now:
Lord of the Rings games have a chequered history. While those released to tie into the film releases were mostly mediocre, others since have ranged from “pretty good” to “downright atrocious”. It may be a little too early to see exactly where War In The North fits into the spectrum at this point, but the demonstration at least has us interested in seeing more.
Three screens sat side by side, each displaying one of the three playable races (Dwarf, Elf and Human). This allowed us to check out the co-op gameplay and see exactly how the different races' special skills are shown on screen.
The Elf can track creatures, so glowing footsteps appeared on the ground in front of her, but only on the Elf's player's screen. Following these led the party to a small clearing, and an ambush from Orcs. In a similar way, the Human can locate herbs growing in the ground. He can then use these to create items to use or sell. The Dwarf's skill allows him to see veins of mineable rock.
War In The North's graphics are reasonable, but after having seen Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom and Journey something felt a little bit lacking. As far as style goes, everything seems in keeping with the Tolkien universe, with a slightly hyper-realistic fantasy feel. The developers at Snowblind have the rights to both the books and the films and they're working alongside Middle-Earth Enterprises to make sure everything fits with the Lord of the Rings.
This allows them to not only create a story within the canon of the Lord of the Rings franchise, but to actually fill in a section of the story which has long been debated about by fans. The books mention that as the dark lord Sauron extended his right hand towards the north, some nameless heroes fought back. This has never been fully described in any of Tolkien's backstory material and, as a fan of the franchise, this is probably the most exciting aspect of the game.
Word has it that the story writer for Snowblind is such a huge Lord of the Rings fan himself, that he even corrected Middle-Earth Enterprises on mistakes that they had made, while discussing the story for the game. So those worried about the books being sullied by clumsy, ignorant penmanship can probably rest easy.
By aiming for an M rating in the US, Snowblind is hoping to include as much blood and violence as possible. This in itself will set it apart from the movie tie-ins, which had to be as inclusive as possible, and therefore lacking in the gore department. The co-op combat looks like it will be great fun. They're still figuring out whether they will allow players to take part in all-Human parties, or one with two Dwarves and an Elf, but the default will be one of each. When not playing in co-op, these will be AI controlled, so you'll still be taking part in the same dynamic combat.
Snowblind is probably best known for Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, and War In The North seems fairly similar, with the Forgotten Realms universe replaced with Lord of the Rings. Loot will be important and, while the RPG part of the game isn't as emphasised as the action part, levelling up will allow you to increase your stats and choose your abilities from a Diablo style skill tree.
War In The North is still pretty early in development, but the combat looks like it'll be great fun. Beyond that, it's difficult to tell how well the other aspects of the game will be implemented, as there was very little else shown during the demonstration. From what I hear, though, fans of the books and films will want to play this game for the story alone.