Lord of the Rings: War in the North is the latest foray into the world of Middle-Earth, battling its way onto the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC later this year. Warner Bros. Interactive currently holds the game license for the Lord of the Rings series, and while they oversee the Lord of the Rings Online, War in the North represents their second title that takes the series onto consoles with the addition of the Xbox 360 this time around. The game is being developed by Snowblind, who has had the bar set rather high for them since their first LotR console title, Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest, was not well received.
That title, developed by TT Fusion and Headstrong Games, crashed and burned out of the gate. Snowblind definitely has no plans to replicate that experience, and the good news is that War in the North looks very impressive based on the short time we've spent with the title, especially when you consider the fine-feathered addition to your Fellow.
War in the North is a co-op game, where up to three players can take control of a character and battle their way through the game. A nifty icon system on the lower left will let you know what your cohorts are up to, so you can berate them for checking out the inventory screen while you're in the thick of battle. You can play as Eradin, a ranger who is good with a bow, Andriel the magic user, or Farin the dwarf-tank, and since the game is an RPG at heart, you can upgrade your skills, weapons, and armor along the way.
You'll also gain access to special abilities throughout the game, and one of those that we were shown was the ability to call down Beleram, a gigantic eagle, to wreak havoc on your enemies. And he's a very welcome addition, especially when dealing with cave trolls. Those things are huge, and while you can eventually take them down on your own, Beleram makes it a cakewalk. You aren't always able to summon him, and he gets a finite number of uses, but it really is impressive to see that giant bird plummet down, talons out, to attack your foes.
The level took us into Fornost, a northern city in Middle-Earth where we're doing battle in and around an enormous Keep. Gameplay is typical to button-mashing brawlers. You hit X for a normal attack and Y for a heavy attack. Enemies will sometimes have a red notice appear above their head that means you can heavy attack them and combo up into hits that deal more damage, lethal shots, etc. The B button dodges and rolls out of the way, and RB sprints.
The left trigger puts you in ranged combat mode, zoom in by clicking R3, and you'll be thankful that you have that ability when you're getting rained on by arrows or attacked in waves. There's an additional bonus with ranged mode, and that's when you summon Beleram. You can target specific enemies that you want him to go after by zooming in on them. Otherwise, he attacks random foes. The right trigger pulls up your specific skills, and you can customize that layout as needed.
Those skills come in handy, as well. Andriel, for instance, can throw up a huge bubble shield that protects your party from ranged combat. She can also tweak that bubble to have it heal the party members while they're inside of it, oh she can explode it and do large area damage. The dwarf can shield bash, which is great for forcing enemies back, and any character can hold down LB for defense while initiating an attack, which will knock enemies back as well.
Your skills will help determine your playstyle, and you'll need those as you face enemies with similar abilities, like the shaman we faced who could generate bubble shields as well. You'll level up in typical RPG fashion, and you can assign points to different skills any time you have them available by hitting select. In the inventory screen, you can quickly determine what to keep or get rid of as anything you can't use is shown in red. But, you can hand them off to your co-op allies to use easily enough.
In the final part of the level, two twins show up to use magic and help us get through a gigantic door. While they're trying to break in, we have to hold off waves of attackers that are trying to stop them. That includes the massive cave trolls, and this is where we start letting Beleram fly. We also had to revive our companions several times using a revive mechanic similar to Gears of War. The game features regenerative health as well, so if your screen starts turning red, back off and let yourself heal, or you can down a health potion.
That's where our battle ended, but the game will feature a lot more co-op action when it releases later this year. So far, Lord of the Rings: War in the North looks like a co-op title that Tolkien diehards and fantasy fans will love to immerse themselves in. Snowblind assured us that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg as far as character progression and loot mining goes, so we'll definitely be coming back for more.