Lord of the Rings: War in the North -- We Defend a Dwarven Fortress at Gamescom 2011By Sinan Kubba - Posted Aug 25, 2011
Three is the new four. Well, maybe not, but since Uncharted 2's three-player online co-op we've seen a return to the old industry ethos that two's company, four's a crowd, and three's a video game. Remember Secret of Mana, Double Dragon 3, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, and Battletoads? Three-way used to be the way, so it's with open arms I welcome my two teammates, just two, to help me save Middle Earth in the upcoming action-RPG Lord of the Rings: War in the North.
The demo developer Snowblind Studios has brought to Gamescom throws us into defending the dwarven fortress Nordinbad from a siege by Sauron's forces. With licenses for both the filmic and literary content acquired to ground the game within the modern revival of Tolkien's work, it's unsurprising that the scene is almost like a microcosm of the Battle of Helm's Deep.
We arrive in first-class on the backs of the gigantic eagles we made acquaintances with back at E3, but there's little time for catching up as the Urak-hai have already made their way to just outside the main gate and the discrepancy in numbers is beginning to resemble Thermopylae.
I take on the role of the lithe Gondor ranger Eradin who in this build dual wields with daggers when he's not pumping arrows into orcs. My teammates play as Andriel, an elven mage, and Farin, a dwarven warrior. Each character is set up to be proficient in both melee and ranged attacks, but this build of Eradin seems better suited to keeping his distance. He's got great speed with the bow and can produce a flurry of arrows in seconds.
When I hold back and zoom in to line up the headshots and get critical damage, I'm all but cutting ribbons through the onslaught on my own, especially when I use my charged arrow attack to take out baddies in one go. Although in War in the North you will only meet rather than take on the likes of Gandalf and Aragorn, the trio you do play as have the same kind of clout and heroism of the nine of the Fellowship.
Not that my assuredness in battle lasts, mind you.
The clear emphasis in War in the North is on playing co-operatively, and with this level taking mid-way through a game with RPG elements similar to those in the Mass Effect games our characters have built up their own set of skills and through them their own roles. Both the ranger and the mage are a little brittle health-wise, so when the siege intensifies and the Urak-hai start to break down the doors in front of us, we take to the nearby turrets and help from afar while letting the tank-like dwarf get intimate with the horde.
This proves an excellent strategy at first, right until we realize the dwarf is not an infinite well of health when the wee guy conks out. I make a daring-do dash to revive him, holding down a face button much like I would revive in Gears of War, but the orcs are an impatient bunch and they make light work of me too. It's only through the miraculous work of the mage that we survive. She quickly heals us both before creating a force field around us which both shields and heals us up. This is her character-dependent special ability, and bloody useful it proves too.
We finally clear out the stragglers, but there's no time for pats on the back because two giant-like, fearsome looking trolls suddenly appear out of seemingly nowhere and crush their way through towards the main door. A bar indicating how much longer the door will hold on appears, and that lets us know that we've got a limited amount of time to take down these monstrosities.
This seems like as good a time as any to use the ranger's special ability, cloaking myself in invisibility magic to sneak up and use a stealth attack. Against most enemies this would be very effective, but against the huge stony-faced trolls the only reward I get is a thick fist to the face. Knowing what character and weapon dependent skills to use and when to use them, and not just with your own character but across the three of you, is going to be the key to success in War in the North.
Getting a sense of how to approach combat with each character against each individual enemy is also going to be important. The trolls, for example, are all about charging up big ground-pummeling attacks which cause a wide area of damage. Blocking, at least with the ranger, isn't going to work, but some well timed dodges let me seamlessly roll into a series of chained blade attacks.
Unfortunately, there are still quite a few Urak-hai milling around trying to take a piece of us while we steadfastly endeavor to defeat the trolls, the battle well into its fourth minute by now. Luckily the three of us are starting to click with the combat a bit more, and as we start to successfully avoid taking hits a face button prompt appear over beaten enemies. Activating it produces a bloody execution move, in my ranger's case a real full swing and swipe through the neck of his enemy.
It's pretty gruesome, but I'm told that when the heroes attack in unison they can produce some even more devastating co-operative kills. The three of us aren't quite on that wavelength just yet, but as we start to master the blocks and dodges the combat starts to flow in a very gratifying way. It's not the most complicated but there is a satisfying chunk of challenge and rhythm to it. Eventually we take down the trolls. The battle is won, but the journey north is far from over.
I'll admit that War in the North wasn't really on my radar before GamesCom. From what I saw in Cologne, though, the game has that Lord of the Rings filmic spectacle mixed in with RPG elements and some hefty, co-operative combat, and is looking good at this stage. The fantasy RPG is enjoying a heck of a renaissance with the likes of Amalur and Skyrim coming out in the coming months. Snowblind will likely have their work cut out to make the game stand out amongst the likes of those, so just how good War in the North's trump card, the co-op, proves to be could be the key to its success.