|System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC|
|Dev: Snowblind Studios|
|Pub: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment|
|Release: November 1, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence|
by Joshua Wirtanen
The Lord of the Rings series has been re-imagined in video game form several times. There was The Battle for Middle-Earth, Aragorn's Quest, The Lord of the Rings Online MMO, and several movie tie-ins. And that's just scratching the surface. It's safe to say that most gamers have probably traveled to Middle-Earth at some point in their gaming lives. But with the monumental films several years in the past, Middle-Earth is finally returning to a relative level of peace. The Lord of the Rings: War in the North hopes to change that, bringing war and destruction to Tolkien's fantasy land once again.
With so many Lord of the Rings video games already out there, what could War in the North possibly add to the lineup without feeling like yet another rehash of old material? First of all, as the name suggests, this game will focus on the War in the North. As all Lord of the Rings fans know, the One Ring is in the hands of Frodo Baggins, who heads south toward Mordor to destroy it. According to Snowblind's interpretation of Tolkien's books, while the area surrounding Mordor becomes engulfed in an enormous and world-altering war, a band of fighters stays behind to clean up the mess in the north. Instead of taking the role of Frodo, Samwise, Gandalf, Aragorn, or any of the other fellowship members, players will step into the shoes of one of the "lesser" heroes of Middle-Earth and carve their own niche in the history of this fantastic world.
Another way this game attempts to feel fresh is by bringing a level of violence not yet seen in a Lord of the Rings game. Snowblind is shooting for an M rating for War in the North, and the video footage we've seen looks like it should hit the mark. Orcs were being hacked apart, limbs were being severed, and there was plenty of blood splattering about. Instead of having baddies simply fall over dead once they are defeated, there will be interesting finishing moves. You will actually get to see your character run orcs through with your sword. But your own deaths are equally as gory. For example, players killed by trolls will sometimes have their heads ripped off in a rather gruesome manner.
War in the North also brings co-op gameplay to the table. There will be three characters in your party: an elf, a dwarf, and a human. Working together will be key as each race has its own skills to use in combat, and survival will often require the use of the full range of these skills. For example, the human loremaster can cast a protective shield that will surround all three characters and provide a heal buff. Players will be able to have their friends join them, but there is also the option to have the other characters controlled by the game's AI. It sounds a lot like the way the Left 4 Dead games function.
One of the locations featured in this game is Mirkwood, the spooky forest that plays a prominent role in The Hobbit (the book as well as the upcoming films.). This is an area with a great deal of potential, since it's dark, ominous, and at one point contained the stronghold of the Necromancer, A.K.A. Sauron himself. Oh yeah, and Mirkwood is also the forest that Legolas calls home.
But this isn't the first time Mirkwood has had a major place in a video game. The Lord of the Rings Online dedicated an entire expansion to this forest. War in the North will have to work extra hard in order to give players a unique experience, especially after LotRO brought such a deep and immersive level of detail to this region.
One of the biggest challenges in making a game like this is that Tolkien's world is already so fleshed out in his books. People who love the novels have a very detailed, rigid idea of what Middle-Earth looks, sounds, and feels like. If the developers stray from expectations even the slightest bit, fans will feel ripped off.
So how will Snowblind make War in the North feel unique, yet still remain authentic? They keep bringing our attention to this quote by Gandalf: "With his far-reaching, rich hand, Sauron might have done great evil in the North. Yet all that has been averted because a handful of heroes stood in his path." The ambiguity of this statement gives the studio a pretty wide range of creative freedom, since Gandalf never said who these heroes were. Snowblind can give us new characters and new stories, while keeping true to the lore of The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien's world is an exciting one, but how often can players revisit it before they grow tired of it? War in the North has some serious potential to wow us, but also runs the risk of giving us an experience that feels stale. Time will tell whether this game brings a fresh and interesting experience or simply falls short of its high expectations. For now, we have our fingers crossed as we wish Snowblind the best of luck with this daunting project.
CCC Freelance Writer