Tag Archives: War in the North

Hacking and slashing goes ever on in Lord of the Rings: War in the North

I pretty much lean very close to all things related to Lord of the Rings, but the real reason I picked up War in the North was because I wanted more hack-n-slash action after the disappointing Aragorn’s Quest and knew exactly where to get it. See, I had previously bought War in the North for a single buck way back in the day when OnLive was having some kind of crazy sale. I played it for a little bit, only to quickly realize that playing streamed videogames over a shaky wireless connection was not ideal, especially when timing attacks and rolling away from enemies is vital to digital breathing. And so I never went back, but I also never forgot. Cut to scene of me picking up a used copy for the Xbox 360 for relatively cheap.

Like other videogames set in a popular, fictionalized world heavily licensed and thus restricted on various elements–think Game of Thrones: The Game, Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, Jurassic Park: The Game–you are there, but not as the main characters. Or characters you even know. Chances are high you’ll see the real stars as you journey along, but you will be secondary to the end. For War in the North, you control one from a trio of familiar looking characters: Eradan, a ranger from the North; Andriel, an Elven loremaster from Rivendell; and Farin, a Dwarven warrior from the halls of Erebor. They are basically Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, respectively, and yes, I find it amusing that the effeminate Orlando Bloom got a gender swap. Their own journey takes them across Middle-earth, and their actions and results thereof help the Fellowship–you know, the real heroes–without ever getting in their way. Sauron is commanding his minion Agandaur to conquer the North for the Dark Lord. It is up to the magical trio, and some helpful, colorful allies, to put an end to all that, so that Frodo and company can do what really needs to get done.

So, you do all this by hacking and slashing your way across large levels broken into small sections, defeating a lot of Orcs, Uruk-hai, and spiders, as well as minibosses and bosses alike, restocking on health potions back at town and picking up side missions, looting chests and skag piles of bones, and strengthening your character’s skills as your level increases. It’s a fairly typical action RPG, with bonus limb severing and buckets of spilled brown-red blood to liven things up. Action skills are assigned to the face buttons, there’s a roll mechanic, and you can chain attacks together, increasing the damage you do and the amount of XP you earned. If you’ve played games like Champions of Norrath, Daggerdale, or DeathSpank, this adventure won’t surprise you too much in the mechanics department.

I played the whole campaign as Farin, the Dwarf. He’s a tough little bugger, which is to be expected, but it felt great rolling right into the thick of things, sweeping around in a full circle with a shiny, sharp axe, and then finishing off each fallen enemy with a cinematic stab to the throat. That said, he’s slow everywhere else, and his ranged attacks, from a crossbow oddly enough, something a true Dwarf would never use, are rather useless, even if you spend points on upgrading abilities there. His main ability is War Cry, which strengthens you and your allies for a limited time. I used it a lot to good effect, especially when going against two trolls. Something I will always love: loot you pick up changes your appearance. Hopefully long gone are the days you get a sick magical set of armor, and it barely looks like you changed shirts.

The story, which granted does come from the actual source material, is a bit dull. It’s of this ilk: see bad guy, chase bad guy, fight swarms of disposable grunts, just miss the bad guy, chase bad guy, and repeat until you get to the final level, and the bad guy is out of running options. Strangely, most of the regular fights against dozens of little enemies proved much easier than any of the boss fights. Oh well. My favorite story moments involved talking animals, like Beleram the Great Eagle and making a deal with a dangerous dragon. Everything else just kind of stretched on or screamed of sidequest-ness, and I will openly admit that towards the end I was just mashing the “skip dialogue” button because I can read a whole lot faster than I can listen. The voice acting is decent, though weakened by the fact that character models of Elrond, Arwyn, Frodo, Aragorn, and so on look like their movie counterparts, but are obviously not voiced by them. At least Aragorn’s Quest had the real Samwise Gamgee in it.

Once you beat the game on Normal difficulty, you can play again in a New Game+ mode on a higher difficulty called Heroic. Normally, I skip New Game+s–that’s a longer post down the road–but I still needed to ping a few different Achievements and thought this was a fine way to get them. I played as both the Elf and ranger for a bit, getting up to a level that has you guarding a door from attack. The door has a life bar–or maybe the Elven brothers protecting it do–and so it can only sustain so much damage. This part was no problem on Normal difficulty, but Heroic proved undoable, no matter who I controlled. Attempted four or five times. Seemed like if one enemy slipped by me, they’d break that door down in a matter of seconds. And so ends my attempt to beat the game on Heroic difficulty. Honestly, no big deal.

Finished the game with 40 of 46 Achievements unlocked, which is a much higher  rating than other games I finish. Not sure if that’s do to skill or if the game just gives them out like candy, but here are a few I’m proud of:


Keen-eyed Marksman (20G): Kill 50 enemies with headshots in a single playthrough.


Victorious in Battle (25G): Complete a playthrough on at least Normal difficulty.


In the Dragon’s Den (20G): Meet a dragon and survive.


Sudden Fury (10G): Perform 3 critical hits within 10 seconds.

As we loom closer to the release of LEGO Lord of the Rings and part one of forty-seven for The Hobbit, I’m really jonesing for some more LOTR videogames. Yes, even more. Told you I lean real close to it all. I got a few in my collection. Don’t be surprised if I bust out The Third Age again and begin blathering about it here. Also, don’t be surprised if I don’t. My gaming whims fluctuate by the minute, and words are wind.

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2012 Game Review Haiku, #28 – Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Sauron’s allies swell
A shadow from the North spreads
Set, three pledge to fight

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.

Not all glitters and is gold in Aragorn’s Quest for the PlayStation 2

For those not in the know, I am an avid fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. This admiration goes skin deep and covers everything from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings to his staggering level of detail on and around linguistics, both legit and fake, as well as his time with children’s books and the Middle-earth Bible called The Silmarillion. He created a number of powerful places, people, and performances from a wealth of sources: his imagination, his experiences in World War I and World War II, his knowledge as an Oxford professor, his love for his wife Edith Mary Tolkien, and so on. His work is never going to go away, and I love that. With Peter Jackson’s movies a huge success, all things LOTR-related have taken over pop culture in the last ten years or so and been embraced by nearly everyone, even those that probably wouldn’t be seen reading a book about Elves and Dwarves and the One Ring. It’s momentous stuff, capable of transforming the consumer and taking them away into another realm that is just as realized as our own.

That said, the character of Aragorn deserved better.

Aragorn’s Quest, published by WB Games and developed by Headstrong Games, is an action hack-and-slasher with some light RPG elements that came out in late 2010 for a number of different videogame systems: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PSP, Nintendo Wii, and the Nintendo DS. From what I can tell, I ended up buying the worst version of them all. Which is a bummer considering this was a game I actually wanted to play. Hmm. Well, let’s begin…

Things don’t start off terribly. In fact, one of the first things you hear in the game is the voice of Samwise Gamgee, with Sean Astin there to keep the character alive and full of heart. Though his narration of the journey that Aragorn took during the time of The Lord of the Rings is marred by a severe lack of background music–save for the cackling of a fire in the fireplace–and the bizarre reactions his hobbity kids evoke. Anyways, you play as Aragorn, and Aragorn only; other versions of the game, from what I can tell, feature Gandalf available as a co-op controlled partner. Not here on the PS2. This is Aragorn‘s Quest, dang it, and they mean it. And if you’ve seen the films or read the books, everything unfolds as it should. You are part of the Fellowship that plans to see Frodo to Mount Doom as the Hobbit plans to destroy the One Ring there. Along the way, you will kill a lot of Orcs/Goblins, complete quests, level up, and get really good at countering attacks.

Stupidly, everything is a quest. For example, as you go across a level, there will be, say, 10 bandit leaders. It’s not random or anything, that’s how many bad dudes are in the level to begin with. Naturally, before you start out, you will then get a quest called “Kill 10 bandit leaders”, and you can’t miss any of them as they are right on your path, so the quest is both unmissable and un-uncompletable. Just seems kind of unnecessary, but it’s all about leveling Aragorn up so that come the end-game fight you feel like a true and proper badass king-to-be. As you gain levels, you earn upgrade points to unlock a new skill for either the sword, bow, or general health aspects of Aragorn. By the end, I had more upgrade points to know what to do with, as not all skills are worth it. The jump-in-the-air-and-shatter-the-ground sword attack is great for when surrounded, as is the poison arrows for larger, tougher enemies, but otherwise you can make it out alive just hacking and slashing and blocking when you need to block. Oh, and every new weapon or piece of equipment you find is stronger/better than the one you’re currently using, leaving no strategy to play.

Two things Aragorn’s Quest does have going for it are its soaring orchestral score, taken right from the films, and its cel-shaded art. I know not everyone digs that kind of graphics style, but most of my favorite games feature it–Dark Cloud 2, Borderlands, Sly Cooper, Dragon Quest IX, Rogue Galaxy, and on for infinity–and, as an artist, I appreciate the look immensely. Other versions of the game feature more traditional graphics, and so I was surprised to see the cel shading at first. Surprised, but not disappointed. It’s a look that doesn’t easily offend.

One interesting idea that turned out to be a letdown are the arenas. After clearing a section of levels based on a main area, you unlock an arena in that area where you will fight eight waves of enemies. There are different challenges to accomplish during the eight waves–like take no damage or kill 15 Goblins with arrows–and if you earn them all, you get a reward, which the game claims will help you on your journey. Two problems there. First, I only discovered the arenas after I beat the game. Two, it is basically just grinding, and the arena I did in Moria took about 30 minutes to complete, and even then I missed several challenges. Basically, it’s not worth the time and dullness, when I’m guessing the rewards are just a new weapon or piece of stat-boosting jewelry. Oh wells.

If anything, when done right, this style of action RPG gameplay does fit Tolkien’s universe well–probably much more than RTS ever did–and so I was inspired by the failings of Aragorn’s Quest to pick up Lord of the Rings: War in the North recently for the Xbox 360. It plays similar, but is much better in achieving its goals. I’m playing as a Dwarf that likes two-handed warhammers and slicing the legs off of Orcs. Not sure how I feel about this same Dwarf using a crossbow, but more on that game later.