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.