E3 2011: Lord of the Rings: War in the North Hands-On Preview – It's Grim Up North
Written Wednesday, June 22, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
It's hard to believe that's been eight whole years since the Lord of the Rings trilogy left the movie theatres, as there still seems to be an audience thirsty for more from Peter Jackson's definitive adaptation of JRR Tolkien's fantasy saga, in whatever form it might take. And with The Hobbit currently shooting, you can cram in some more of the Lord of the Rings story that wasn't covered in the films, as Warner Bros and Snowblind Studios promise to tell the untold story of one of the pivotal battles that took place in the northern regions of Middle Earth, for the aptly titled Lord of the Rings: War in the North.
Our hands-on demo takes us to one of the furthest points in the north of Middle Earth, to a place called Fornost where our own little fellowship is thrust straight into the inner walls of a fortress settlement similar to Minas Tirith, a city surrounded by concentric circles of high battlements, where orcs, uruk-hai and trolls have besieged the area. The armies of the dark lord Sauron's general, Agandaûr – War in the North's main antagonist – set to work doing what orcs and trolls do best, laying waste to everything in their path. Playing in three-player co-op, we assume control of Andriel, the female mage character, fighting alongside Farin the dwarf and Eradan, a ranger of Gondor origin, who each have their own unique set of skills.
War in the North immediately brings to mind Dragon Age: Origins, with its blend of hack and slash action and RPG elements, so as we carve our way through orc flesh, we're earning XP to upgrade Andriel's character-specific skill tree, which includes a range of abilities. In fact, there's three different ways to specialise each character, so you can essentially customise their progression path, abilities and attributes to suit your play style. We assign points to Andriel's ranged attacks, making them more powerful with a view to providing support from afar for our more melee-centric comrades fighting with a sword and axe. Just because Andriel is a mage though, doesn't mean that she's not able to mix it up with formidable melee swipes like the lads. In fact, Andriel has both a sword and sceptre, enabling her to attack swiftly up close and from distance. The only downside is that Farin and Eradan are stronger than Andriel overall, but her prowess with spells and magic balance out her weaknesses in combat.
Working our way through some of the dungeon corridors beneath the city, there's chests to be looted and killing orcs and uruk-hai yields yet more booty to be gathered. Again, there's similarities to Dragon Age: Origins in its exploration aspects, but upon ascending a staircase to an exterior environment at the centre of the city, we engage in more combat, which is more akin to Dragon Age II, with gratifying and immediate action that doesn't feel like there's dice being rolled with each hit, although there are numbers popping up to show the damage you're inflicting. Our objective at this point is to defend two elven mages named Elladan and Elrohir who are striving to get the enormous doors into the stronghold open, as yet more orcs, goblins and trolls amass at either side of two stairwells leading up to the doors. As Eradan and Farin get stuck in, we try to provide ranged support in accordance with our plan, but end up being overwhelmed by smaller enemies as an armoured troll roars and marches towards us, swinging its club.
Deciding that the best defence is a good offense, we wade in, swiping wildly with Andriel's slender sword and unleashing magic with her sceptre. The troll is simply too strong to take on alone though and we waste our health potions as a result of our ill-advised head-on assault. With our allies downed, it's up to us to resurrect them and in doing so, we get beaten down by the marauding troll, meaning we're now desperately in need of revival. Back on our feet, it's time to rethink our strategy, and after carefully thinning out the number of orcs and goblins, we focus upon the troll managing to bring him down.
Little do we know that a second wave is incoming, with another two trolls in tow. We repeat the same process, tapping right on the D-pad to administer health potions while mastering the ebb and flow of the game's melee combat, parrying and using left bumper to block. Right trigger gives you access to special attacks, which prove effective and useful in battle, and with one last club-wielding armoured troll remaining, we're reminded that we have a helper waiting in the wings. Holding the right trigger and pressing A, we call in the aid of the Great Eagle Beleram, who swoops in talons-first grabbing the troll in its clutches, knocking it to the ground. Beleram then proceeds to savage the prone troll with his huge beak, killing it in a satisfying shower of blood and gore.
War in the North ought to appeal to a broad section of Lord of the Rings fans, revealing a chunk of the story that the movies neglected to cover with an action RPG that boasts 3-player drop-in/drop-out co-op (with the AI controlling absent human players) and a depth of gameplay that is reminiscent of the Dragon Age titles, as we've already observed in this preview. Taking your adventurers to locations like Mount Gundabad, Rivendell and Mirkwood, you'll get to explore parts of the Lord of the Rings universe from the books and engage in some pretty visceral and bloody combat in the process. There'll also be branching dialogue with moral implications that will play out later in the story, so you'll be able to not only shape your character's development but their place in the narrative too, as you journey ever-closer to the final showdown with Agandaûr. In short, War in the North is looking good based upon our E3 hands-on, and if Snowblind can marry the RPG and action aspects we've seen thus far with a compelling tale and intriguing dialogue options, we could be looking at one of the best LOTR titles we've seen in some time.
Lord of the Rings: War in the North will be fighting the forces of Sauron when it launches in autumn 2011.