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November 18, 2011
The Lord of the Rings: War in the North - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
16/11/2011WB GamesWB GamesSnowblind Studios1-22-3
Media HDD Space Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Graphically War in the North impresses.
The Lord of the Rings was one of the first 'grown up' books I read as a kid, and like so many others before me I loved every bit of it. When the movies came out I loved them too (though I lamented Tom Bombadilís absence) and I bought them on DVD as soon as they came out. Yet for all the love and affection I have for The Lord of the Rings, I did start to get sick of it (you're crazy I reckon - Dave). Itís been a few years between Lord of the Rings releases and my enthusiasm is back; I was very much looking forward to War in the North. The game is developed by Snowblind Studios, the company responsible for the likes of Baldurís Gate and Champions of Norrath on PS2 which got me even more excited. Has Snowblind crafted the one Lord of the Rings game to rule them all? Read on...

War in the North follows the adventures of three characters - Andriel an Elven mage, Farin a dwarf champion and Eradan the Ranger Ė in events that run concurrently with those in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sauronís forces, directed by his top lieutenant Agandaur, are trying to seize control of northern Middle-Earth and it is up to our three would-be heroes to stop them. Along the way theyíll run into the likes of Aragorn, Frodo, Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli, and stop by familiar locations such as Rivendell, Mirkwood forest and the town of Bree.

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This massive bird is actually a friend!
War in the North is an action-RPG with a heavy focus on combat. All three of the characters can perform light and heavy melee attacks, as well as ranged attacks in the form of arrows for Eradan and Farin, and spells for Andriel. In melee range you can block attacks with L1 which gives you just enough time to land a counter-attack. Some attacks canít be blocked so youíll want to roll away (with circle) Ė time it well and you wonít take any damage.

Repeatedly attacking an enemy fills up a critical meter, and when it is full youíll see a little yellow arrow above the enemiesí head. Hitting the enemy with a heavy attack at this point will result in major damage, often slicing off a limb and killing them outright, or knocking them to the ground where they are susceptible to further critical attacks. These attacks deal massive damage compared with normal heavy attacks and can shift the balance of the battle your way.

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War in the North has Dwarfs!
As you level up you unlock new abilities such as stronger attacks and improved passive abilities such as faster health regeneration, or the ability to revive fallen characters faster. Andriel can learn Sanctuary, the lone healing spell in the game that has the added perk of stopping all enemy ranged attacks when active. Farin learns powerful melee attacks as well as War-Cry which gives him a temporary boost to his armor, attack and health regeneration. Eradan can learn to wield multiple weapons at a time, making him quite the killing machine.

Each character has three skill trees to choose from, with later skills only unlocked when the two skills preceding them are purchased. Some skills require three skill points to max out, while others require just one. Itís highly unlikely that youíll unlock all of the skills in a single playthrough, but if you play through the new game plus you should earn them all. In the event that youíre not happy with the skills youíve purchased you can purchase a re-spec token from a store and reallocate the points as you see fit.

Like any good RPG there is a ton of loot to be found during levels so you probably wonít have to buy a lot of gear. Equipment suffers damage though, so youíll need to repair it at a blacksmithís whenever you get the chance. Some weapons and gear have slots for you to place gems in, which grant you bonuses like added fire damage for weapons, making all of your special attacks stun enemies or improving your defense. If you do a certain side-quest to find some mithril you can make some epic adjustments to the best weapon or gear you have.

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Battles look set to be pretty intense.
If you opt to tackle War in the North alone the other two characters will be AI-controlled, but you can also play in multiplayer - split-screen locally (the third character is still AI-controlled) or online with up to two friends. Joining someone elseís game or hosting your own is a breeze to setup, but there are a few technical issues once you get underway. The most significant issue is that enemies appear and disappear at random, sometimes in the middle of your attacks, making it almost impossible to launch critical attacks or dodge attacks. On a similar note there are times when your screen shows one of your partners has been killed, when it reality they are fine. It makes for a very muddled experience, one thatís nowhere near as fun as it should be.

Itís a real shame that the multiplayer implementation isnít up to scratch because it could have covered up the suspect AI of your AI-controlled partners in single-player. While not consistently bad, there are a number of times where itís simply not up to scratch. Early on in the game you face goblins with bombs on their backs, who must be blown up at distance lest they blow you up too. Your friends simply arenít up to the task and the result is plenty of avoidable deaths and frustration. Similarly Andriel doesnít cast Sanctuary often enough, particularly when there are archers around. Very late in the game you need to defend a door from two very sturdy trolls and regardless of the orders you give your partners (attack or defend) they simply donít help. After fifteen failed attempts I can safely say the health of the game was in jeopardy...

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War in the North is due in late 2011.
There are other issues with your AI-partners, most notably that you canít level them up, select their skills or choose their gear during play. In between levels you can swap characters and this is the only opportunity you have to level them up as you see fit. During play you can give equipment to your partners but it isnít possible to check what they already have on, so you canít tell if youíre improving or weakening their defense.

Visually The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is solid but not spectacular. Highlights include the hub areas between levels, particularly Rivendell which retains the clean and beautiful look it had in the movies, a few small touches such as heat ripples coming off fire and characters breathing mist in cold environments and all of the equipment. Whenever you equip a new weapon or piece of armour it changes the look of your character, and weapons and armour both are intricately detailed and look excellent up close. There is a ton of blood during battle, and limbs frequently go flying. Itís safe to say I am desensitized to such things, but the MA rating is well-earned.

On the flip side character faces look a bit plastic and thereís a tendency for each environment to end up underground or in a cave, in other words in locations that canít look great because they lack variety. Even a trip through the dark and mysterious Mirkwood forest soon becomes another trudge through caves. Textures frequently pop in as you make your way through Middle-Earth, but while it is noticeable it didnít negatively affect my experience.

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Taking on a swarm of Orcs...
There isnít a whole lot of music in the game and whatís there hasnít been lifted from the movies, though it does sound similar. The sound effects are pretty good; weapons clang and thud depending on what they hit, and enemies such as orcs and trolls make the kind of noises youíd expect them to. The voice-acting is ok but a little bit lifeless. Early on the characters sound more instructional than informative and while things improve later on it never feels like theyíre invested in the story. Familiar characters such as Elrond, Aragorn and Gandalf are not voiced by the actors who played them in the movies (that being Hugo Weaving, Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellen), but thatís to be expected.

The good news is that War in the North is easily the best (console) game to bear the Lord of the Rings name (actually I was very fond of EA's PS2 games - Dave). Combat has just enough depth to keep you interested and slicing off limbs never gets old. The RPG elements are simple enough not to put anyone off and the wide variety of skills are fun to learn. Suspect partner AI and a sub-par online multiplayer experience take some of the gloss off though, resulting in a game that is definitely fun, but by no means a must-have. If you enjoy The Lord of the Rings or action RPGs then you should take a look at War in the North but itís not quite the game we were hoping for.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSSolid throughout with the intricately-detailed weapons and equipment the highlight.
SOUNDThe sound effects are excellent while the voice acting is just ok.
GAMEPLAYCombat is just deep enough to keep you interested but occasionally poor AI and a flawed online experience pull this down.
VALUEFinishing the game unlocks harder difficulty settings if youíre keen to play again. The game should be awesome online but sadly it isnít and that hurts.
OVERALLThe best console Lord of the Rings game yet and worth checking out if youíre into Lord of the Rings or action-RPGs. Itís definitely not perfect though.

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