Impressions: LOTR War In The North

By Alec Meer on November 4th, 2011 at 10:25 am.

Snowblind’s orc-biffer was released in the US yesterday and is cruelly and pointlessly withheld from the UK until November 25th. Nonetheless, a couple of weeks ago I had a crack at a level from late in the game, in addition to more recently trying the demo on OnLive. So here’s a quick primer on what to expect from the hacky-slashy fantasy game. I’ll try not to spoil the climactic battle against Mecha-Tolkien for you.

There’s not too much to it, but then that’s the point: it’s that sort of the game. It’s basically the bits where Legolas, Grumpy and Hidalgo run around having epic mini-fights while the battle of Helm’s Deep rages, on repeat. Three hitherto-undocumented (but apparently they’re top chums with Aragorn – funny he never mentioned ‘em, eh?) fellowship heroes set off on assorted adventures in parallel to the events of the books/films.

These adventures largely entail the frequent stabbing, axing, arrowing and magicking an assortment of orcs, goblins and bad men to death with the help of a gentle combo/finishing system and various powers. The two sections I played are reasonably entertaining, if leaning towards the relentless. There’s a pretence at roleplaying just before the action kicks off in the first level, but a few terse conversations with NPCs quickly leads into frantic combat. It’s that sort of game.

I’ve tried the Strider analogue and the Gimli analogue so far, though the lady wizard I’ve yet to look at. Let’s pretend that’s out of respect to old man Tolkien’s refusal to given female characters anything but the most token of roles in his books, rather than just because I couldn’t be bothered to play the same level again for a third time. For both the chaps I controlled, the basic brawling’s the same – light attack, heavy attack, block. There’s an emphasis on using an extra-heavy attack when enemies are in a fragile state, as revealed by a not at all artificial yellow arrow floating over their heads, at which point you can bust out gory finishing move. Yep, there’s an awful lot of severing in TLOTRWITN. It’s that sort of game.

It positively revels in the rapid removal of limbs with sharp, non-surgical-grade instruments, awarding varying gobbets of experience points depending on how epic/horrific your severing has been. Aesthetically, TLORTRWITN obviously embraces the bleached-out grim’n'grit of Peter Jackson’s hyper-earnest movies, but pops the violence up a notch or two. It’s that sort of game.

In many ways, it’s not a million miles away from EA’s well-received but forgettable LOTR hacker-slashers released in tandem with the films, but on the higher level I played it’s significantly more tactical (requiring judicious use of block and dodge if you wanted to avoid a very rapid death), challenging and less arcadey in its special attacks. It’s also co-op centric, although I’ve so far only played it solo.

There’s always three of you, with the other two controlled by AI if chums or barely tolerable internet strangers aren’t to hand. The main co-operation, which the AI is pretty handy at, is reviving each other if you take too many poleaxes to the stomach, though the magicky character has a neat Sanctum spell that casts of healing demi-hemisphere around her which any sensible player will immediately run and shelter under. Don’t worry, you’ve got a bow and arrow too, so you can keep killing even while you’re resting. It’s that sort of game.

There’s levelling up and skill-choosing in there, in accordance with the Diablolic values it loosely follows (though obviously it’s about smaller, more reflexive, closer-camera skirmishes rather than the zoomed-out, tap-tap-tap genocide of Blizzard’s games). Each character appeared to have three core skill trees, and the rate of levelling up I experienced suggested you’d be tailoring a build rather than fecklessly grabbing everything, but quite possibly it explodes into omnipotence in the very highest levels.

Oh – there’s also a looting system, which adds to the gentle compulsion of the piece as well as being genuinely rather important to going toe-to-toe with increasingly heavily-armoured orcs. It’s a little reminiscent of Hunted: The Reckoning in a way, but without the obnoxious acting or blatant, room-based scripting. Also, at one point I rescued a giant, talking bird from being imprisoned or tortured or something, which then helpfully took the heads off some orcs for me before flying away, which was reasonably entertaining.

I must say it’s a slightly bland and dated-looking game though, and as such stands at odds with the luxuriousness of the other two current titles in publisher’s Warner’s hands, Batman: Arkham City and Lego Harry Potter 2. Maybe it’s because it’s trying to ape the look of the films rather than have a definably videogamey character, but it does seem a tad low-tech too.

To be honest, despite the number of pre-existent LOTR videogames, I do think there’s a lot of room for a new, high-action take on a movie trilogy that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon, but the sense I’ve got from this is that it’s playing things too safe. Still, plenty of severing, a little bit of choice and a genuine need for tactics rather than button-bashing: it’s not a mindless cash-in for the casual crowd. Obviously, it’s being released at a time of year that’s tantamount to commercial suicide, but it might be worth looking up once the sound and fury of the world war between military manshoots has died down.

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38 Comments »

  1. Adda says:

    If anyone in the UK fancies trying it out before it comes out here then you can demo 30 minutes of it using OnLive already.

    I gave it a go earlier in the week but wasn’t massively impressed, maybe it shines more in multi.

  2. loGi says:

    No local co-op for PC was a deal breaker for me.

    • MiniMatt says:

      By no local co-op do you mean LAN based or split screen / same screen? I’m not particularly fussed about single screen / split scren but LAN play is always nice, if only because it seems a little silly to connect via a gazzilion miles of intertubes rather than 3 feet of cat5.

      Though I can’t envisage paying £75 to get a copy for 3 computers in the house. One for the steam sale then.

    • bilharzia says:

      PC splitscreen: No.
      PC LAN co-op: Yes.

    • MiniMatt says:

      Ah, thanks bilharzia :o)

      Likely be our cup of tea then, though probably not enough to buy multiple copies at £30 each.

  3. JiminyJickers says:

    I wish they would do a non-silly or mmo but a decent rpg like game set in the Tolkien universe.

    • Paul B says:

      I would also love to see an RPG set in Tolkien’s World. The only problem is everyone know’s the storyline now, especially after the recent films, so maybe it would have to tell a story parallel to the Lord of the Rings.

      The best games I’ve played based on the Lord of the Rings has still got to be the ones released on the Amiga (I only remember two games from Interplay covering the first two books). Of course, I’d probably find them rubbish if I tried playing them again now.

    • nofing says:

      Well, it could either be set after LotR or way earlier, in the time frame mentioned in Silmarillion.

    • mjig says:

      There are loads of LOTR stories that weren’t told in the movies.

    • BarneyL says:

      There’s always Lord of the Rings Online which can be played pretty much as a solo RPG. If you want to you can run through the main story line and ignore the fellowship\raid only content.

    • bill says:

      This. Why haven’t they cranked out a decent RPG in Middle Earth?

      Personally, I don’t think the story is important in this case – they need to make a MOrrowind/Skyrim style sandbox middle earth and let us run around it.
      They could include the main LOTR plot if they wanted – and let it be optional like those games – or any of the many other interesting stories in middle earth.

      Anyone play that RPG from a few years back, was that console only? the one with a clone of the LOTR party. They need to stop doing that… just let us make our own characters in that world.

      Even if they go with the main LOTR story, I don’t think it really matters… we often play games based on known stories.

    • groovychainsaw says:

      There was always this on the PS2 (heresy, i know…): LOTR:The third age. It was far better than it deserved to be, although clearly jrpg-inspired. Made a nice side-story to the films though, tying in quite nicely to them. Possibly worth seeking out if you love the films or like jrpg-type games (or are willing to give them a go).

    • Davie says:

      Well, there is this. Hopefully it’ll go somewhere.

      • MellowKrogoth says:

        Unfortunately, it’s gonna get shut down by the copyright holders like all other LOTR total conversion that reached any level of significance and popularity. What a wonderful world we live in for cultural achievements.

    • Big Daddy Dugger says:

      There’s a decent LOTR RPG on gamecube/ps2 but by now the gameplay’s probably a bit dated. LOTR The Third Age.

      Edit- If you’ve got a gamecube or ps2 there are better rpgs to choose from though like tales of symphonia or the one million final fantasies they made for playstation consoles.

  4. Baka says:

    I’m still not convinced this is a 50€ title. Is there actually a long campaign and replayability in it?
    Will probably get a three-pack in a sale a few months down the road anyway.

  5. McDan says:

    That sort of game? I like that sort of game.

    …wait, what sort of game?

  6. Jumwa says:

    I’d be totally sold, except the price. I’m becoming ever more convinced that few games are worthy of such impressively high price tags.

    When I can buy some games like The Elder Scrolls that’ll entertain me for hundreds of hours for the same price, or even simpler games like Terraria for much less that give me great gobs of entertainment, these games that look neat, but probably wouldn’t wow or keep me entertained for long just don’t seem worth it.

    And I don’t say this as a person desperate to get the most entertainment hours for my purchase, that’s not my meaning. My biggest problem is a lack of time to play the games I want in my leisure time. I have big stacks of (virtual) games yet to play that I haven’t had the chance to.

    But still, I am a consumer and I still value my money, so I try to determine relative value when making purchases. I’ll still pay a sizable sum for a game I believe will give me a lot of entertainment, or just a unique experience, even if quite short (heck, these days I value short but unique/entertaining experiences more than anything else, and loath those games that pad game length as wasting my time without getting to the point).

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      This, really. Seems like a decently fun game, but the price seems a bit steep. I can remember when I last paid over 40 euros for a game, but it certainly must’ve been a must-have game for me at the time.

    • ch4os1337 says:

      I pirated it for demo purposes and it’s not nearly worth $50, wait until its on sale for $5. It’s using a 10 year old engine (Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance engine) and it’s ugly and ridiculously bad.

  7. Temple says:

    Zombie-Mecha-Tolkien surely?
    (I’ve stopped doing shurely as people at work always think it is a typo)

  8. Kdansky says:

    Fighter, Elf, Wizard, Light Attack, Strong Attack, Block Button. Let me, guess, I can also do a roll, and my attacks generate three-hit chains when I mash the A button?

    Does it get any more generic? The unusual part about this game seems to be that it’s 3 player Coop instead of 4 player, which is the mandatory default since Left 4 Dead.

    There are so many interesting Indie games that delight with quirky and new mechanics right now, or just well-done classical mechanics with a clever twist. Why would anyone want to pay ten times as much money for something that is just a bland rehash of a PS2 game we’ve played nearly a decade ago as movie-tie in?

  9. etusa says:

    Just a warning to potential buyers: the hitboxes suck. You can literally miss arrows on hard and still get a hit. Also your character cant touch objects or walls, it’s like there’s an invisible forcefield around everything (or you). It puts me off quite much.

  10. Solcry says:

    Er… no women of power in Tokien’s universe? That.. seems to be kind of a stretch, seeing how one of the Rings of Power was held by a women.

    • jaheira says:

      Yep.

      Also: Eowyn, a feminist heroine. She wants to go out and fight to defend her people but her Dad and brother tell her stay at home in the kitchen. “Fuck that” she thinks and rides off to the battle where she KILLS THE NAZGUL BOSS with her awesome sword skills.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      This.

      Tolkien was great precisely BECAUSE his universe is filled with strong women.

      Look at Beren and Luthien. Beren’s the greatest hero mankind ever had, but Luthien repeatedly has to use her powers that far outstrip his to get them out of scrapes.

      It was the later, derivative works that tended to push women to the side.

      Read more Tolkien, Mr. Meer!

    • alundra says:

      “Yep.

      Also: Eowyn, a feminist heroine. She wants to go out and fight to defend her people but her Dad and brother tell her stay at home in the kitchen. “Fuck that” she thinks and rides off to the battle where she KILLS THE NAZGUL BOSS with her awesome sword skills.”

      jaheira, you didn’t read the book, did you?? I mean, even for your l33t feminist powers of twisting the truth, that doesn’t do justice even to the movie.

    • jaheira says:

      @ alundra

      Hang on a minute I think I’ve got some Troll food left over round here somewhere … yes here we are.

      OK then, Yes I have read the books of course. Now would you like a grown-up discussion about the women in Tolkien or did you just stop by to compliment my leetness? Eowyn is a brave warrior who defies the restrictions of the society she was born into in order to kick some ass. It’s a shame she just gets married off at the end I thought, but I suppose it did work thematically in terms of rebuilding the alliance between Gondor and Rohan.

    • alundra says:

      @jaheira

      Hey, you come up with the “feminist heroine” bit and “her Dad and brother tell her stay at home in the kitchen” byte, in all your truth twisting feminism might conveniently ignore how Eowyn backed off from war and went and married faramir and had children…and to you I’m the troll??

      Cynic much, eh??

      I sure would like to have an adult conversation, with you that’s impossible though.

  11. KilgoreTrout_XL says:

    It’s a loot-driven dungeon crawler. You get to kill endless waves of mobs with shiner and shiner weapons and armor. You have to play through it at least three times (on harder and harder difficulty) to reach the level 40 cap, and the loot tables are upgraded for each playthrough as well. There are three of us who are dedicated to hitting the cap together, and so far we’re absolutely fucking loving it.

    There isn’t much not to like really. Unless you don’t like brainless lootromps that you can still play after you’re 3 – 11 beers deep.

  12. Stylosa says:

    “….pointlessly withheld from the UK until November 25th”

    I seen copies of this in the local Discs and Discs? Does it not unlock until the 25th on Steam or something? I was tempted to pick it up.

  13. Jimbo says:

    I played through The Third Age. Not a must-play by any stretch of the imagination, but a decent enough game.

  14. Big Daddy Dugger says:

    Is this game like a more boring version of Space Marine?

  15. Berzee says:

    “Legolas, Grumpy and Hidalgo”

    I’m still laughing about this. :D

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