When it comes to a fully developed fantasy universe, it doesn’t get any deeper than J.R.R. Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth. With multiple nationalities, races, species, and factions vying for authority, fans of the lore could immerse themselves for years just picking apart every nuance. I mean, there are people who have actually learned Elvish, a skill useful for speaking with fellow nerds and little else.
At its core, Middle Earth is all about the Fellowship of the Ring, a rag-tag group of humans, dwarfs, elves and hobbits who journey to destroy an evil ring. Honestly, if you haven’t read the books or seen the movies by now, you need to drop what you’re doing and catch up.
We’ve already seen video game versions of both the books and films about Aragorn, Frodo, Legolas, and the rest of the motley crew, leaving many untold stories of Middle Earth out of the picture. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment has teamed up with Snowblind Studios to tell a secondary story in the War of the Ring mythos. In War in the North, players will lead three new characters into the northern reaches of Middle Earth.
While the events of War in the North probably won’t be considered canon, there is some support for creating a game about these untold events. In the books, white wizard Gandalf believes that Frodo would not have been successful in destroying the Ring if it were not for the actions of certain northern heroes. From this single piece of information, Snowblind is creating game that will address this crucial but little known event in a fresh way.
Adding new characters to the Lord of the Rings story is always risky business. Anyone who has played Lord of the Rings: The Third Age remembers the B-tier status of the player characters. Nobody wants to be some chump who’s secondary to the main cast. Thankfully, Snowblind has rights to both the films and books, allowing them to build on the universe and hopefully create characters that will interest players.
So what exactly will gamers receive when they purchase War in the North? Well, they’ll get a fairly traditional action RPG with three-player co-op. The adventure begins in Rivendell, the elven city where the Fellowship is formed. In addition to the Fellowship, a trio of warriors—a human ranger, a female elven mage, and a dwarf warrior—are sent off into the northern regions to battle Sauron’s representative.
In twenty minutes of play time, I was introduced to the basic gameplay methods. Each character is given different abilities and special attacks, such as the dwarf’s crossbow, the elf’s magic shield, and the human’s stealth invisibility, which are used to mow through orcs and trolls. The RPG elements show up in loot collection and the skills trees, with characters learning new abilities up to level 20.
Characters are predefined, but they can be customized with the different armor and weapon drops. Each class also has abilities outside of battle. For example, the dwarf can detect hidden caves, and the elf can use his keen understanding of nature to locate mushrooms and other resources.
Visually, the game could use some work. It’s not necessarily the game’s fault, considering the Lord of the Rings series defined these fantasy settings, but War in the North looks generic and dated. There’s nothing terribly gorgeous about the game, but Snowblind still has a good amount of time to tighten up the graphics, should they wish to do so.
Interestingly, this will also be the first M-rated Lord of the Rings game. With this rating, expect some gory and flashy executions of those troublesome orcs. Fans of the franchise will surely find plenty to enjoy in this secondary tale, and if Snowblind succeeds in designing characters that don’t feel B-tier, we could be in for a fun and passable licensed title.