Lord of the Rings: War in the North (WitN) was developed by Snowblind studios, the folks behind a number of similar games, including some decent Dungeons & Dragons action RPGs on the original Xbox. Much like Lord of the Rings Online, players take on the roles of characters that worked behind the scenes during Frodo's death march from the Shire to Mordor. In this case, your group of three characters, a dwarf champion, a human ranger, and an elf loremaster are tasked with running interference against armies of orcs and goblins to prevent them from invading the Shire before Frodo gets out. It looks like we'll be traveling across Middle Earth, meeting famous figures from the book (Aragorn gives you your first quest) while slaughtering minions of Sauron and his lieutenant Agandaur by the hundreds.
|You can't keep us apart. We're like family!|
The thing that struck my friend and I most distinctly was that the game is clearly, obviously, and wonderfully tailored for co-op play. Co-op isn't something tacked on as a necessary feature, the game was designed with co-op in mind. A big example -- all loot in the game is randomly generated for each character and if you find a chest, every character gets to loot the chest and gets a full share of loot from it. There's no competition for loot, and no concerns about taking things that might be better for your buddy over there. Instead, the loot I picked up wouldn't have even existed if I hadn't been playing in my friend's game. When we found things the other player could use, it was easy to trade as well, since you can simply send items from your inventory to any of the other players directly. No dropping things on the ground and hoping they pick up the right thing. The game is intense enough that communication matters, and we were talking far more than we ever did during Titan Quest. Teamwork matters here, and that's a great thing for a co-op game.
|What do you mean you never saw Gandalf do this? What a slacker!|
The graphics are decent, but not exceptional, due no doubt to the game's console pedigree. Dialog is voiced, both for the player characters and the NPCs, and your characters will even do battle shouts or announce skill usage during combat for certain skills. The sound effects and music seemed good, and fit with the Lord of the Rings theme. I don't recall anything glaring like death metal blaring as we charged up a ruined canyon into hordes of exploding goblins.
All that said the game certainly has some issues. I was playing using an xbox 360 wired controller, so camera control and movement was fluid and easy for me. My friend was using a mouse and keyboard though, and it took some time for him to get used to the sometimes wonky camera movements. The game is clearly a console port, and both the control scheme and user interface reflect that. It's not insurmountable, but it does take some getting used to, and I think the game is probably best played with a game pad. Strangely though, the list of controls in the menu refers only to the mouse and keyboard even if you have a gamepad plugged in, though the in-game tutorials and loading screen tips thankfully report how to do things with the controller.
The other rather strange issue we had was voice chat. The game apparently has voice chat built in and enabled by default, but has absolutely no settings to control it anywhere in the game at all. We were connected through Skype and when the multiplayer game started my friend's voice started echoing in my headphones, while he was hearing my voice from both his headphones and his computer speakers. We figured out pretty quickly that WitN was providing voice chat and turned off Skype, but the control and quality of the voice service was inferior to that of Skype and we'd have rather stuck with Skype. There was no way to turn it off though, so we were stuck. I'm assuming there must be a .ini file or something we can edit to shut it down.
Reviews of the game have been pretty luke warm, and if I was playing the game single player I could understand that. I don't doubt it would get repetitive, and the relatively weak story wouldn't keep me going. Co-op though, the game is a lot of fun and deserves a much higher rating than the reviews are giving the game as a whole. If you're interested in WitN, play with some friends to really enjoy the game as it was meant to be played.
Overall we had a good time and I'm looking forward to playing it again next week. We made it to level 6, but are still in the first area of the game, so playing one night a week WitN could last a couple of months. I think we've finally found a game that we can all enjoy and play together, at least for now. Finally!