PS3 Review – The Lord of the Rings: War in the North

There have been a number of Lord of the Rings games throughout the years, most of which have been average at best. Snowblind Studios and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment hope to crush that trend in much the same way Frodo and pals wanted to destroy a certain ring. But with the game’s story following what amounts to a sidequest in Middle-Earth, can they deliver?

The game lets you and up to two friends play as three lesser characters from the world of Lord of the Rings. You can choose between Farin, a dwarf, Andriel, a mage/”Loremaster,” and Eradan, a ranger. Each class has their own strengths and weaknesses: the dwarf is a “tank” character who is skilled at melee combat and can take a lot of damage, the mage is made for long-range magic attacks and serves to heal the group, and the ranger is well-rounded and specialized in ranged weaponry. Each character can pick up traits similar to the others, though, to ensure you are ready for enemies at any distance.

War in the North begins with one of the game’s few actual cutscenes. Rarely are cutscenes so minimal. This one features a camera pan over a map of Middle-Earth as one of its best attributes. It feels like a bland way to start a game with canon as rich as that which the Lord of the Rings franchise offers. But really, bland is the best way to describe a lot of the experience you’ll have with War in the North. For starters, you are just dropped into the game world with little direction after the first cutscene. Once you are given your mission, which amounts to not much more than a side quest in the grand scheme of things, you are told how to move and not much more. The real meat of the tutorial doesn’t begin until after you’ve discovered that you need to travel to a land called Fornost. Even then, you are only told how to attack – I learned how to command my AI allies thanks to a hint on the loading screen. A lot of the controls are common sense and are explained on the skills management screen, but for newbies to the hack-n-slash RPG genre, it will be tough to figure out what to do.

Graphically, this game is disappointing as well. We are well into this generation of consoles, but this game reminds me more of launch titles than cutting-edge. With games as beautiful as Skyrim out there, gamers expect a certain level of graphical prowess, and War in the North just doesn’t cut it. Some character models look okay, but landscapes range from underwhelming to average. It’s a shame, too, because the Lord of the Rings franchise just begs for high-caliber vistas.

At least the audio picks up some of the slack.  War in the North has all your typical RPG sound effects such as swords clanging, throats being slashed and spells being cast. All characters are fully voice acted, some of whom give impressive deliveries of their lines. We’re not talking movie-quality here, but it gets the job done. Sound is presented in 5.1 surround sound, which isn’t state-of-the-art anymore. At least you can tell where attacks are coming from. The soundtrack is appropriately epic, with booming music that can get your heart going during the heat of battle. It wouldn’t sound out of place in an actual Lord of the Rings movie.

If various reports around the Internet are to be believed, this game has a lot of glitches and technical problems, many of which are game-breaking. Lost and corrupted save games, checkpoints not triggering, NPCs not where they are supposed to be on the map and more have angered many gamers. It’s as if Snowblind Studios rushed through their QA sessions in order to pump out War in the North sooner rather than later. With Skyrim releasing on the 11th, that may have been their reasoning. But to let the game release with so many bugs feels like a slap in the face. I personally witnessed many of these bugs while playing through the game, such as the audio introducing some ugly static or artifacts as someone spoke, and anger-inducing glitches such as the entire screen turning yellow or white, with character models just barely showing up. The only cure was to quit to the XMB, and then re-launch the game, losing a few minutes in the process. To top things off, initially loading the game takes much longer than it should, especially for a game that looks so average.

Not all hope is lost though. War in the North supports split-screen multiplayer, a feature that is quickly becoming rarer in this industry. You can even play with another person on the same system while a third person plays on another system over the Internet. The game’s engine can handle two players pretty well, and there doesn’t seem to be much if any detail lost when playing in this mode. Playing with other people definitely helps increase the fun factor, and is probably one of War in the North‘s saving graces. If other games could utilize split-screen I’m sure everyone would be happier.

There isn’t much more to say about The Lord of the Rings: War in the North. It’s a side story within the Lord of the Rings universe presented in the form of a mediocre hack-n-slash RPG. Only the die-hard Lord of the Rings fans need apply here. The rest of you can pick up Skyrim to get your RPG fix. Although split-screen multiplayer can be fun, you’re still just playing an average game with a friend.  With a short campaign by this genre’s standards, very little instructions on how to play from the start, bland graphics, glitches and audio problems, War in the North is hard to recommend to all but the hardcore fans of Tolkien’s world.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ Set in the Lord of the Rings universe, split-screen is always welcome.

– Unimpressive graphics, glitches and audio issues abound.

– Game-breaking technical problems, short and simple story.

4 out of 10