Lord of the Rings: War in the North is an action RPG title based on the northern front war briefly mentioned by Gandalf. War in the North occurs around the same time as the War of the Ring in which Frodo and Sam make their way to Mordor to destroy my precioussss as the rest of Middle-earth keeps Sauron at bay. The game's purpose is to shed light on the northern conflicts and given that Snowbold Studios has access to both the books and the movies they are not restricted to mix them up and create a very nice, playable game. War in the North is looking to be time well spent, but nothing spectacular by the looks of it.
The story begins with an elf, a dwarf, and a human flying over Mirkwood Forest on the backs of eagles. They are on a quest to find the wizard Ratagast, all the while fighting through armies of Saurons top lieutenant Agandaur who is tasked to conquer Middle-earth in the name of his leader.
War In The North is built around the concept of three-player cooperation. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas come to mind first, but unfortunately that is not the case here. You have the human, Aradon; the dwarf, Ferren; and the elf, Andriel who all play different roles in the game. The dwarf, Ferren, is played as a kind of tank (might have guessed already) to pull aggro from enemies and help buff up his teammates. The human, Aradon, is a ranger-type who can attack from far and also go in some sort of a stealth mode which allows him to move around the battlefield unnoticed. Lastly, the elf, Andriel, is the support healer with mage abilities. Their enemies will mostly consist of what we have already seen. Goblins, orcs, tribes of men that now play for the other team, and cave trolls will be present aswell.
Each character is given melee and ranged moves, but you will not be utilizing them most of the time as you already know there are damage penalties of some sort. The human has better bow skills and the dwarf has the strongest melee attacks (Experienced RPG players already know this, and can addapt to situations and use their weaker moves when needed). As for the "action" part of the action/RPG label, you will be tasked with chaining your strikes together because the game rewards you for smooth execution of attacks (this is suppose to make you and your friends pay more attention and try harder when playing if you want the extra bounty). When you start your assault, a bar will appear over the enemies head, which tells you how close you are to landing a critical strike. If you can land that deadly blow, the character will enter Heroic Mode, which grants bonuses to both damage and experience gained. The animation for deadly blows is very nice - parts of bodies are torn, heads flying etc.. You will also be able to choose a spec for your character in any way you want thanks to skill trees. This allows players to design each class to their own playstyle. You want to bash enemies in close-up combat as a mage? No problem. As you might expect, leveling up lets you increase your stats. You can choose to enhance strength, will, dexterity, or stamina. Plus, you'll unlock new skills and during your travels, you'll find tons (litteraly) of loot, ranging from sellable items to valuable equipment. There's a lot of hidden treasure in this game, apparently.
Co-op play is encouraged from the ground up in the way the game has designed its races. Each race has unique abilities that allow them to access areas of the map that would otherwise be left hidden, meaning solo players will lose a portion of gameplay experience. This is due to characters having skills that apply to the world around them. For example, the dwarf can see structural weaknesses in walls and break them down, where other characters would be clueless to their existence. The human can see traps hidden around the battlefields and the elf can find healing herbs around the game world to stir up potions.
It's unfortunate that Lord of the Rings: War in the North is being released during a year when the fantasy RPG well is already filled. The game is stuck in the shadows of the enormous fantasy worlds of Dragon Age 2, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and The Witcher 2 but it's definately worth playing even so.