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PAX EAST 2011: Lord of the Rings: War in the North Preview

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As a big fan of both the Lord of the Rings and Snowblind Studios, I was very excited to get some hands on time with Lord of the Rings: War in the North. This action RPG in the vein of their classic Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance has a lot of potential and I am happy to say it mostly lives up to it.

The game centers around a trio of characters that somewhat mimic the movie trio of Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas. In this game you choose a Dwarf, Human, or Elf as your starting character and begin playing the story. The game is very co-op focused and if you are playing alone, the AI controls your teammates.  Find friends online or local and the game becomes much deeper. The AI is good, but like most games playing with friends makes the game that much better.

As mentioned, this is an action RPG and you have a normal and heavy attack at your disposal as your basic moveset. As you progress, you gain powers that are accessed by holding R1 or right bumper (depending on format) and one of the face buttons. The powers range from buffs to area affecting attacks and all are represented really well.

The action gets hot and heavy quickly, and to further promote co-op work, you get bonuses to XP and damage if you attack simultaneously with your team. The visual clues are clear and dynamic, and if you rack up enough co-op action you enter Hero Mode which further rewards you with XP and loot drops.

The characters have a surprisingly deep progression system as well. I was playing the Elf character and initially she had a staff at her disposal.  After a level-up, I was able to dual wield and all of the sudden she was attacking like Gandalf in Return of the King – all spinning sword and staff. The developer told me that the initial character mold gets broken quickly as you customize them to your liking.

There are ample loot drops and you can equip your characters with different gear as you move through the world. Like the other games from Snowblind, your characters change in appearance based on your equipment.

The 20 minute demo playthrough had our characters fighting their way up a mountain and eventually meeting a snow giant. The monster was huge and took a concerted effort to take down. The result was satisfying and challenging, making us all working together to bring him down.

The graphics in the game are quite good, but still a tad rough. There were some jaggies and tearing, but the game is still a ways from being completed (there is no release date except “this year”). Gameplay looks great and was relatively smooth, but hit detection was on and off with some moves looking great and others seeming to miss. The audio, while hard to hear on the show floor, seems solid with the characters sounding right.

All in all, the game looks really promising, Snowblind has both the movie and book licenses, so the game will be steeped with lore. If they can tighten up the graphics and smooth out the framerate, Lord of the Rings: War in the North could be one of the best action RPG’s in a long while.

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About Michael Prince

Looking at all things Geek - news, rants and updates from the worlds of gaming, tech, blu-ray, novels, and music.