There are so many games available at the click of a button and the authorization of a credit card these days that critic ratings, meta scores and top notch marketing generally differentiate the games that people are even willing to try to the games that never get a chance. Frequently buying a game, especially on PC or Console is an all or nothing proposition — a leap of faith. You might spend $60.00 on a game you play for 2 hours and $3.99 on a game you play to completion multiple times. Aside from rare demos, having a friend who already owns it or the occasional beta, there is usually no way to know if a game will be something you will like or even if it is any good. Generally, this leads gamers to lean heavily on meta score, marketing campaigns and general hype. When it comes to even trying a game that requires co-op play and multiple people to own the same title trying the game is nearly an impossibility. So how did Lord of The Rings: War in the North sneak through this barrier for me? War in the North has a meta score of 66, a bevy of so-so reviews, and requires multiple licences (one per player) to play cooperatively online.
Where it went right for me personally was showing up in a Humble Indy Bundle and the familiar LotR franchise name. I recall the bundle was not enticing to me at all, but, thanks to a theme I enjoy and a set of mechanics I usually like (RPG, Co-op) I decided to attempt to get someone else on board to play with me. I managed to talk my brother into getting the game and it appears as if one of my other friends also got the bundle, perhaps for this game or perhaps for another. Either way, I know three people who own this game — so let’s play right?
Well, truth be told, I have not played every game I own. I don’t know how many I have played and how many I haven’t but, I’d go out on a limb and say I have played only 65 or 70 percent of the games I own. This is a growing issue for many people who game via steam. Thanks mainly to bundles and holiday sales we now face an overflowing wealth of available games that we already own but haven’t touched yet! The 10 year old me with an super nintendo with 6 games is baffled by that last sentence. Compile that weird problem with my advanced age (I’m 27), a job, 2 kids and other responsibilities I am facing more potential gaming than possible gaming — that is the place where sale items and bundled games go to die.
So now Lord of the Rings: War in the North has to grapple and wrestle with the 157 other games in my steam library and attempt to eventually emerge as the game that is going to get played at a particular moment. Months went by and there were a few times when my brother and I almost got a chance to play together and then… it didn’t work out. Other games came and went and War in the North waited. That is until this weekend when my daughters were napping (one on my lap) and my 13 year old nephew was hanging out for the afternoon. We had, what turned out to be, two whole hours with nothing to do and two computers to do it on. Thanks to fast internet and two steam accounts with the game in the collection waiting to be downloaded we were off and running in 15 minutes. War in the North was getting its shot to impress us.
What it is
Lord of the Rings, War in the North is a 1-3 player, co-operative, action rpg. In some ways it brings games like diablo to mind. Baddie killing, loot hunting action from the 3rd person. On the other hand, the 3rd person camera is tighter, and the combat is a little less clicky in ways that draw comparison to playing skyrim in 3rd person view. Characters have stats like Diablo 2 that grow as you level: Strength, Stamina, Dexterity, Wisdom, etc. Characters also have a skill tree like some of the MMO’s and RPG’s of old (and one of my favorite newer RPG’s: Torchlight). Combat is mostly clicking (or button mashing on a controller) to swing your weapon with a nice addition of toggling to a ranged weapon which requires first-person shooter like aiming via cross-hairs. Your character also has a few special abilities that can be used via an energy meter and skills generally augment those abilities. As I mentioned I played this game with my 13 year old nephew who, when asked, claims his favorite game is Skyrim. This game fits into that general fantasy theme, features skills and magic and at times did have a very skyrim type feel to it. I personally wont claim a favorite game but will admit: I like the genre, I like Lord of the Rings and a game that features cooperative fighting really lands in my wheelhouse. We were both a little confused up front, but stumbled our way through the controls and the early story. Essentially we were a group of heroes fighting orcs and goblins doing something for Aarogon (who I assume is King of Gondor at this point). What exactly the point of our mission was, well, we weren’t sure. We also didn’t mind not knowing because the game starts out with a bunch of enemies running at you and before you know it you are elbow deep in orc blood just trying to stay on your feet.
Here are my quick takes:
- Combat was fun, rewarding and challenging for us even on the normal setting. It’s not complicated but with just a few general moves you can have a lot of fun. There is a block, dodge, two weapon swings, arrow shooting, and 3 special moves for each character. Enemies can be weak and numerous, large and boss-like, have spells or can be rigged with explosives. Missions can be hold out in an area, kill all the enemies, attack a position or defend an NPC. All of that just in the first couple hours of gameplay. What’s more, the combat has a very rewarding feeling to it. When you hit an enemy they are knocked back and you can press the attack and pummel them into the corner or dodge away and manage a few foes at once.
- Coop was mandatory but fun. Even if you play this game solo, your get two allies that fight with you. We chose the fighters while the 3rd healer character was an AI. The AI was actually not too bad, generally helpful, got into fights that it shouldn’t have here or there but overall wasn’t a problem. Playing with a friend or two (in my case 1) was a blast though. We could double team difficult foes, call eachother over for help or when one of us was “down” (meaning we were at 0hp) we could call the other over for healing (a mechanic similar to Left4dead where a teammate needs to help you up).
- Loot was exciting and not overdone. A lot of time the problem with and RPG like diablo is that you spend half your day managing all the junk you pick up along the way. This game gave us items that were more or less useful without making us spend too much time managing them. We traded some items back and forth and sold some of our stuff 1 time while playing (and we could have opted not to). The combat was pretty non-stop and we, so far, hadn’t felt the need to spend time buying and selling items to progress in the story.
- As much as I wanted to be playing this game with a controller, the xbox controller implementation was lackluster. Maybe it was just me, but, having to control the camera with the other joystick and having to aim with the 2nd joystick is a major turnoff for a fast paced action game like this. Also the special abilities wound up being odd key combinations and just felt unnatural. I like that the support is there, but I just didn’t prefer it. Your mileage may vary.
- The story was ‘meh’ and the game felt arcade like in it’s railroaded plot. I suppose this is a matter of opinion, but, it didn’t feel like anything that we did mattered to the story (I don’t think it did). There were times when the character had to talk and you got to choose the speaking lines… but, I don’t think the choices mattered at all. I also feel like there was no strategy level to level. You pretty much just kill everything as fast as you can… and that’s it. Not bad per sey, but, if you wanted a more meaningful experience this is not the game for you.
- Forced 3-player co-op. I think the game is fine with 2, I’m sure it’d be better with 3… and that’s sort of the downside. You have a game that probably wont play well single player because there really is no true single player. There is single player with two AI team-mates you have no control over… eh. Even knowing that I like the game, I’d probably pass on it single player. And honestly with a $20.00 price tag and your friends needing to also drop $20.00 if they want to play on their own machine via steam… yeah, that gets to be a bit of an issue.
It’s not perfect — likely not for everyone and there are some serious barriers to getting this game played. Those barriers aside, it is a better game than its meta scores and reviews would lead one to believe. I personally am always on the lookout for a meaningful co-op experience; if you combine that with good combat and entertaining RPG elements you end up with a very limited scope of games to choose from. Lord of the Rings: War in the North is well done for what it is and despite its pitfalls is an overall fun experience. I can’t say I’d reccomend the game for $20.00 a piece but if you have 2 friends who want to play a co-op with better than average combat, a great theme and RPG elements I don’t know that you could much worse than Lord of the Rings: War in the North at your next available Steam or other platform game sale. Even at a measly 30% off I’d recommend it.