by Danielle Harrison
previewed on PC
The untold story
Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment and developer Snowblind Studios are currently working on the next game in The Lord of the Rings series, War in the North. Uniquely, Snowblind Studios have been given the rights to both the literary and the movies, leaving them in a position to have every aspect that made the franchise so well known, right at their fingertips. You will see many things from the movies that you know and love including familiar faces and established areas but also be given the bonus of exploring new, never-before seen parts of the world. Snowblind Studios are responsible for some great RPG games such as Champions of Norrath and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, so the chances of War in the North being a huge hit seem pretty stable right now.
The final game will immerse players into a brand new story set in Middle Earth, only briefly touched upon in the famous books written by JRR Tolkien. The story will take place in the ravaged lands of the north and runs simultaneous to the story of the books. Whilst the fellowship continue their quest towards Mordor to destroy the one ring, you and your team will be defending the free people of the north from brutal and vicious attacks conducted by Sauron’s armies. War in the North will be the first mature-focused title in the Lord of the Rings series and although taking place in a fantasy world, Snowblind Studios have stated they want to make the experience more realistic. During an interview, designer Ian Scott said: “My favorite part is the mature approach we’re kinda taking to the license. It’s a first for Lord of the Rings so we’re really trying to push the boundaries for what players have seen. It’s grittier and a little more realistic, outside of the fact that we’re in a fantasy setting.”
With that in mind, we can expect the game to contain lots of blood, severing and decapitation. The developers are attempting to make this the most brutal, kick your ass Lord of the Rings experience ever and from what we have seen, we have every reason to believe them. The combat system will be more visceral, running off of instinct instead of intellect as though you are actually there in the moment. They are also aiming to get the player to feel fear for their character, wanting you to sit on the edge of your seat and worry about what is around every corner. By adding ferocious finishing moves they have captured this in an intense way. Instead of simply killing an enemy, you can run your sword right through him and if a troll kills you, he may pick you from the ground and rip your head off. It seems very extreme but totally enjoyable.
It isn’t just the extreme new level of action that makes this RPG unique. Another great addition to the genre is that any of the characters in your team can be played by friends in co-op mode. Your team consists of a Dwarf fighter, an Elf ranger and a Human wizard and they are all customizable. The co-op will be available both online and offline but if you prefer to play alone don’t worry, you can play solo while the AI steps in to take control of the other two characters. Each character has very unique abilities and to stay alive you must work together.
The mage can cast offensive and defensive spells. A very useful one is called Sanctuary and creates a force-field like barrier around the mage. Other team members can benefit from this as well by seeking protection behind the barrier while it is active. The mage is the only character who can craft ingredients that would be used by your team. The Elf character is, naturally, best used as a ranged unit. She uses a wide variety of stealthy moves and abilities to gain advantage over the enemy. Finally, the Dwarf character can detect hidden doors and treasures, as well as being able to run head first into a battle and still have the ability to overcome the opponents swinging his gigantic battle-axe around him to keep attackers at bay. Teamwork is a big part of this game so you can work together with your team or, potentially, die really quickly when you don’t.
War in the North doesn’t rely solely on its awesome battle system or fantastic co-op though. Developing a good narrative has been a big focus of the developers and they have added a speech wheel similar to the one found in the Mass Effect series to ensure deep interactions with non-playable characters. As in every other RPG, there will be a leveling system in which you can gauge the progress of your characters and build each of their unique skills. In single-player, you only get to play the Human mage. We would love to be able to tell you something about how you can develop your own character but Snowblind Studios remain very tight lipped about character progression, level caps and skill trees. Perhaps that will be something we can reveal in a review closer to the release of the game. Stay tuned!