Snowblind Studios is one of those houses that put themselves on the map with a game no one saw coming in Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Combining a high frame rate with that sensation of fast paced killing and looting that we’ve grown to love since Diablo, it was an instant console hit. Fast forward ten years, and we’re doing it again, this time in the Lord of the Rings universe.
Has anything changed? No. This is a good and a bad thing, but the genre could sure use a little more ingenuity after all these years, especially after indie titles like Bastion reimagine and reinvent things.
This is rated M for Mature, but strictly for intense violence. You won't find too many things to argue about here otherwise, unlike say, Grand Theft Auto.
Gameplay - 80 / 100
Several builds exist for each character though, and you can even build the wizard in melee combat and kick ass surprisingly. Other than her, you’ve got your typical LOTR ranger and warlord archetypes to play as for sword and bow combat. Each character also has a tradeskill of sorts to earn their keep and maintain some semblance of being a unique snowflake.
Very few games allow you to cast with one hand and beat orcs in with the other.
We’ve seen it before, and it doesn’t really change here—you basically kill and quest from one hub to the next. Whether you choose to do it alone or with the AI is up to you, but some fights are significantly harder with the AI’s boneheaded antics. Fortunately you don’t have to backtrack much at all, so everything feels fresh and new as you push onward. Snowblind did an exceptional job as usual with their dungeon design, making the world feel more alive than just corridors with encounters as you see with lesser dungeon crawlers.
The control scheme doesn’t really lend that well to a keyboard and mouse, so I highly recommend making the investment for a controller if you don’t have one already. Similarly to Dungeon Siege III, it’s workable once you get used to it. Exchanges of blows feel crisp and the blood flows freely, cementing that M rating. Just realize you’re going be attacking pretty much nonstop, because there’s little to do besides kill in this game.
Is that a bad thing though? The replayability takes a dive when the diversity of the game is so low, consisting of combat after combat, with story taking a backseat to violence. All in all, I feel like this was a game they made after Dark Alliance II that was shelved, then revived and optimized for the new generation of consoles. It’s the same damn thing as their previous games—albeit just as polished and fun for those seeing their games for the first time. The LOTR license almost feels wasted seeing as you barely interact with any of the setting’s major characters.
Graphics - 77 / 100
A fine mess is probably the best way to describe this game. Given sufficient hardware, the game will shine and shimmer even in the bloodiest of fights. But for those of us whose graphics cards are only packing 1 GB of ram, it could still use some optimization, and as a result, you find yourself slamming the settings down to enjoy the flow of combat. On lower settings though, the mess turns into a muddy pile of red textures. That might be a good thing if youre getting distracted in combat though.
Sound - 90 / 100
The highlight of the game, as every LOTR game should have a great soundtrack and voice acting to back it up, and this delivers. While the actual context of the story is pretty pathetic, the production values are high enough to keep you listening rather than skipping cutscenes.
Multiplayer - 87 / 100
The northlands are much more fun when you can specialize in one character completely, rather than juggling between the others.
Value - 65 / 100
The quest is a good one, and fairly long. The problem is repetition in a game that doesnt really push the boundaries of the genre. This fellowship just feels second rate after all these years of us playing action RPGs, and as such, I cant recommend this for $50. If you can pick it up on a sale with some friends, then youll get your moneys worth, but especially if youd be playing it alone, steer clear for some time.
Lasting Appeal - 45 / 100
With a completely forgettable character lineup and story that only serves to get in the way or set up the next hub/killing field, its been a long time since I ran into a hack and slash that I really never feel like loading up again after putting down. I dont feel compelled to try any other builds, I dont feel compelled to yell at my friends to log on, and I just feel like this game is a relic of the past, ala Duke Nukem Forever.
Pros and Cons
- The first M rated LOTR game earns it with a tons and tons of brutal combat
- Stellar sound as is to be expected for a game in this universe.
- This game feels archaic. Its Dark Alliance 3, developed in 2004, rebranded and republished in 2011.
- Lackluster story and characters are a complete waste of the LOTR license
- Multiplayer is more or less required to get maximum enjoyment from the title due to the party design.
I love a classic beat em up. I love chopping hundreds of thousands of minions down over the course of a characters growth from a basic attacker to a whirlwinding death machine. What I got is just that, but with high production values in all aspects except gameplay and story. War in the North is not a bad game. This war is just one that is fought in the past of game design, and as a result, just lacks the punch or feature set that addicts people and keeps us coming back for more.