Middle Earth Month: The War in the North – REVIEW (PS3, Xbox 360 and PC)

Posted: January 23, 2015 in Written Reviews
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Welcome back to Middle Earth month! I can’t believe we’re nearly three quarters of the way through it. Last week we took a look at the Two Towers and Return of the King games published by EA Games. Today we’ll be looking at something from the seventh generation of consoles. And that is an RPG created by Snowblind Games and published by Warner Bros. Interactive, that game is Lord of the Rings: War in the North!

War in the North (or WITN if you prefer initials) was released in the November of 2011 and was released on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. For years I’ve really wanted a good and solid RPG based on the lore of Middle Earth, now a couple of things out of the way: Yes I know LOTR Online was an MMO but there’s a difference between MMORPG’s and single player RPG’s. Besides LOTRO just felt like every other MMO of its time. And yes I know that there were a series of RPG’s based on the licence that were released on the PC but I’ve never played them and back in the day had no means to. So I’m classing this as the first proper RPG in the series that I’ve played. So the potential is definitely there already, an adventure game with RPG elements is almost certainly the correct direction to go with a Lord of the Rings game. Final Fantasy: The Third Age notwithstanding… 


so is it any good? Well…

Graphically it looks pretty decent with some of the character models in particular looking great, for instance the Fellowship of the Ring and all of the main players look really good, some of the other characters look a tad generic, however the three playable characters have some good detail individually. It should also be noted that you can customize your characters appearance by accessing the mirror inside the Prancing Pony. Unfortunately I found that the majority of the game environments looked muddy, bland and severely suffering from gun metal blegh colour that most games seems to have now. What’s really strange is that clearly the studio had the licence to use likenesses from the movies, which is evident with characters from said films. But a lot of the locations not only look nothing like their movie counterparts but are laid out completely different. It’s a strange decision and one I’ll be getting in into later. Now while some of the creature models may not be jaw dropping, their simplicity allows for lots of them on screen at once, leading to some challenging skirmishes. Essentially the important models look very good but the majority of side characters and locations can look pretty average.

The sound department isn’t really any better; actually I’d argue that it’s worse. Now obviously they couldn’t rope in any of the cast from the films, but that’s often the case with licenced video games isn’t it? So what’s the next logical step? They get voice actors capable of sounding like the original cast right? Right? Tell ‘em Lex


I’m not kidding that some of these are amazing, in an embarrassing and shameful way.

Aragorn: Not only does he sound nothing like Viggo Mortensen but if anything he sounds like he’s in his early 20’s.

Bilbo: Haha no.

Gimli: That’s just a generic Scottish accent.

Legolas: This isn’t a horrible voice, but again it doesn’t sound remotely like Orlando Bloom.

Gandalf: This one is actually pretty good, in fact the actor (Tom Kane) has portrayed Gandalf three times prior to this. His first performance coming from Surreal Games’ The Fellowship of the Ring.

Elrond: Now this is maybe the funniest, as a friend of mine once said he’s got the speech patterns of Hugo Weaving down to a T, except he forgot to actually sound like Hugo Weaving.

And while some could argue it’s not strictly based off of the films but even if that was the case, why on earth would you use the character likenesses, you can’t have one or the other. The video below perfects represents this.

Besides that the voice acting isn’t too bad, the main characters sound fine, despite Eradan who sounds more like a Ranger from North America. Unfortunately they’re going to start annoying you very very quickly particularly the aforementioned Eradan. In most games of this genre the playable characters spout some kind of war cry or one liner when defeating/fighting enemies, typically there are plenty of them so that they don’t begin grating… Well Snowblind obviously didn’t write enough, because I swear to god I heard either “You face a Ranger now!” and “You face a Dunedain!” at least a hundred times. Sure it might not sound too irritating to you now, but let’s see how you feel after you’ve experienced it. This might not be as bad as I’m making it out to be, but it just feels like Eradan spouts this crap far too often. And then there’s the music, like I’ve already said since they’ve clearly purchased the rights for the licence along with the likeness of the films (even the LOTR title font is the same) you’d think maybe the game would contain some of the, brilliant, works of Howard Shore wouldn’t you? The only music we have is unfortunately very very forgettable.


While the characters look like their movie counterparts, the settings definitely don’t.

But none of that really matters if the gameplay is good right? Yes that’s true, and thankfully the game actually plays pretty well for the most part. It feels responsive and combat, while very simplistic, is fun and satisfying. Look simplicity isn’t always a terrible thing; we don’t always need crazy combos in games such as the Devil May Cry and God of War series. The combinations the game gives to you, do a decent job for the most part. Now this is an RPG so when slaying enemies and completing quests you are rewarded experience, once you level up you are given a certain amount of skill points to distribute across three different skill trees, it’s the usual stuff. All three characters have varying skills dependent on their class.you do the job while never overcomplicating things.

Each character (similar to the EA published Games) has a close range and long range weapon.

  • Eradan (being a Ranger) wields a longbow
  • Farin uses a crossbow
  • And Andriel can use her staff to fire projectiles. (Just accept it, it’s easier this way)

Thankfully combat is fun and simplistic.

Now while it’s nice to have long ranged weapons it takes a ridiculous amount of arrows to slay pretty much any foe. Orcs can sometimes take dozens of arrows TO THE FACE. Now while you can acquire better projectile weapons via both loot and questing, they still eventually end up feeling very weak. Even if you gain a new longbow, it may dispatch enemies within a couple of hits initially, but give it 3-4 levels later and that won’t be the case any more. Along with character exclusive long ranged weapons there are also ballista’s scattered around the world… which act similar to gun turret sections in most FPS and Third Person action games. While this is unbelievably silly, the game makes up for the fact that it both kills enemies with ease and is absolutely AWESOME!

Close quarter’s weaponry consists of what you’d expect, one and two handed swords, axes, shields etc. The usual fantasy equipment really. Although not every character can use every weapon, for instance Andriel the… *sigh*… sorcerer cannot equip shields or two handed weapons.

The world of Middle Earth has a good amount of enemies to choose from, be it Orcs, Goblins, Easterlings, Giant Spiders, Barrow-wights, Uruk-hai and other things that are in the dark, waiting to come out. But Snowblind clearly have a favourite… Cave Trolls, I’m surprised they didn’t rename it to Lord of the Trolls: War of the Trolls: Hooray for Trolls. Why? Well maybe because once they’re introduced, every other fight seems to be against cave trolls… so… many cave trolls. Even when you’re in the god damn Barrow-Downs you fight undead Trolls.



Can’t think of a way to make the game challenging? ADD MORE TROLLS!

You think you fight a giant Spider in Mirkwood as an area miniboss? WRONG! TROLL FIGHT! I’m not joking, you come across a Cave Troll feasting on Spider eggs…Mirkwood Spider Eggs. Let that sink in. And it wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t take so bloody long to kill. Any fight with a Cave Troll is going to be long, boring and tedious. But it gets worse that fight with the Troll in the Spider Cave; it contains a game breaking bug.

Basically you cannot progress onwards without first defeating the Troll (aren’t invisible walls fun?), but there’s an issue. Sometimes, and this has happened to me both on the PS3 and PC versions, the Troll does not spawn meaning you cannot leave the cave. “Well!” you might interrupt rudely “why don’t you just leave the area and come back? Why don’t you just fast travel?” That’s a good point, well here’s the thing, to enter the battle arena you first have to drop down from a ledge, a ledge that you cannot climb back up because programming climbing mechanics is ‘hard’=TOO MUCH EFFORT. Your other method is still valid, except that you cannot fast travel from this location. So just imagine this happening for the first time, you drop down from that ledge and you are unable to leave via the CLEAR OPEN EXIT due to an invisible wall, there is nothing to fight in the room no monsters, nothing. Then you realise you cannot climb back up the ledge, you’re trapped so you do what everyone else does, you google the problem and discover that you are meant to battle Troll number 1,000,075…and then something worse happens… an element of dread begins to build, it grows larger and larger as one question is appears in your mind “When did I last save the game? Was there a checkpoint before or after I dropped down?” Then dread turns to panic as you notice you last saved over an hour ago. You reload the checkpoint and the troll still isn’t there… panic turns to rage as you resist the urge to hurl the game disc (or PC) out of the window.


Trolls are the biggest obstacle in the entire bloody game.

Now I haven’t even touched on the story yet. That’s because the story itself is unbelievably dull and generic, your fellowship is tasked with battling against Suaron’s Lieutenant from the North: Agandaur, who is essentially generic villain number: 25.  Your group is made up of three people:

  • Eradan the Ranger
  • Farin the Dwarven Fighter
  • And Andriel the Elven Sorceress

This bugged the crap out of me.

What’s the problem with this? Well in the books it’s a big deal that a human, dwarf and elf are travelling together, hell it’s a surprise to everyone they haven’t killed one another yet. Especially Legolas and Gimli. These two races don’t particularly get on, and if anything hate each other. So you can see why it’s a big deal, never before had there been a company such as this, in Middle Earth.

But no in this there’s an elf, a dwarf and a human because we ‘need’ to have them and we need a three person group like the books and films.

Now while you do visit certain locations from the trilogy (even interacting with characters from the book/film) and members of the fellowship, you won’t take part in any of the set pieces or battles from the source material, afterall this is the part of the War within the Northern area of Middle Earth, and this is perfectly fine. Additionally you will also interact with characters not seen in the films such as Elrond’s twin children Elladan and Elrohir, Radagast the Brown who is thankfully nothing like his movie counterpart and you even get to meet up with some other Rangers from the North which is admittedly nice, thankfully there is no site of Tom-sodding-Bombadil.


The game presents a better adaptation of Radagast.

Also –and I know you’ll try it- you cannot take the ring and you cannot join the fellowship at any time. You can ask during conversations with NPC’s but they will always turn you away with some excuse.

This nicely brings us along to the dialogue system. Ever played Mass Effect? Well you’ll be right at home here as it’s almost identical in its design and layout and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a similar radial style menu that allows you to choose which response you wish to give an NPC, in certain situations you can give either a calm, normal or aggressive response. From experience it never seemed to really affect the game in anyway, unlike Mass Effect or Alpha Protocol, but I guess it can help you get into your character role a little more if you’re in to that. Some characters can have quite a lot to say but while most of it never really feels all that important, it does help to flesh out the world and the characters within it.

Now I want to quickly discuss the PC version, I won’t go into too much detail as it really is the exact same game (big shock huh?) but if you’re going to pick a version and you have a machine capable of running it, I would recommend the PC version a million times over. Not only is it at a decent price on Steam it’s also incredibly well optimised. It far outshines its console counterparts in the graphical department and the frame rate is perfect, even with everything set to medium it looks great. The constant clicking of the right mouse button might turn some away, but if you have a wired 360 controller you should be able to calibrate the game to it.

The PC version looks and plays much better.

So that’s War in the North, it’s very very flawed and I can only recommend it to hardcore fans of the series but even then you’ll have to try very hard to stick at it. It took me three attempts to finish the game, not because it’s difficult but because it just runs out of ideas and just feels generic and dull around the halfway point. If you want a fantastic Middle Earth set adventure/RPG you have to play Shadow of Mordor, it’s a brilliant experience albeit with an anti-climactic and rushed ending, but the gameplay within is top notch. Along with Alien: Isolation it has proven that, in the right hands, licensed games can turn out to be brilliantl. However if you have already played and finished Shadow of Mordor and are still desperate for a Middle Earth experience, pick up the Steam version of War in the North, go in with low expectations and you might not be disappointed.

Well we’re coming up to the final week of Middle Earth Month, next week we’ll be taking a look at a game that’s… not particularly good.


I think most of you already know what it is…

See you next week,


Lost in the Warp Pipe

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