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Lord of the RIngs: The War in the North - PAX East 2011 Impression

War in the North

Platform: xbox360ps3windows
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros
Release Date: 2011

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War in the Northeast


It's been a long time since we've had a Lord of the Rings RPG to look forward to. It's also been a long time since we've had an RPG from Snowblind Studios to play for that matter, so I suppose it's fortuitous that we're getting both in one game. War in the North is a brand new three player co-op RPG from the makes of such games as Champions of Norath  and Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. Though similar in many ways to Snowblind's previous work, War in the North feels like it's own beast when stacked against the company's repertoire.

"It's been a long time since we've had a Lord of the Rings RPG to look forward to."

For starters, for those unfamiliar with Snowblind Studios games, they were known for making top-down Diablo style hack-and-slash RPGs. War in the North certainly continues in the hack and slash RPG style, but now plays from a third-person perspective. There will be three characters that players can choose from: an Elven mage, a Dwarven warrior, and a Human ranger. These various characters have the types of abilities you'd expect, however in the demo there were a number of different ways you could upgrade them. For example, with the mage you could mainly focus on defensive spells and buffs, go more offensive, or mix and match and make your own build. The ability trees appeared to be quite extensive.

As for the combat itself, characters have two varieties of basic attacks. Basic melee attacks, which were pretty simple accomplished with one button, and also ranged attacks, which benefit greatly from the third-person perspective. Previous Snowblind titles had issues with ranged attacks due to difficulties aiming from the top down view. The special abilities previously mentioned are accessed by holding down one of the shoulder buttons (right-bumper on the Xbox 360 demo) and pressing the face button mapped to a specific ability. Only the Xbox 360 version was on display, so it's unclear how the controls will work on the PC version. Combat is fast and fun and the characters complimented each other well as we battled Orcs and Trolls, which were no pushovers.

Another interesting aspect of the game is that there is separate loot (meaning armor and weapons) for each of the characters, so there's no need to fight over the best items. Each character also has varying environmental abilities, with the Elf being able to find and use plant components, and the Dwarf being able to find secret caves. The game will always have the three characters in play, so it's not possible to have players using the same characters. An additional downside to this setup is that when you pick a character in single-player, that's who you'll have to use throughout, with the other two characters being controlled by AI. You can switch over to multi-player on the fly at least. As far as multi-player options go, there will be split-screen (for two players) and online play, and you can play online with a third person while playing split-screen.

Last, but not least, are a few quick notes about the story. The person from Snowblind I spoke with told me that the story is based on a comment Gandalf makes in the books regarding heroes in the north who essentially prevent the tide of the war from turning. With access to both the film and novel licenses, the developers have full access to the lore of Lord of the Rings, which could make for some very interesting story elements. The demo only covered battles in a snowy mountain area, so it's too early to tell how the story will pan out. Lord of the Rings fans should certainly keep an eye on this title, which is due out sometime in 2011.



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