The Lord of the Rings film trilogy spawned plenty of video games. A couple of the better ones turned us loose to have fun playing as Aragon, Gimli, Gandalf, and the rest. Their story has been told ample times but the rich lore of the world practically begs for a return. For War in the North, developer Snowblind Studio uses Tolkien's passages mentioning the war happening in the North during the events in the books as the basis for a new heroic adventure.
In the E3 demo I watched as a classic three-man party of elf, dwarf, and man--each under player control--set off into Mirkwood in search of the wizard Radagast the Brown. Making their way into the forest, the first few fights emphasized cooperative play with each character making use of their strengths. For example, the human mage could maintain a shield spell, allowing a sanctuary for the other two to retreat into and recover. The dwarven warrior naturally waded into the thick of the fight drawing the enemies' attention while the elf supported him with a barrage of arrows. Nothing extraordinary about that combination but it appeared to work very smoothly with everyone naturally falling into their strengths.
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Working together also comes into play outside of combat. Each race has unique special abilities, like the elf, who can identify tracks. In the demo this led to a hidden stash of loot the party wouldn't have otherwise found. Gathering up the gear offered a chance to get a first look at the character system as well. There's a classic paper doll representing the character with armor broken down into all the individual pieces from helm to gauntlet to greaves. There will of course be loads of magic and unique pieces to find for these slots. Plans also call for a skill tree to help develop specialization in each character but that was not yet in this build.
For an early look at a game not due out until next year the most impressive part of War in the North was how good it looked in motion and how well it appeared to play in co-op. Though surely well practiced for the demo, combat moved at a pace just frantic enough to be tense and just controlled enough to be thoughtful about the next action. And while each character had their strengths, they also had some skill with the others' as well. So when the teleporting shaman attacked the group the dwarf didn't just stand idly watching; he pulled out his crossbow and helped in the fight. I spent most of the demo sitting there wishing I could get into the action too. Not bad for a game that's still a good ways off.
Developed by Snowblind Studio and published by Warner Bros., The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is scheduled for a 2011 release on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
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