If you are still hoping for a serious and genuine Middle-earth experience (because Aragorn’s Quest did such a good job at it), you should know that there’s an upcoming action RPG based on the franchise that’s being developed by the people behind Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Justice League a while ago for the PS2 and Xbox. Rather than focusing the story on the One Ring journey, War In The North focuses on the other untold side of the war.
So how does one approach a rich and established fantasy background like J.R.R Tolkien’s finest and tries something new with it? Simple; just read the books again, find the other bits in the tale, and flesh them out with your own mind. Scott Crawford, Lead Designer for Story & Quests, states from an interview that “every devoted J.R.R. Tolkien fan has a few burning questions they would love to have answered or has pondered just what was involved in events described only in a few lines of text, but provides hints of epic adventures.”
He recited a few passages from the Fellowship of The Ring concerning Aragorn scouting the areas around the Elf kingdom with Elrond’s sons. That right there is a level fans will get to play in War in the North.
“What the game wishes to do with these scenarios in an action RPG form is to expand upon the rest of the stories Middle-earth, and “even put in stories that may not have happened, but could have happened”, Scott continued. He even said that the game will take players into locations presented on the Middle-earth maps but are never touched upon. For example, Mirkwood is a huge forest area where Legolas lives. Fans will get to see the site where the blonde bad-ass archer lives, while also fighting the spiders and trolls that camp beyond the forest’s inner sanctums.
It’s not just about a spin in a tale though; the game will feature a co-op system that mirrors closely with how the story portrays each race. “Our player’s characters come together quite by chance and run headlong into an event that threatens all the free-peoples of Middle-earth,” says Scott. “Working together by necessity they soon discover that together they are far stronger than any one alone. This is a reflection of the “united we stand, divided we fall” theme that is a large part of the original story.”
Even if it’s just a story element, expect to see a dynamic system where a dwarf and elf will bicker internally and even refusing to help each other while being waylaid by Orcs and Uruk-Hais. Speaking of which, the enemies will act as a proper group when fighting; the powerful ones will charge headstrong first to protect the weaker ones from getting flanked, while the support-type enemies try to take a shot at your group from a safe distance. If certain enemies ensnare or knock your hero’s health to zero, you will need another person (A.I or human) to revive you ala Left 4 Dead.
Concerning NPCs, they can either join you in your battle (soldier-type NPCs, of course), or just be the usual “hit Confirm on me to hear me speak” prompts. They might seem passive, but at least Scott’s doing his best in not making them generic. “Each character created and each line of dialogue gets held up to the mirror of Middle-earth, as it were. I often imagine the events, characters and dialogue from our game occurring in the film adaptation and I ask myself if first-time viewers would accept it as all part of the same story.”
The overall narrative itself will be done in the minds of the protagonists you control. What they think, what they say to their war companions; the lore gets fleshed out further for fans through these dialogues. Even a newbie in the franchise will enjoy and understand a bit of what’s going on while hack-and-slashing for loot and gear.
Oh, and for fans of Aragorn and Elrond: you’re in luck. Scott didn’t spoil much, but the aforementioned two characters will play a major role in War In The North. Even lesser-known characters like Radagast the Brown, Halbarad the Ranger, and Elrohir and Elladan (Elrond’s sons) will get the spotlight for a few skirmishes or so. Since these characters didn’t really show up in the Peter Jackson films (or at best had a teeny-weeny cameo), it will be interesting to see how they’re portrayed in Snowblind’s RPG.
We’ve delved on the narrative, but what about the actual gist of the game? See, each playable race in the game is their own class, but like other action RPGs you can tweak their skill sets for different playstyles. The Dwarf can either go the path of the tank or melee damage dealer, while the Ranger can focus on either a silent stealth killer or just be a sniper with his/her bow. Leveling up works about the same: characters get XP and you have a skill tree to allocate these points to the power-up of your choosing. Whether you power up your Dwarf’s War Cry race ability which lets him stun or draw in mobs, or just make him wield his axes better and more efficiently, is entirely up to you.
It’s nice to know that from a story angle, War in the North will entertain since it is anything but a retread of the One Ring journey adapted countless times by Ralph Bakshi and Peter Jackson. However, until more details are shed about the game, this seems to be another hack-and-slasher in the veins of Snowblind Studio’s other efforts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; their past games were more than decent, and it’ll be cool to have a bunch of customized elves and dwarves fighting alongside Aragorn and company against the evil forces of Sauron.