On Waging the War in the North

A group of Orcs rushed down the rocky, snow-covered mountain trail toward my party. My two-handed sword was held out in front of me, and as the orcs approached I swung. The sword connected with the lead Orc. He staggered under the blow, and my momentum carried him into the Orc immediately behind him, knocking them both to the ground. The third Orc leaped at me, his own sword striking in a downward arc, but I dodged to his left and his sword struck the naked rock. The two fallen Orcs disentangled themselves and attempted to crowd me, but I kicked out at the closest, knocking him off-balance, and then brought by own sword back in a downward slash. The blade connected and, in a moment when time seemed to slow, the sword sliced through the Orc’s neck cleanly, beheading him in one fell stroke. The Orc’s severed neck sprayed blood as the body fell lifeless to the ground, and the head rolled down the rocky path.

One Orc down, two to go.

I’ve been playing Lord of the Rings: War in the North, and that account describes many of my recent battles against the Orcs that inhabit the Ettenmoors to the north of Rivendell.

As I’ve mentioned recently, I was looking forward to this game, and it’s not disappointed me thus far.

It’s your basic dungeon crawl. A bloody dungeon crawl — there’s blood and severed body parts everywhere — but still a dungeon crawl. After playing the first chapter, in which your party of three travels to the ruins of the abandoned city of Fornost, the former capital of the fallen kingdom of Arnor, I likened the game to Angband, the ASCII-based dungeon crawler, but with an immersive 3-dimensional look. Three chapters and six hours of gameplay later, I stand by the comparison — go someplace, kill baddies, find loot, kill level boss, return to base for repairs and to sell loot, get next mission. It’s pretty straightforward.

The game has some camera idiosyncrasies. I stopped at one point to admire the scenery of the Ranger outpost of Sarn Ford, and one of my party, the Elven loremaster Andriel, stopped right in my camera and my television screen was filled with her shapely bottom. So, yes, I got scenery, but it wasn’t the scenery I was expecting. And it’s sometimes difficult to control the camera; I had one fight where the camera got stuck in the leaves of a tree and I couldn’t see my character or the Orc I was fighting. In that regard, an ASCII mode, a la Angband, wouldn’t be a bad idea… 🙂

The game has garnered mixed reviews. Some people like it because it’s a dungeon crawl well-done. Others dislike it because it’s a dungeon crawl and because the story is the very definition of a side-story; important things are going on in Middle-Earth, and you’ve been sent off to do something else. (Yes, you can ask to join the Fellowship of the Ring, but it won’t happen.) The side-story-ness doesn’t bother me. The Lord of the Rings is essentially a modern medieval romance. Compare it to Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. You get the “main” tale there, but there are other stories that aren’t told in Malory, it’s not the “complete” tale. Yet when these stories are told elsewhere, they stand on their own merits and not on whether or not Malory brushed by them. If Tolkien wrote the main story, then this is the equivalent of the Arthurian story that Malory didn’t tell.

For me, thus far, it works on its own. I’ve played for about six hours; I’ve just finished the third chapter, the Ettenmoors, and each chapter seems to take roughly two hours to complete. I’ve cleared Fornost of Orcs. I’ve cleared the Barrow-Downs of the undead. I’ve cleared the Ettenmoors of Orcs and defeated a rogue Stone Giant. I’ve made friends with a trio of Great Eagles. I’ve met the Lady Arwen. The geography of the game doesn’t make a lot of sense, and there’s an inconsistency over whether or not the characters know Elrond, but those aren’t big deals.

Heck, I’ve even wondered how this could mesh with The Third Age, that rather dreadful turn-based RPG EA made for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 back in 2004.

It’s been fun and I’ve enjoyed it. Five more chapters to go.

Here’s hoping I can loot some better swords… 🙂

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

2 thoughts on “On Waging the War in the North

  1. I was wondering how you’re liking it. Laura and I played coop and finished it last weekend. I think it’ll have some replayability, because the game plays a bit differently for each character.

  2. It’s what I expected. 🙂

    I’ve played other Snowblind engine games — Champions of Norrath, Champions: Return to Arms, the two Baldur’s Gate games, and The Bard’s Tale — so I had a good idea of this game would “feel” like. (In terms of the narrative and dialogue trees, it feels most like Bard’s Tale.) It’s a Snowblind game, it looks like it, and it feels like it. 🙂

    The game feels like a Lord of the Rings game (not something I could really say about The Third Age), and the story makes sense to me, even if the geography doesn’t. I’d like to try the game co-op because that’s what it’s designed for. And after I finish the game with Eradan, I’m planning on replaying it (though not immediately) with one of the other two characters.

    I’m a little disappointed there’s not a strategy guide. Not because I feel like I need it — no strategy guide is going to help me battle two trolls in an icy cave — but because I would have gladly added another Lord of the Rings book to my collection. Not the best reason in the world, to be sure…

    I won’t finish the game this coming weekend, but I should finish it over Thanksgiving.

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