When I heard Lord of the Rings: War in the North would be developed by SnowBlind Studios, creators of the iconic isometric hack and slash games Champions of Norrath, and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, I was stoked, because I can never have too many Diablo II clones in my library.
It wasn’t until I actually walked into the live demonstration that I found out I was completely wrong – read on to find out why.You see, War in the North is not an isometric dungeon crawler at all – it’s more like Mass Effect. Players can choose from a handful of classes (of which in the demo were Elven Ranger, Dwarven Warrior, and Human Mage), and are greeted with a 3rd Person over the shoulder view, just like Gears of War, or any other 3rd person shooter for that matter. It’s described as a “brutal action RPG, that is true to the violent nature of the Tolkien lore”.
The developers had the demo set up inside a large room we couldn’t take pictures in, with three PCs set up with a LAN, and one projector for each player, to show what they were doing at any given time. Each of the demonstrators selected the three characters I mentioned earlier, and were cast right into the middle of combat with a menacing Fel-Beast Rider. Players had a few abilities at their disposal, like an anti-ranged attack magic shield, tactical rolling (like God of War), and special melee attacks
Each character had a unique racial ability shown in the demo – for instance, the Elf could track animals, and lead their party down a random path they may not have previously taken. All three players really meshed well, particularly when a troupe of orcs was raining fire down on their fellowship, only to have the human player shield them with his magic, and walk them towards the enemies. All in all it felt a lot like Phantasy Star Online at times.
The story itself is all brand new, and according to the lead developer, is written by a “total Tolkien nerd”. It also has a Mass Effect style “dialogue wheel”, which supposedly gives players new quests depending on their responses, and how far they delve into individual conversations. If there was anything negative I took away from the demonstration, it was that the graphics could use a bit of polish, and the dialogue tree seems a bit shallow – but then again, it is primarily an action game, and less of an RPG.
I was pleased when Lead Developer Ruth told me there would be split-screen support, as well as planned support for multiple playthroughs on additional difficulties with the same character. War in the North is shaping up to be a really unique experience, and could push coop RPGs into an entirely new direction.