E3 2011: Lord of the Rings: War in the North – hands-on preview

We set out toward the fortress where evil was afoot. A lone goblin slowly made its way towards my Elvin mage as if knowing he was on a death march. The developers on either side of me – controlling the other pair of warriors; Ranger and Dwarf – waited to see what spell we’d cast. We’d already played around with the weak and strong melee attacks, but wanted to inflict a different kind of hurt. We held the Right Trigger and hit A, ready to send out a blast of energy to knock the jerk backwards. Suddenly, a giant eagle pounced on the goblin, sending gobs of blood spurting and drawing heckles from my demoers. Ohhhh, I’d held the Left Trigger by accident. And that special mishap was our introduction to the newest character in Lord of the Rings: War in the North – a very large, very vicious giant eagle named Beleram, whom you can call in as air support.

War in the North is told from a different perspective, following heroes reminiscent of the famous novel/film trilogy, yet are actually all-new adventurers. You can select from a Ranger, Dwarf and Elf, each with their own abilities, attacks, customization system and skill set. Rangers are your stealthy, long-range specialists, equipped (in our demo at least) with a longbow, but also with a sword and (inexplicably) flash bangs. Dwarfs prove terrifying up close, able to attract enemies to themselves with a war cry and then unload with axes, sword and shield, crossbow, whatever – anything sharp, basically. Elves – the class we were operating – are your mages; great for offensive spells and defensive protection.

Our task in this demo was to reunite with Elrond’s twin sons and hold off waves of goblins while the twins reinforced their fortress. While we spent enough time meleeing through enemy hordes, our demoers passively reminded that the red blood was ours. We’d been so focused on hacking up Mordor’s rejects that we’d been not only neglecting the buckets of plasma draining from our bodies, but our mage class as well. Whoops.

At the very least, the melee system rewards combos. Build up your Critical Meter and you can unleash Hero powers, enabling you a greater edge in combat. However, we needed to try out our specialty powers. Soon, we were casting bubble protection spells to keep our party safe from ranged enemy bow attacks and firing our ranged magic out in all directions. We couldn’t just spam our special attacks, though – there was a recharge meter.

No matter, we earned an awesome Force Push-esque move that chucked goblins down the stairs in pairs and actually did a fair bit of damage. That was an attack we could spam and almost felt a tad overpowered. We weren’t sure if this was a move we learned as our customized character was leveled pretty high.

We had a chance to look at LOTR’s deep skill progression tree, which has pretty much everything an action-RPG fan could want. You can level up skills, learn new skills, augment weapons with magic and more. We didn’t have enough time to really dive into the system, but rest assured that there is plenty here to tweak until you have the perfect fellowship.

We switched out our sword for a mace that dealt fire damage and continued to force push, create bubble shields and straight-up pummel goblins until two hulking trolls appeared. And here’s where the giant eagle pays off. Our Elvin warrior targeted one massive troll and down came Beleram, piledriving the troll into the ground, digging its talons into the troll’s flesh, flipping it over, and continuing to tear into it. We were free to slash away at other enemies. We repeated the same moves on the other troll until the fortress was saved.

We’re certain our brief time with War in the North was the smallest of samplings and fully expect this new Lord of the Rings adventure to sap your time as you set out to save Middle-earth once again. War in the North is tentatively set for release on August 24th – action RPG players, mark your calendars.

Jun 2, 2011

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