Lord of the Rings: War in the North Mac Review
For a while there it seemed as though Lord of the Ring games were coming at a fast and furious pace, along with the movies. The end of the movies seemed to lead to a pause in the games, but that ended two years ago for Windows and console users with the release of The Lord of the Rings: The War in the North (LOTR:WN) by Snowblind Studios. And now, almost two years later (what’s interesting is how rare that long of a delay has become for Mac users) Feral Interactive has brought the game to the Mmac. So the question is, was the wait for the game in general and for Mac users in particular worth it?
Well the short version is: depends on what you are looking for. LOTR:WN is an old-style action/RPG/hack-and-slash game that is very true to its roots while being set in the LOTR universe. If you’re looking for a game that meets any of those requirements, you’ll probably be satisfied. If you’re looking for a game that breaks new ground in any of those areas, you’re apt to be disappointed. Read on for the gory (literally) details.
Enter LOTR: War in the North for Mac
LOTR:WN takes place concurrently with the events in the LOTR trilogy and is apparently based on a single line in the books which refers to the importance of warriors in the North distracting some of Sauron’s forces. This game, therefore, fills in all the pesky details of that episode and is in a sense a side quest to the whole trilogy.
The game is a cooperative action RPG. You will play as one of three members of a team: the Ranger Eradan, the Dwarf Farin, and/or the Elf Andriel. Cooperative multiplayer is available with you and two or your friends making up the team, but if you’re playing solo you'll need to switch back and forth between characters because if you don’t they will never use their accumulated experience and skill points to level up, leaving them increasingly useless as the game progresses.
The game recognized my Logitech controller immediately, even if I plugged it in in the middle of playing, although the game seems better optimized for a keyboard/mouse combination. The game settings allow you to adjust the keyboard and mouse layout, but I was not able to find options for adjusting my gamepad controller, leaving me with fewer controls in battle scenes than if I used the keyboard and mouse. Unfortunately for me, I find the keyboard/mouse combination to be extremely uncomfortable and the camera controls terribly during battles, leaving me with no really satisfactory set of controls for the battle scenes, which make up the bulk of the game. I do have to admit this has always been a problem for me in this type of game, so the fault may be at least in part mine, but I’ve never had this much trouble finding a good combination to play with.
Gameplay is pretty straightforward if you’ve ever played an isometric 3rd person action RPG before. However you play, you use the standard controls to walk around, fight and use the in-game screens to upgrade your characters’ abilities and equipment. You have a main and secondary attack, can use a few attack combinations and issue basic commands to your teammates which may or may not affect their behavior.
In the scenes between battles, you can explore the environments, talk to characters, look for loot and buy and repair equipment and weapons. While the conversations you have sometimes give you the options for side quests, often the conversational options have little or no impact on the game; you may be required to go through each option before the conversation is done, or the conversation may give you a little more information that will make no difference in how the game plays out. I tended to find these rather unsatisfying, whether they were required or optional discussions.
Most of the game, however, is fighting. Fighting hordes of goblins, orcs, trolls and other monsters. Lots of them. Over and over. More and more each level. In seeming unending succession. With little variation except for the environments in which you fight. There will be bosses (trolls) you need to defeat and you will need to try different strategies at times (ranged vs. melee weapons, for instance, depending on your character), but after awhile it feels like you’re just doing the same thing over and over again. If your desire is to kill a lot of goblins, orcs, and trolls, you’ll love this, but if you like variety in your fights, you’re likely to get bored fairly quickly.
Overall the presentation of the game was fine. That said, you won’t mistake these for console level graphics. The best looking stuff, not surprisingly, is what you can’t explore. Background environments are beautiful and provide some of the best variety in the game. And while you can’t interact directly with them, they do help frame the scenes nicely and give you a feeling of being in different places that the repetitive battles do not. And the different locations you do get to explore, from Bree to Rivendell and more, are nice as well. Characters are also rendered well if not spectacularly, so the graphics in the game are fine but nothing spectacular.
Animations generally ran very smoothly. Again with everything cranked up I had no problems with performance, and movements were smooth and fluid. You’ll get some nice volumetric effects with explosions, smoke and weather helping to add to the realism and enhance your immersion in the game. LOTR:WN is perhaps most notable for its M rating, which it earns through the large amounts of realistic blood and gore you will dish out and receive. I’m not sure it was necessary or added to the game, but it was rendered well, making you want to shake yourself off after particularly bloody battles.
As seems common with the games, you will often find yourself walking at odd angles when you reach the limits of the explorable universe, and may find yourself hanging over drop-offs or otherwise experiencing situations where things aren’t quite rendered in their proper places. You’ll also find yourself trying to run or walk through your companions sometimes, and they are not quick to get out of the way. Minor but annoying, and again something I would have like to see programmed out of games by now.
The sound was a mixed bag. The music was nice, ambient and battle sounds were good, but as with much of the game, everything got repetitive fairly quickly. Your characters have a very small number of phrases they will repeat ad nauseam during battles, the voice acting is so-so, and (another pet peeve) lips are not synced with speech during conversations. I’m pretty sure they didn’t even try. Even the battle music got boring after awhile; if it weren’t for the fact that you do need to hear some of the things your characters say, I would have been tempted to turn the voices off during battles.
I had no real performance issues playing the game on a 4-year-old (but high end for that time) iMac. I was able to crank graphics up and had no issues. The game also recognized and mapped my Logitech controller with no issues, and keyboard commands worked and were easily re-mappable. I only experienced delays on occasion during battle scenes, but believe this was controller related as they didn’t happen when using the keyboard. The advantage of this being a two-year-old game is that it will run on quite a few Mac systems.
Minimum system requirements:
- OSX 10.7.5 with a 2 GHz processor
- 4 GB RAM
- 11 GB Hard Drive space
- 256 MB graphics card (ATI X1xxx, HD2xx, Intel GMA & HD3000, NVIDIA 7xxx, 8xxx, 9400, 320M and 330M not supported; Intel HD4000 requires 8GB system RAM)
- Lots of gameplay
- Cooperative play allows/requires you to play as all three characters
- Cooperative multiplayer
- Good performance
- Repetitive gameplay
- Difficult to change characters as needed
- Not much story
- So-so graphics, sound, and voice acting
Whether or not you like LOTR:WN probably depends on what you’re looking for. It was a long time coming to the Mac and that may have heightened expectations for something special. LOTR:WN is an action RPG hack-and-slash game, and while it provides plenty of gameplay within that genre, it doesn’t add anything new. And while the potential was there for a new story in the LOTR franchise, there’s not much there either.
Your characters are one dimensional, and the story really only serves to move you from battle to battle. While it's fun to see and explore some familiar and new terrain and characters, the limited nature of that exploration limits the game’s ability to appeal to those interested in more than killing orcs. If you need a new hack-and-slash game to fill your gaming needs, LOTR:WN fits the bill; if you’re looking for a story, characters and more of the LOTR magic, well, part two of The Hobbit is coming out soon.