We recently played a couple of great cooperative games set in the world of Lord of the Rings. One was Lego Lord of the Rings, and it was pretty excellent. Their use of the movie voice acting was great. I do kind of miss the days when the Lego games had to tell us a story without words, however. There is a level of cleverness that this requires that they pulled off quite nicely.
The other game we played recently was Lord of the Rings: War in the North. While by no means the best game ever, it pulled off doing something different from the normal plot. I played Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, and you basically just follow right behind the Fellowship and fight the same things. Not so in War in the North: its own story, characters, and system. Allow me to regale you with a tale.
The game had three playable characters, a kick-ass dwarf, an elf magician, and a ranger who can basically do everything. Each has their own skills, their own equipment, their own ways to find different secret passages.
Three playable characters? You guessed it, that means it is a co-op game up to three players. Not two, which is common. Not four, which can happen. Three. And only two on one system – so the third would need to be elsewhere. Or three apart. Holly and I played on our X-Box with the two of us, and the computer running the third character. The computer was not a lot of help, but we didn’t need a lot of help. Well, maybe we could have used the help… we decided to crank the game down to easy to play through the story.
Something really neat was that, at the end of each long section, the game gives you a level progress screen, where you can compare kills, damage done, and about 20 other stats pages. So you get constant feedback and it keeps some friendly competition going. Checkpoints and feedback are some of the strong motivational points for games, and this game had that done right.
But, okay, you say, it’s an action RPG, you’re out fighting things. And it’s co-op. That’s cool. Why else should I play? I mean, it’s Lord of the Rings, but I know Lord of the Rings. Will I be bored?
It has Eagles.
It sounds like a joke, right? An Elf, a Dwarf, a Ranger, and an Eagle walk into Rivendell. Except, in this game, you really do. The Eagle is around to be transport, friend, and excellent Eagle Ex Machina at moments when you need a boost. The best part? They answer one of the most important questions from Lord of the Rings:
Why didn’t they just use the eagles to take The One Ring and throw it in Mount Doom? Well, one answer could be the eagles were busy helping out fight in the north. But that’s the ret-con answer from playing the game.
The answer the eagles give when this question is actually posed in-game? The winged beasts the Ringwraiths ride. We don’t know how many they had, but they could win a fight against the eagles. Without an army there to back them, the eagles would have all died in a direct assault on Mount Doom. Hadn’t thought of that.
So one other fun thing from the story? You come across a dragon. And you talk to it. And don’t have to fight it. I think we probably could have – not sure if we could have beaten it – but we didn’t have to fight it. It takes some firm thinking to include a dragon in a game that isn’t a major boss battle. I approve.