We've been waiting longer than Gandalf's beard for The Lord Of The Rings: War In The North. Having first caught our eye back in 2009, it has been hovering near the top of our most-anticipated movie-game list ever since. Seems the wait has been well worth it; once again, Warner Bros has shattered our expectations of what to expect from a licensed video game. During the lengthy adventures of War In The North, you'll play as one of three characters. Eradan, a human Dúnedain Ranger, is as adept at hacking off limbs with his broadsword as he is threading an arrow through the eye of a far-off orc. Andriel, the elven Loremaster of Rivendell, is the group's powerful magician, able to manipulate Middle-earth's energies to heal friends or fry foes. Lastly, there's four feet of pure muscle and anger: Farin, the dwarven Champion of Erebor. Don't let his height fool you: he's capable of cleaving Uruk-hai head from neck like the best of them. Able to switch between these characters at will during the beginning of missions, each figure offers a refreshingly different approach to the art of goblin smashing.
But to truly see the game shine, it's best to play online with a few friends. The three-player co-op mode is an absolute blast and, on the hardest difficulty, you'll need to work closely together (as a fellowship!) to beat Sauron's foes back into the mud from whence they arose.
As an action role-playing game, most of the gameplay involves you swinging sharp bits of steel around at a long list of Lord Of The Rings nasties. The combat within is simple to pick up but tricky to master, and is the first time a Lord Of The Rings game has candidly displayed the shocking result of metal on bone. Bloody decapitations and gory dismemberment are the norm, with the game helpfully going into slo-mo to help you enjoy the sweet satisfaction of a particularly gruesome kill. This is not a game for your six-year-old niece, hence its MA15+ rating. As the body count mounts, you'll be awarded experience points. These are used to improve a variety of character attributes and unlock new special abilities (there's a tomb-load of goodies to equip your characters with, too). Between deciding what to wear and which skills to specialise in, there's plenty of room for personalising each character.
While most Lord Of The Rings games have travelled the same well-trodden path as Frodo, War In The North takes you off the beaten track, sending you far away to defend against an impending attack on Rivendell. You'll visit many locales that are only hinted at in the books and films, such as the Ettenmoors, the Barrow-downs and Minas Tirith, as well as a few fan favourites such as the Prancing Pony and the elven capital. All of these locations share one thing in common: they're gorgeous.
This is one of 2011's best-looking games, and you'll end up with a grazed chin thanks to one jaw-dropping moment after the next. War In The North is not quite perfect, with the simple combat system occasionally getting repetitive if played single-player, and a basic user interface doesn't quite match the visual delights of the rest of the game. These are but small flaws in the scheme of things though, and we can unhesitatingly recommend the game to anybody who has a small place in their heart reserved for the adventures of Middle-earth.