Warner Brothers Interactive aren't sparing any expense to make sure that their latest Lord Of The Rings game sells a fair few copies. Camped out in a luxurious E3 paddock thronging with wine waiters and hog roasts, a full symphony orchestra kept us entertained while showing footage of War In The North on the massive overhead screen. It was a soothing reminder of just how big our industry has become, and WB are to be thoroughly congratulated for adding a touch of class to a convention that was otherwise dominated by fake tits, gaudy explosions and thumping metal.
After enjoying all this free hospitality, however, I was more than a little concerned about having to preview the game itself... but as it turns out, Lord Of The Rings: War In The North is shaping up to be an accessible and visceral yarn that prioritises cooperative fun over grinding exposition.
War In The North is built around the concept of three-player cooperation. A burly dwarf, human wizard and nimble elf all fulfil different (if obvious) combat roles, and pack unique racial skills that are unique to each character. For example, the Elf can turn invisible in combat and reposition behind foes, whereas the Wizard falls back on defensive bubble shields and buffs. In an interesting twist, though, players can choose to spec their characters in any way they want thanks to sprawling intuitive skill trees. Gaining experience from slain foes and completed objectives allows gamers to tailor each class to their own style of play. Fancy mixing it up in close combat with a brawny battle mage? No problem.
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It's a brave new world, ladies and gentlemen. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and the birds would be singing if they weren't being found dead in their hundreds in Louisiana. But, apart from the mysterious plight of our avian friends, it's a great time to be alive if you're sustained purely by strange ideas put into independent game format.
For those of you still blissfully unaware of what we do here, it's a quick overview of five different free games or mods or whatever. The criteria for selection are essentially a) it has to catch my eye to get featured and b) it has to cost absolutely nothing to play. Know this and proceed to move your eyes downwards in a word reading pattern.
The first game of the new year involves a slight error in the title. House of Dead Ninjas should really not have the S at the end of the word ninja, as the plural is the same as the singular, but hey, it's a fun game, we'll let it off the hook this time.
Available on the Adult Swim site, you control the titular oriental assassin who is attempting to infiltrate a heavily defended enemy fortress to strike at an unknown enemy. Starting by dropping through the roof, you have to make your way down as fast as possible, because there's a timer in the bottom right corner of the game window that, when it reaches zero, indicates that you've died and lost a life. Not quite sure why.
Anyway, there are plenty of time recharging power ups littered all over the fortress, as well as cruel enemies to stab, lacerate and obliterate with your three weapons. Your most basic attack is the short slash with the knife, augmented by a throwing star to eliminate enemies from long range.
Bombs are in short supply but can be used to destroy obstacles as well as more powerful enemies like the huge, bloated brown sumo wrestler types.
It's not hugely sophisticated, but what it is is fun. It reminds this aged correspondent of both Bruce Lee and Green Beret on the Spectrum, both of which are considered classics. With those two in mind, it's easy to have a ball playing Dead Ninja(s). So go, have that ball.
Unless you’re one of those dedicated fans who have actually gone and read all the books, there’s only one thing which the Lord of the Rings movies really have going for them, and that’s massive epic battles. Once you’ve seen The Two Towers and Return of the King once, subsequent viewings seem to just consist of tapping the next button on your DVD remote (past all that homoerotic Sam and Frodo nonsense) until you reach the next epic clash between orcs, elves and men.
And really, finding yourself thrown into the most ferocious scrap between good and evil ever envisaged by Tolkien is what you want from a LOTRs game. But while Conquest does go some way in satisfying your thirst for oily-orc-bloodshed, the battles just feel a little bit understated. However at £7.45, Conquest is certainly worth the money (next best deal comes in at around £9 from Powerplay Direct) and is a title which won’t disappoint fans of the trilogy.
My only really gripe against Conquest concerns the lack of enemies. When you first begin - initially assuming the role of an ordinary foot soldier – the lighting, textures and overall detail of the environments make a great first impression. The same can be said for when you unleash a devastating tirade of attacks from your massive sword. It really feels like you’re capable of doing some serious damage and you can’t wait to plough through a few legions of Saruman-scum.
However, when they do come, there just never seems to be enough. During the initial training session in which you assume the role Isildur and defeat Sauron at the battle of Dagorlad, it feels more like a small skirmish than a decisive engagement. Although you initially put this down to the fact that the game has not properly started, it soon becomes clear that this trend is going to be fairly consistent throughout.
Like Star Wars: Battlefront, the battles are too sparse, lack any real sense of scale and have too few concentrations of enemies. Even during Helms Deep, one of the most epic of all the LOTR’s engagements, orcs come at you ten at a time at the most, and the battlefield feels annoyingly empty. If it had only been a little more successful at capturing the epic scale of its source material, Conquest could have gone from a good to a truly great game.
Thanks to Scraggs21 from Hotukdeals.R
We already featured an early post on the matter this morning, but in case you missed it, here it is again: Until 8am tomorrow morning, The Hut are offering a further 10% off on all Playstation daily deals. All you need to do is head on over to the online merchant and enter in PLAY10 at the checkout when asked for your details.
We posted a roundup of a few choice deals earlier, but here are a few more for your shopping delectation. Again, all titles are for the PS3 unless otherwise stated, with the price shown taking the discount code into account, and with nearest competitor listed in brackets afterwards:
The deals posted here will all net you a pretty sweet saving, particularly on the pre-orders. Just remember - PLAY10 at the checkout. But be quick about it, stock is never unlimited after all.
Get ready for an incredibly meaty acronym...LOTR: TBFME 2 is a real-time strategy title that does what no other Rings game has yet to do: it combines the best of both Tolkien's original literary masterpieces, along with the visual interpretation of Peter Jackson's cinema epics, thanks to snapping up both licenses. Now, flashy RTS titles can be a little bit on the thin side, but thankfully The Battle for MIddle-Earth didn't suffer this fate, and neither does its sequel.
You can start marshalling your forces against the might of Sauron, or alternatively sweep forth from Mordor to plunge the world of Men into chaos, for just £6.99 from GAME. This price will not only net you the game itself, but also, in typical Jackson fashion, a Making of DVD, an interactive art gallery featuring hundreds of examples of concept art and cinematic paintings and, perhaps most excitingly, the full original musical score. You can pick up the standalone game for £5.43 from Amazon, but if you want the Collector's Edition elsewhere, you're looking at paying £2 more over at Gameplay, which would be foolish.
It may be a pretty standard RTS underneath, but there's something a bit special about The Battle for Middle-Earth II. There's none of that feeling of licence weariness that so often accompanies cash-ins on a popular title, in fact you'd even go so far as to say that far from a simple plan for a quick buck, this has been somewhat of a labour of love.
The game looks a bit dated, admittedly, but the EA has finally married the innovative command wheel with the freedom to build your base anywhere you damn well please. There will be a few jarring plot issues for Tolkien puritans, and I'd say that you'd be nuts to write this game off because of one of two tweaks, but the fact of the matter is that EA plays pretty fast and loose here with the narrative material. It should not, however, put you off at all as it's very clear that EA has listened intently to the clamours of the Tolkien fanbase after the first game. The plot might not be there, but this is most certainly Tolkien's world.
The Battle for Middle-Earth II does an absolutely grand job of recreating the war-torn Third Age and placing you right in the centre of it. Some of the new elements work brilliantly (the hero maker, the wonderful War of the Ring mode), some less so (the naval battles, no Fellowship interludes), and the cut-scenes are unintentionally hilarious. But this will delight most RTS fans, and a good number of LOTR fans too, and should be considered verging on a 'must-buy' for either of those two parties.
Thanks to quazilogic at HUKD
Poor Pandemic made their name with a slew of Star Wars: Battlefront and Mercenaries games before EA pulled the plug a couple of months ago. Battlefront was a classic slice of class-based combat that proved incredibly popular and so, when the opportunity arose to use the Lord of the Rings for a similar title, it was a no-brainer really: Large scale battles, the ability to step into Gandalf's boots, and best of all, the chance to bump off dozens of irritating hobbits as Sauron himself.
Pandemic and Peter Jackson fans alike will probably get a kick out of this, and therefore might like to know that you can currently pick up a copy of the PS3 version of the game for just £12.85 from ShopTo, saving you a couple of quid on the nearest competitor over at The Hut.
Conquest is a pretty solid game. It's not as good as Battlefront II but it's a fairly enjoyable way to pass the time between better releases. I feel I should qualify that a little: There's nothing wrong with the game as such, the combat is pretty good if a little simplistic, the graphics are nice to look at and the sound isn't bad either.
But it's nowhere near as epic as it should be. The enemies are pretty sparse to be honest, and even if you do encounter a large group of them on the battlefield, the AI seems to think that manners matter more than winning and your foes will take it in turns to attack. There's a morbid delight to be had from slaying obnoxious hobbits that get in the way of your evil masterplan to be sure, and the option to play as the bad guys is a very welcome addition, but there's something lacking here.
In short, worth a punt if you're a fan, or if you're bored. Just approach with caution.
Fans of the Lord of the Rings series might be interested to know that Lord of the Rings: Conquest is currently going for just £9.49 on Coolshop. This is more than £3.50 cheaper than the next best deal according to price comparison - which will set you back £13.00 from Shopto.
When you think Lord of the Rings, one thing immediately springs to mind: massive epic battles. Most people, apart from diehard fans, who have watched The Two Towers or Return of the King once, usually find that subsequent viewings simply consist of tapping next on your DVD remote. Past all that homoerotic Sam and Frodo nonsense and onto the really good stuff like the battle of Helms Deep and the siege of Gondor etc - after that it’s curtains because the long drawn out ending was bad enough first time round.
However my only gripe with LOTR:C is that the battles just feel hopelessly understated and the disparate groups of enemies are never sufficient to satisfy your thirst for oily-orc-bloodshed. Even during the Battle of Helms deep, enemies come at you a handful at a time and the battlefield feels annoyingly empty. The game just fails to capture that epic LOTR atmosphere which is unfortunate given everything it does well.
Visually it’s superb, and although a few reviewers gripe about the frame rate on the PS3 and Xbox 360, on PC the gameplay is very smooth and graphics surprisingly well rendered. The fact that you are given an opportunity to embark on the orc campaign and take a different narrative path from Return of King’s horribly cheesy ending is also great. In fact, it’s so splendidly evil you’ll literally be cackling sadistically behind your computer screen. The reviews might have been harsh towards LOTR: C but it’s a game which is very enjoyable to play through once, even if you’re not the biggest LOTR fan.