Developer: Snowblind Studios
Price: £40
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
It's a bit like: Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Hunted: The Demon's Forge, Dungeon Siege 3

We normally finish games before we review them on – hell, we even played all the way through Duke Nukem Forever. But with Middle-Earth based brawler Lord of the Rings: War in the North, we made an exception.

Three is the magic number, apparently

We'll get onto why in a bit, though. LOTR:WITN (snappy title there, eh? Pronounce it Lotter Witten for best effect) isn't great to start with – it's an RPG-style hack and slash with maybe slightly too many RPG elements for its own good, in which you play one of three Tolkien-style heroes – a dwarf (tough!) a ranger (fast!) or an elf (magical!) in battle against a bunch of big ugly orcs, goblins, trolls etc. 

Lord of the Rings: War in the North screenshot
This is the Elf. She's our favourite, despite her dodgy choice of headgear

The core idea of combat isn't bad at all – hammer away at an enemy with basic attacks, and you'll weaken them a bit. Once they get a special icon flashing above their heads, you lunge in with a Heavy Attack and generally a) cut off something important and b) get a little bit of slow-motion stylishness for your trouble, like you're very briefly in a Zach Snyder movie.

Lord of the Rings: War in the North screenshot
Madness? This... is... MORDOR!

Problems arise when it's pretty clear that bothering enemies with basic attacks until you can lop off a leg is the majority of the game. Sure, there's plenty of additional powers to unlock – things like Hurt Lots of People At Once or Hurt One Person A Lot or even Heal Your Mates A Bit If You're The Elf – but thanks to over-long recharge times and Power (the currency used to cast them) being rarer than cigarettes in a prison, you'll often find yourself overwhelmed and resorting to that basic attack all over again. Even if you're supposed to be a powerful elven wizard, you're going to be hitting things with sticks a lot.

Lord of the Rings: War in the North Screenshot
Fighting with two swords is a high-level power for the elf, so don't start out expecting to use it

One ring to blah blah and in the darkness blah

The story is stock Tolkien stuff – desperate mission to blah blah orcs blah blah power of the one ring blah blah hobbits blah blah Mount something or other blah blah punching a guy with a black cloak and pointy helmet in the face etc. We'd be hard-pressed to even name the main characters right now, let alone divulge intricate plot details. It's nonsense, anyway, and while we were really hoping for a plot grim enough to match the much-hyped levels of gore in the game, it doesn't deliver.

We'd quite happily overlook that, though, were it not for the fact that the game suffers from a general lack of... smoothness. Little errors keep cropping up again and again – like trying to get equipment between characters. Say you're walking through the forest and you find some handy boots. The ranger might like those boots, you think, so you give them to him – but then you realise your own shoes are broken. Can you get those shoes back off the ranger? Can you bollocks. He might as well have glued them to his feet.

Lord of the Rings: War in the North Screenshot
Oh! Also, yes, also you can summon an eagle the size of a transit van to rip off goblin heads. That bit we like

The AI on the computer-controlled characters is daft, too – and it's all you've got to play with when you're not doing split-screen or playing online. When you're playing the elf, one of your core powers is Sanctuary – a bubble of force that blocks enemy arrows and recharges the health of allies. It's bloody useful, especially when you're under heavy ranged attack – but we've never seen the AI use it properly. They'll stand next to the bubble as flaming ballista shots slam into their back, looking at you plaintively, wondering why all the fire and pain is happening to them and weeping with confusion.

One last thing

But the worst thing – the worst thing by far – is why we didn't play the game all the way through. We'd hit level 9 (it took about six hours of play, in total) and, after a stilted conversation with some people in a tent, we heard that the Lorien Challenge Map had been unlocked. Upon cracking open our map (you move between locations by selecting them on a map, rather than actually walking there) we selected Lorien and walked off on our merry way.1

Lord of the Rings: War in the North Screenshot
Notice something interesting about any of these goblins? No, us neither, they're all identical

We rocked up to the elf-city of Lorien (well, a bridge on the outskirts of it, anyway) and fought off wave after wave of the undead until, halfway through the fifth wave, we died. Ho hum. We loaded it up again, and noticed that this was a challenge map recommended for characters of level 11-12.

Would have been nice to get that initially, but anyway – we play again. We die again. We change characters for a bit to see if that helps, but we always kark it halfway through wave five. We give up and look for a way to get back to the main part of the game. Wait, what's that? There ISN'T a way?

Apparently not. Apparently choosing this challenge map two levels above us equivalent to marriage – there's no getting out of it. Ever. Unless you beat it. Maybe it's not really like marriage in that respect, then, but anyway. Moving on. We tried a few more times to win, but we've really got better things to do than beat our head against metaphorical brick walls - so, after an hour or so, we quit. We're not about to start playing again just so we can finish a game we're not especially enjoying.

Lord of the Rings: War in the North Screenshot
Trolls use unconventional weapons, like dwarfs

At the heart of War in the North is a pretty solid hack and slash RPG, but there are too many awful bits packed around it to make it worth playing. Which is a damned shame.

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Lord of the Rings: War in the North is out now

1 Everyone seems to spend an inordinately long time walking in Lord of the Rings. Seriously, guys, get a horse or something