Plugged In

‘The Lord of the Rings: War in the North’ offers glimpse into offscreen events

Plugged In

Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn might have stolen the spotlight on the big screen, but there was a lot going on in "The Lord of the Rings" that didn't involve the Fellowship.

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LOTR: War in the North (Warner Bros. Interactive)

While the movie tie-ins to the epic fantasy saga may be (temporarily) exhausted, the gaming world isn't anywhere close to being ready to walk away from the franchise. And Warner Bros. Interactive has found a way to keep it alive by digging deep into J.R.R. Tolkien's tomes.

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, which hits stores Tuesday, features characters and situations that may not be familiar to people who aren't obsessive readers of the trilogy, but each was included in the novels as well as Tolkien's annotations.

The game focuses on a series of battles that were crucial in preventing Sauron from ruling Middle-earth, occurring at the same time that Frodo and the gang traipsed their way to Mount Doom.

Unlike previous LOTR games, though, this one's not exactly family friendly. War in the North is the first M-rated title tied to the franchise. As a dwarf fighter, elf wizard or human ranger, you'll hack and slash your way through this role-playing game in bloody fashion. Snowblind, the studio behind highly-regarded console games like Champions of Norrath and Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, developed the title.

While the movies focused exclusively on the adventures of the Fellowship, Tolkien makes it clear in the books that the war was waged on a much broader scale. Snowblind and Warner relied on his notations about these battles while creating the game, something that's bound to please LOTR loyalists.

"Everything in our story is based directly on the books, which have tons of detail and history to draw from, and we're very careful that all of our work fits within the lore," Snowblind's Ruth Tomandl told Gamespot. "The books tell of many battles in the war; Lothlorien, Erebor, the Shire, all came under attack and had to be defended. Playing the role of one of the heroes called upon to fight those battles will be very exciting for those of us who love The Lord of the Rings."

Farin (the dwarf), Andriel (the elf) and Eradan (the human) may never have gotten name-checked by Peter Jackson, but each played a crucial role in the War of the Ring. They'll fight orcs and trolls in the game, of course, but the big bad this time around isn't Sauron. Instead, you'll face his top lieutenant, Agandaur.

Ordered by Sauron to eliminate opposition in the North, even Tolkien was mysterious about Agandaur's role in the conquest of Middle-earth, which gave developers some wiggle room to work with when making the game.

War in the North actually marks the first time game makers have been able to fuse the movie license with the book rights. (EA, who made games based on the films, did not hold any rights to the books.) Securing those allowed Warner to open up the world and let players explore new areas, but retain the distinctive look of the films that most people now associate with Middle-earth.

And thus far, fan reaction has been fairly positive. The idea of battling in parts of this world that have been previously unexplored -- and with characters that don't carry the familiarity their better-known comrades do -- is exciting. But the less-than-stellar video game history of the LOTR series has some unconvinced.

"I really, really want this to be good," said commenter Jex9 on the Gamespot forums. "I don't want another disappointment!"

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