The world is again bracing itself for Hobbitmania to run wild, and Snowblind has offered up the ultimate Middle-earth sidequest to tide fans over until Peter Jackson's next masterpiece hits the cinema.
Taking control of a ranger, a dwarf and an elf (working to type as all-rounder, melee specialist, and mage) you lead a quest through the north of Middle-earth, tasked with bringing down Agandaur.
You know - Sauron's best lieutenant. Scourge of the North. Agandaur? Nope, you could study all the books and films and still have no idea who he is, because he's a special creation for this game.
There's a lot of this "trusted first-cousin-twice-removed of the barman from Bree" carry-on in an attempt to link this otherwise enjoyable action-RPG to the Tolkien universe. It gets particularly depressing when the party learns of the fellowship of the ring.
Your brave Ranger suddenly becomes a spineless wretch during an exchange with the much-more famous Strider. It goes a bit like this: "Oh, Aragorn, your noble quest to guide the hobbits into Mordor sounds much more important than this wild goose chase of ours. Might I come along?"
"Dear friend, it is crucial to our success that you distract Sauron's evil forces. Don't you see? No distraction, no fellowship. You are important. There's a good lad, run along now."
"But - "
"Run along now."
And so it is that Whatshisname, son of Thingy, is firmly put in his place - and therefore so are you. It devalues the whole experience by ramming home just how obvious it is that you're running interference for the real heroes. I'd apologise for banging on about this but it's Tolkien. It's the value of the story, and of its heroes, and here there is a hit-and-miss proposition that's heavier on the missing.
So it is best advised to simply ignore the plot and revel in the violence. There's just so much of it. Each swing of a sword or an axe brings fountains of blood, and a well-aimed arrow may cause a head to pop like a melon on the shoulders of its luckless owner. Suicide squads light themselves up and run at you in narrow corridors, and the boss characters are an exercise in absolute dread.
It all seems a bit much for a game available to 13-year-olds, but perhaps today's generation is made of sterner stuff.
Verdict: War in the North is actually good fun. The play and inventory mechanics are fine enough as modern RPGs go, and though the progression is quite linear there are plenty of secrets to hunt down. There is just the unshakeable feeling that this game might have performed better if the LOTR skin was pulled away and it - much like its heroes - was allowed to stand on its own two feet.
Reviewed on Xbox 360, also on PS3, PC