The Lord of the Rings: War in the North Interview

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Warner Bros.
Developer:Snowblind Studios
Release Date:2011-11-01
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
The Lord of the Rings: War in the North will finally reach store shelves here in North America tomorrow, and the rest of the world will be entering Middle-earth shortly thereafter. As big fans of Snowblind's previous action RPG offerings, particularly the Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath series, we wanted to fire off some last-minute questions to better understand the game's mechanics and how the title compares to the aforementioned series. Lucky for us, War in the North lead designer Andre Maguire was willing to oblige us with some answers:

GB: With only a few days left until release, what's the atmosphere like around the Snowblind office?

Andre: We're really excited! We've been working on The Lord of the Rings: War in the North for a while now so it's great to see that it's hitting the shelves!

GB: The game will sport four different difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Heroic, and Legendary. Do the game's enemies simply have more health and deal more damage as the difficulty ramps up, or will they actually have more sinister tactics that they'll utilize at higher levels?

Andre: As far as the enemies go it's mostly stats-based, but keep in mind, you keep your player character progression with each difficulty level. You'll be unlocking new skills, finding new weapons and armor, uncovering additional secrets in the game as well as unlocking achievements. So, there will be plenty of new stuff to see. Also, you can switch characters at each of the major checkpoints so we're looking forward to players checking out all the skill trees and progression-based elements, not just the ones for the character they start with.

GB: How will the difficulty levels affect loot drops and experience gains, and will there be any change to the storyline or environments as we ascend to greater challenges?

Andre: As you progress through The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, you'll get more experience during combat. Thatallows you to unlock more aspects of the skill tree as well as equip better gear, which inherently allows for more successful explorations into side quests, optional combat encounters and replaying through scenarios. We're expecting that players won't be able to unlock all the skills in a single playthrough, butby going through the harder difficulty levels you'll develop a much more diverse character with more combat moves and abilities. Our storyline stays consistent as you progress through but, the player character progression evolves quite a bit.

GB: For those of us who are familiar with the Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath series, how will the loot system compare in War in the North? How many uniquely crafted items will there be and will there be any set equipment, "socketed" items, or anything of that nature?

Andre: I think fans of the previous Snowblind games are going to be really happy with how The Lord of the Rings: War in the North has incorporated those experiences. There are tons of weapons, armor and items and hundreds of combinations of gear you can equip on your character. You'll be able to find armor sets that give a wide range of stat bonuses. Elf stones can be slotted into gear to add elemental properties. You can craft items into elixirs and potions. Each individual piece of armor affects your stats and is visually displayed on your character. You can trade items between the different characters too, which is great because each character can use a wide variety of different weaponry and gear. Being able to include tons of loot in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North was a huge deal to us and we're really pleased with the results.

GB: Does each character in a co-op party receive their own, separate loot drops or will people still be able to "ninja" any items that fall from a boss before another player does? To expand on that further, are the loot tables influenced by the characters currently being played (ie. more bows drop when the ranger is present)?

Andre: Each character gets their own loot so that's correct; you can't steal loot from the other players. We really wanted the character to feel as if they were working together as a team so it was important for us to build things that way. That said you will find that even if you are playing say, the Ranger, you'll find items that are specifically built for the Dwarf and Elf characters. It'll be up to you as far as whether you want to keep that item, sell it later, or give it to one of your team mates. As far as loot tables go you'll find that, since each player gets their own loot, the distributions are built to match character level and will skew a bit depending on what the character needs at that moment.

GB: In your earlier titles, it was possible to "farm" bosses for equipment by saving your character after their defeat, loading an earlier save, and then importing your previously saved character data. Will such "farming" techniques be possible in War in the North?

Andre: Technically yes, you can game the system a bit in that way if you like. Its one of those things where we'd rather let you have fun with it and get some extra stuff rather than clamping things down. Folks who are looking to do that won't have much trouble figuring it out.

GB: Can you give us a quick overview of the game's character creation process, as well as a brief introduction to the statistics and skills we'll be modifying as we level up our character?

Andre: There are three characters you can play, Eradan the Dúnedain Ranger, Andriel Lore-master of Rivendell and Farin Champion of Erebor. Eradan is a bit of a stealthy, assassin-like character. Andriel is a magic user and Farin is the tank character. You select one of the characters from the start screen and load into the game from there. If you're playing online or split-screen, you'll be able to see what the other players are selecting as well. Each character has tons of armor and weapons as well as their own skill tree. The skill trees allow you to unlock additional melee and ranged combat moves, defensive moves as well as abilities that accentuate co-op play. There are also several passive improvements you can unlock from the skill tree. It's cool because, even though the group is always comprised of the three characters, you can trick them out to play the way you want based on your preferences.
GB: How varied are the skill trees presented to each of the game's three characters? Can you give us an example of just how different one person's dwarf champion could be (skill-wise) versus another's?

Andre: The skill trees are quite different between the three characters. Eradan can drop into evasion that allows him to be invisible. Andriel has a magic shield that protects from ranged attacks. Farin has a warcry ability that puts him into a rage-mode like state. You can expand on those skills by ranking them up or adding complimentary skills on top of them. Then you can decide if you want to focus on being more of a support role, a tank or even spread points out to be a bit of both. For example, one player's Dwarf character might be completely focused on melee damage where another player's Dwarf might have equipped a skill that allows them to fire crossbow bolts really quickly. Another might have unlocked skills that benefit everybody at the same time. We put a lot of effort into making each skill tree both appropriate for the characters and also open for players to experiment with.

GB: How did you come up with the mechanics that were ultimately used for the game's character development and progression systems? Did you base the systems around what worked in your previous games, or were certain mechanics/ideas taken from the LotR tabletop game or other sources?

Andre: A bit of everything really. We definitely wanted The Lord of the Rings: War in the North to feel like a Snowblind game. Being able to go through and find tons of loot, secrets and upgrades was important to us but, we also wanted the combat system to have quite a bit of depth, too. We found ourselves focusing on several areas at once to solidify the mechanics. And through prototypes, iteration, lots and lots of playtesting and feedback we got what I think is a great balance between long-term progression and the second-to-second combat experience.

GB: How linear or non-linear would you say the game is? Can players avoid the game's main quest and simply work on side quests if they choose to?

Andre: Well, you do need to progress through the main story. It's important that you stay synched to the events of The Lord of the Rings. Everything we're doing runs parallel with The Lord of the Rings storyline. In fact you'll be meeting up with well-known characters like Aragorn and Elrond along the way so you need to keep moving! But there are lots of side quests so it's not like we're pushing you through everything all the time. If gamers want to take their time with the story, go back and re-play through areas, find more loot or work on making their character more powerful, they can certainly do that.

GB: What type of dialogue system are you integrating into War in the North? Will our character's skills, attributes, or previous deeds restrict/enable certain dialogue options?

Andre: The conversation system allows you to pick the different things that your character will say. It's cool because depending on which character you are playing, what you'll see and the choices you have will be different. We wanted the dialog to be appropriate to each of the character's history so you definitely notice differences there. Also, you'll see some different content in conversation based on what you've done previously including who you've talked to.

GB: We understand that the game will have secret areas that can only be accessed in co-op. Can you tell us more about these, and whether or not there are any other advantages or disadvantages to playing in multiplayer?

Andre: Yes! Each character has a unique ability to find secrets. Eradan can use his tracking ability to find hidden ranger caches. Andriel can dispel magic walls that lead to treasure chambers and Farin is able to see weaknesses in structures that allow him to break through and find cool stuff. The thing is, every time a character finds a secret area, its beneficial to the whole group. Because of the way our loot system works, whenever anybody uncovers a secret area, it a good idea to check out what's in there. If you are playing online or in split-screen mode, you'll have access to many more of these areas than if you are playing single player.

GB: Aside from what was stated in the recent developer blog, what more can you tell us about the game's two challenge maps? Do you find that these are more rewarding than playing through the storyline, in terms of experience and loot? Is there loot or other rewards that are specific to the challenge maps?

Andre: The Challenge Maps are lot of fun. They are not actually a part of the The Lord of the Rings: War in the North story specifically but, they touch on some really significant aspects of The Lord of the Rings story as a whole. The Challenge Maps are a great way to get bonus XP, find additional loot or unlock achievements. You'll see the entire cast of enemies and all of their combat behaviors. The gameplay gets more and more frantic with each wave and if you're playing online, it's fun to try and get the highest scores in terms of kills, hit streaks and whatnot.

GB: What steps have been taken in order to ensure that the PC version of the game takes advantage of its native keyboard and mouse controls, as well as more powerful video capabilities and processing power? Will the UI elements support higher resolutions, keyboard shortcuts, and that sort of thing?

Andre: The PC version supports controllers as well as keyboard/mouse. The UI for keyboard/mouse users includes hotkeys for skills, potions and calling in Beleram. We support all the standard resolutions in addition to wide screen versions and some of the art is higher rez on PC.

GB: And I have to ask - what's next for Snowblind after War in the North? Is there any chance that we'll see another Snowblind-developed Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance or Champions of Norrath title in the future?

Andre: There's nothing confirmed at this time so, stay tuned!

Thanks for your time, Andre!