Steam Backlog Bonanza – Lord of the Rings: War in the North

823 words.

Is Lord of the Rings still Lord of the Rings even when it’s not Lord of the Rings? That is the question I set out to answer when looking at Lord of the Rings: War in the North, from 2011. Actually, it was just the next game on my Steam backlog list. I paid $5 for it in a Steam sale some time back, and yesterday I looked at it for the first time.

You play as one of three pre-rolled characters: A dwarf, an elf, or a human. They are sort of a mini-Fellowship, though they don’t really seem to talk to each other. I picked the dwarf. The other two are with you all the time, providing AI assistance. I think you can also switch between the three characters at strategic points during the story. (Presumably you can play co-op with friends as well.)

It’s an “Action RPG,” in the sense that you pretty much just button-mash to get through the combat. The “RPG” part involves talking to NPCs and picking dialog choices. From the hour I played, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of choice in the dialog choices-it was a fairly linear dialog tree.

I never felt like I was making any particularly interesting decisions during the combat. I just picked a random enemy and hacked and slashed until they were dead, much like I would in Diablo. Occasionally there was a neat-looking heroic animation of cutting somebody’s head off, or an enemy might fly through the air and ragdoll in an amusing way. It was a similar feeling to Ryse: Son of Rome, actually. You just sort of zone out and hit buttons until it’s over. (I played on a controller-it’s a game that seemed to lend itself more to a controller.) That kind of combat is tolerable if there’s a good story to back it up, but…

The story did not hold my attention in the first hour. And this is where I wonder about the wisdom of using Middle-earth as an intellectual property for a brand new story. It felt like Middle-earth was getting in the way of the story. It felt strange to be playing in the Lord of the Rings timeline, but not in the classic Lord of the Rings story. It was a completely separate thing, and it just felt strange and out-of-place. I felt like it would have been a better story if it had been set in its own world, apart from Middle-earth.

Oddly I don’t get that sense from Lord of the Rings Online. I feel like that story is intertwined with the Fellowship’s journey in a way that maintains enough consistency to remain immersive. This one felt off to me for some reason. The story just didn’t seem to matter. Perhaps it would get better later on.

But alas I only played for an hour. I gave up when I reached a stopping point and my back started to ache from sitting in a chair. Will I play more? Maybe. It’s not a terrible game. It’s certainly worth the $5 I paid for it. But it seems like there are so many other better, more engaging games around that it will probably remain permanently neglected on the “I might play it if I get really bored” list.

Production Notes: Well at least it wasn’t pegging the needles the whole time. This time we had the opposite problem, where the game was too quiet. My general goal is always to put the game’s dialog loudness right about the level of my microphone. Wouldn’t it be great if OBS had a way to monitor the outgoing audio stream? Yeah, that would be pretty great. Until then, I guess I’ll just randomly change my compression settings until I can handle quiet games and loud games without manual intervention.

I switched from 1280×720 @ 60 fps to 1920×1080 @ 30 fps and YouTube seemed to like it a lot better. I think I read somewhere that 60 fps on YouTube requires a “special” setting, probably only available to fancy schmancy influencer partners, or something like that. The stuttering was still there at 30 fps (despite 0 dropped frames again on my end), but it wasn’t as horrible this time. I also increased the upload bitrate from 5000Kbps to 5500Kbps.

Next in the backlog: Antichamber. Previously: TimeShift.

This is my Blaugust post for July 30th, 2019, the third day of Prep Week. As this is still prep week, I’m not entirely sure if this is an “official” Blaugust post or not. I wasn’t going to start counting them until August, but some people seem to be counting as if the 28th is the first day? I don’t know. I can’t keep up with these timey-wimey loosy-goosy rules all the kids seem to like. Personally I just wanted to start early to get this new streaming-blogging production pipeline optimized before the 1st.

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