Remember that brilliant troll battle from the first Lord of the Rings film? Remember how tense, unpredictable and exciting it was? Now imagine that scene, but with the Fellowship standing in a circle around the troll, repeatedly hacking away at its legs for five minutes until it suddenly falls over and dies. You've just imagined War in the North.
The story runs parallel to Frodo's quest to destroy the Ring, but stars three heroes that are completely unique to the game: Andriel (healer, pointy ears), Eradan (bargain bin Aragorn) and Farin (dwarf, likes axes). They all have their own special attacks, skill trees and weapon proficiencies, but they're some of the dullest characters ever pressed to disc.
Lord of the Rings is full of memorable personalities, but these three cardboard dullards are instantly forgettable. Developers Snowblind could have chosen from the hundreds of lesser-known characters mentioned in the books, but instead they've decided to write their own.
At first you might be quite impressed. Not by the characters, but by the combat. There's a great feeling of weight and power as you swing your weapons at the Dark Lord's hordes. Critical hits sever limbs in gruesome slow motion, it's nicely animated, and the characters feel distinct. Eradan can dual-wield swords and attacks with elaborate, acrobatic flair, and Farin's axe is heavy and satisfying.
Andriel is the least fun in terms of combat, but the most useful overall. She can use magic to create a shimmering sphere that heals anyone who steps inside it, and she'll automatically cast it if your health begins to dip. She's maddeningly suicidal, though.
In one level we were about to die, so she ran over and cast her spell. While we stood inside restoring our health, she didn't bother joining us despite being close to death. "I need healing!" she shouted, standing about a metre away. Then she died.
Well, characters don't die exactly. Providing another hero still has health, they can run over and revive their pal. This is something you'll find yourself doing a lot, because the game is inexplicably hard, even on the normal setting. Basic enemies can drain your health in seconds, and healing items are infuriatingly rare.
Another problem, and perhaps the biggest, is that the whole experience is built on repetition. Enemies come in near-endless waves, but the combat isn't deep or nuanced enough to justify it. It only took about an hour for our attention to waver. Limited use special attacks add some flavour, but otherwise it's a dispiriting grind.
Attempts at variety are misjudged. There are moments where you mount a turret and fire at swarms of endlessly respawning enemies, who often helpfully stand next to explosive barrels. That's right: they put a turret section in a Lord of the Rings game.
Then there are those troll battles, which are achingly dull, and seem to occur every ten minutes. The only way these brutes differ from regular enemies are their size and strength. You don't have to switch tactics, you don't have to approach the combat in a different way - it's just more listless hacking and slashing until they groan and keel over.
There is some brief respite from the endless repetition. The town of Bree, where the Hobbits meet Aragorn for the first time in the Fellowship of the Ring, serves as the game's hub. At certain points in levels you can warp back here, buy or sell items, and talk to the locals.
It's a cool idea, and useful for selling off unwanted loot, but the area is tiny and its denizens are as lifeless as the three heroes. (Though Loot is one of the few things War in the North does well. Chests will regularly spit out new armour and weapons, some of which have stat-boosting effects. Armour appears on your character in-game, and there's a decent range of weapons to choose from.)