Lord of the Rings: War in the North preview: Death from above

We last saw Lord of the Rings: War in the North back in March, and the mechanics haven't changed much in the version seen on the floor of E3 earlier this week. It's still a three-player co-op game, featuring an elf caster, a human rogue and a dwarf fighter beating down some of the familiar baddies from the Lord of the Rings franchise with a nice layer of RPG on top. The game's not incredible, but it's a more than serviceable action title, made better with a few good friends to play with.

This latest preview focused on a slightly different objective than last time -- in the short part of the demo I played, my cohorts and I had to defend a set of elven brothers that were casting some magic to break open a fortress door, with a few waves of enemies rolling in after us. Fortunately, we weren't alone -- while my companions depended on their weapons, and my axe, we had one other secret weapon up our sleeves: A giant eagle.

Perhaps the best element of the combat is just how fluid it is -- quick and strong attacks can be combined into combos or just used separately, and each class has its own abilities that be used just by pulling a trigger while hitting a button, all just governed by a short cooldown. That makes the combat flashy and simple, not nearly as deep as the best hardcore action games, but that's OK when you're trying to relax with friends while you play.

Back in March, we lamented that none of the classes played too specific a role, and that hasn't changed; while I did have skills as the dwarf that helped out my companions, we didn't need a lot of coordination to move through the story. Mostly, we just spammed everything we had and moved on. Once I did start using the skills correctly, we could bring down enemies even faster, but a lot of times, with two co-op partners I didn't know that were also new to the game, we just hack-and-slashed away and did well enough to make the loot drop, which is really you need.

Snowblind has access to both the Lord of the Rings movie and book properties here, and they use them well -- it's definitely a game in and of the universe that Tolkien created, but I didn't see any misuse of the most famous characters. There are orcs to fight that look very much like those in the Peter Jackson movies, and that makes some of the heaviest attacks a little more exciting, as if you're avenging for all of that trouble they caused during the trilogy.

But the best Tolkien-esque inclusion in the demo was Beleram, a giant eagle that could be called down periodically. Every once in a while the waves of enemies would contain a larger creature to take down, and with a simple keypress, we could bring down Beleram, who'd capture our foe in his talons and spectacularly rip them apart.

If there's a glaring issue with War in the North, it's probably repetition -- while there were a few different types of enemies we faced, there wasn't a lot of difference in the way we dealt with them; it was mostly slash, kills, rinse and repeat. Especially when fighting wave after wave of enemies, the encounters came across as just fighting more of the same thing rather than pacing up to a big climax.

But when you have an axe in your hand, everything looks like an Orc to kill anyway. The great loot system (which is all run client-side, keeping fights from breaking out among the party about who gets which gear) will have you hunting new items repeatedly, and while just jumping online to play might have you wondering why the elf is just running around in circles, sitting down with a few good friends seems like it would be a excellent time. Lord of the Rings: War in the North is due out on August 24.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.