Hands-on with LEGO: The Lord of the Rings

With the original trilogy of books, three movies, an extended edition DVD/Blu-ray set, and countless video games set in the Lord of the Rings universe, is there anything new that can possibly be done?  You might be surprised.  At FanExpo Toronto I found myself amazed by how much fun I had playing LEGO: The Lord of the Rings.  The title is a mouthful, but the gameplay strikes the perfect balance between complexity and simplicity.  This new offering from the LEGO series of video games faithfully recaptures the epic battles and in-battle camaraderie from the movie trilogy and original series of books while adding the familiar LEGO spin of blocky figures to come up with a fantastic experience.

I ended up playing the game co-op with a total stranger.  We found ourselves in the thick of the battle at Helm’s Deep! Thousands upon thousands of Sauron’s army of orcs were roaring at our doorstep, and the flashes and crashes of battle sounded all around us.  He was playing Gimli, the surly dwarf, and I took control of Legolas, the nimble archer.  The difference in the skillsets (and the subsequent game mechanics) between the two characters meant that my impromptu partner and I filled different roles in the battle.  He would hew through enemies like a hot knife through butter, serving as the muscle for our little team of two.  Meanwhile, I was the more tactical fighter, creating new routes in the map by shooting arrows into the wall and climbing on them.  This is a co-op game that really focuses on teamwork; we worked together and used each other to get ahead, giving both of us our shining moments while making us feel truly connected as a team.

Whereas other LEGO video games have you control a single protagonist, or a member of an ensemble cast – such as Batman, Harry Potter, or Indiana JonesLEGO: Lord of the Rings puts you in the middle of the large scale, truly legendary battles for Middle Earth.  If you ever felt like the Lord of the Rings movie was too distanced from the action, this game will be perfect to soothe your urge to fight to defend the nations of Men.   LEGO: Lord of the Rings managed to simultaneously fulfil two somewhat contrasting conditions during the gameplay demo: Firstly, I felt as though I was surrounded by a battle that was far outside my control and was enormous in scope; and secondly, as though I was a crucial part of this battle and that my partner and I were turning the tide through our efforts. This is an impressive achievement, and the demo felt amazing because of it.

The controls were tight and responsive.  Despite the fact that I do not own a PS3, I never found myself continuously checking the button faces to see which symbol corresponded with which button.  Instead, I just seamlessly moved around the stage without being hampered or confused, because of the ease the simple control design creates.  LEGO: Lord of the Rings seems to be one of those special games where you can pick up the controller with a buddy and have fun without sitting through tutorials, explaining the game in detail to your friend, or having wildly mismatched levels of enjoyment. While the controls are simple, I still managed to pull off some achievements with Legolas that made me feel like I had done something extremely skilled – swinging up across the wall of Helm’s Deep nimbly to get to an objective, or landing a perfect shot on a troublesome orc that was threatening Gimli.  These moments made me feel like a true hero, and really immersed me into the demo.

The graphics continue the progress they’ve made in other LEGO video games to create a handsome combination of high fantasy and childhood nostalgia.   It is difficult to mesh two different styles together, but the bright yellow, blocky LEGO figurines and the dreary sky over the armoured knights preparing to do battle meshed together surprisingly well.  Even after the success of so many previous LEGO games, I half expected the two distinctly different visual settings to look discordant and confusing, but this game pulls it off with aplomb.

The biggest testament to the fun that the LEGO: Lord of the Rings demo offers was actually not during my turn playing the game.  Both my co-op partner and I are in our twenties, and we managed to wrench a great amount of fun out of a simple demo.  But could these results be replicated?  I saw something that made me quite confident that this action will appeal to all markets:  two boys, one aged seven, and the other five, took their turn at the stand.  The younger boy had to stand on the tips of his toes just to see the screen, but their faces were lit in pure joy.  They laughed, whooped, cheered, and played through the demo three times straight.  Watching them was what solidified my warm, fuzzy feelings about the LEGO: Lord of the Rings demo, and I hope they have as much fun with it when the game launches on October 30th.

About This Post