There and Block Again… LEGO The Lord of the Rings Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
The Lord of the Rings, for fans of the books at least, isn’t exactly prime material for a LEGO game, mainly due to its (at times) slow pacing and a general lack of descriptive action. Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy, on the other hand, is much better suited, with plenty of action, a dose of humour, and some spot-on realisations of well-loved characters. Thankfully for gamers, Traveller’s Tales has opted to focus its LEGO The Lord of the Rings adaptation on the screen versions, although some concessions are made to those who loved the books (such as the inclusion of Tom Bombadil as an unlockable character).
Perhaps the greatest worry when approaching LEGO The Lord of the Rings is related to the sheer scope of the tale. Spread over three movies easily clocking in at three hours each (not including the extended editions), the developers had their work cut out for them in attempting to squeeze this down into a coherent videogame experience. There are some instances of jumping around with the story that may confuse those not wholly familiar with the movies, but for the large part, Traveller’s Tales has done an admirable job. With over 15 levels, ranging from the initial defeat of Sauron to the epic battles of Helm’s Deep and the Pelennor Fields, the vast majority of sequences from the movies have been included. What’s even more impressive is that the entirety of what we see of Middle-earth in the movies is included as a seamless world hub, although obviously on a pared-down scale.
The transition from movie to game is eased by the fact that all voice-acting in LEGO The Lord of the Rings is lifted straight from the movies themselves, meaning that Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood and Viggo Mortensen all have their voices coming out of tiny LEGO mouths. This is a little disconcerting at first, as you’re used to hearing these lines coming from real people, but you soon get used to it. Most of the cutscenes are even recreated almost shot for shot from the movies as well, although with some liberties taken by Traveller’s Tales, often for the sake of humour. One worry I personally had with the game was that the humour would be too overblown or slapstick for the subject matter, but Traveller’s Tales has managed to deftly balance the tone of the movies with their child-friendly franchise, and there were a couple of moments, such as Gimli pumping his axe like a shotgun at the end of Fellowship of the Ring, that actually had me laughing out loud, which is a particular rarity from videogames. There are even a few nods to other videogame franchises, with Resident Evil (collecting red and green herbs to make a medical kit for a wounded soldier) and Metal Gear Solid (a miniature stealth section where alerted guards are indicated with an exclamation mark above their heads and a ‘brrrring’ sound) being two particular standouts, although these are hidden away in optional play settings to avoid taking attention away from the main narrative.
Optional play actually makes up the vast majority of content for LEGO The Lord of the Rings, to the extent that once the main story mode is finished, you are presented with a full game completion rate of somewhere around 25%. From mithril bricks to hidden characters, to the franchise classics of minikits and LEGO studs, there is plenty to see and do here, with the time required to achieve full completion ending up being somewhere around the same as a mid-length RPG. Obviously those with shorter attention spans won’t be too bothered about collecting every last possible item, but for devoted fans who wish to roam Middle-earth as Gil-Galad, the Witch King or even Sauron himself, there is plenty to keep you occupied.
The way in which the optional side-quests are handled within the game is a new addition to the LEGO franchise. From the world map, players can find and activate Map Stones, which work in a similar way to the viewpoints from the Assassin’s Creed series in that they reveal a variety of secrets and tasks in the area directly surrounding them. By the time you have explored every corner of Middle-earth, your map will be filled with location markers for bricks, characters and NPCs requiring your help.
Considering just how much clutter can build-up on the map, it was an inspired decision to highlight just the story missions on the map when you are fully zoomed out, saving you the time of finding each one individually amongst the mass of other distractions. Each optional quest can also be marked on the map, causing a line of ghost studs to appear that will lead you from your current position to the objective of your choosing. This doesn’t always work perfectly, particularly if the location of choice is within a cave, but for the most part it saves players a lot of aimless wandering and constant rechecking of the map.
Throughout the open-world Middle-earth, and during each of the story missions, fans of the series will never have trouble with working out where they are visually. Locations are well-adapted from the movies, and thanks to the subject matter, environments are varied, from the lushness of the Shire to the cold extremes of Caradhras, to the destroyed city of Osgiliath. Fan service is plentiful within this title, and even the characters are instantly recognisable in their LEGO form. There are plenty of playable characters to collect, including the obvious choices of the Fellowship and their foes, to less well-known characters such as Lurtz and Celeborn. True to the LEGO games’ format, each character has his/her own special ability or abilities, including Sam’s penchant for gardening, Gimli being able to smash certain blocks with his axe, and Elves being particularly adept with a bow and arrow. You are also able to visit a blacksmith in Bree who can use your mithril bricks to forge treasures, which allow any character to use a certain ability once equipped; however, it’s often faster to just switch to a character that is originally able to perform a certain task.
Being released less than six months apart, it’s not too surprising to see that LEGO The Lord of the Rings suffers from a lot of the same problems as LEGO Batman 2, mainly in terms of late texture fade-in and object pop-up, and a truly awful camera at times, which makes jumping sections much more difficult than they need to be. There are also a couple of issues within the game which are new (for me) to the LEGO series; the most soul-destroying being the fairly common and worrying problem of the game freezing in the open-world sections, to the extent that a reset of the console is needed. Strangely enough, this problem wasn’t encountered once while playing co-op, an issue which requires some head-scratching since each player can go off and do his/her own thing in different corners of the fairly sizeable map with not even the slightest hint of slowdown. The other issue that seemed to spring out of nowhere a couple of times were puzzles not triggering properly once successfully completed, with a crate-moving puzzle in the Osgiliath level proving a particularly tricky beast.
As mentioned above, the co-op portion of LEGO The Lord of the Rings is handled well, particularly if you have a duo of players who work better independently. There aren’t many puzzles in the open-world areas that require both players to be present at the same time, so it’s perfectly feasible for one player to go off and perform a certain task whilst the other does something else. The only downsides to this – although the first is understandable due to the scope of some of the levels – is that once a level is entered, both players are automatically dragged in, regardless of whether or not one player is in the middle of doing something else. Also, the fact that the world map is not able to be brought up by only one player at a time, and instead has to fill the whole screen is a shame, as it can be quite jarring to suddenly jump into the map unexpectedly if you’re not the player who triggered the change. Unfortunately, Traveller’s Tales hasn’t managed to solve the problem of the co-op camera yet either, meaning that as the divider between the two players’ screens swings wildly to perform its best attempt to display both characters’ location within a level, each player will likely be reaching for the vomit bag.
LEGO The Lord of the Rings has obviously been made by a team that has a passion for the subject matter, and it shows through in the sheer amount of fan-servicing content and the faithful recreations of Peter Jackson’s envisioning of Middle-earth. Though the problems often associated with LEGO games haven’t completely gone away, this would be a welcome gift for any gamer with an affection for the trilogy, and with the theatrical release of The Hobbit fast approaching, LEGO The Lord of the Rings is a perfect opportunity to position yourself back in the world of Middle-earth. With some tastefully handled injections of humour, plenty of things to see and do, and a good sense of adventure, Traveller’s Tales has performed an admirable job of bringing the trilogy down to a LEGO scale, and for fans of either the LEGO videogame series or The Lord of the Rings trilogy, this game won’t disappoint.
LEGO The Lord of the Rings scores a precioussssssssss 3.75 out of 5
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