LEGO The Lord of the Rings Review
The LEGO games have managed to successfully blend some of my favorite franchises with that irresistible LEGO charm. I love these games – I own them all and have 100%-ed more than half of them. So Traveler’s Tales finally answered my prayers and made a new homage game with one of my absolute favorites: Lord of the Rings. It was sorely overdue! LEGO The Lord of the Rings combines two of my favorite things: I find the LEGO games consistently fun and entertaining, and I’m a pretty big Lord of the Rings nerd! And I’m pleased to say that they may have crafted their best work to date!
We all know the LEGO formula by this point. You re-enact some of the more crucial moments from the films, all from the perspectives of the various heroes. The core gameplay: destroying everything you possibly can, fending off the bad guys and battling bosses, solving platforming logic puzzles, all the while collecting as many studs as possible, remains essentially unchanged. “Free Play” mode allows you to replay each level with an entire team at your disposal to find all the hidden collectibles and, of course, gathering more studs to buy new characters and cheats, all with a wonderful Lord of the Rings coat-of-paint. There is a lot hidden in this game – unlocking and finding all the secrets will be a major investment this time around.
But Traveler’s Tales have added a few things to the formula. LEGO LotR doesn’t have a proper central hub like the infamous Mos Eisley cantina in LEGO Star Wars. Instead, there are short areas that connect the levels together over the course of the journey. It gives you a great sense of the length of the quest. Going back is simple thanks to an easy fast travel map.
I like the way that finding hidden mithril (which you also get upon completing levels and attaining “True Adventurer” status) is how you unlock the cheats this time around. Raw mithril can be spent at the blacksmith who will then make you special weapons. For example, the mithril boxing gloves allow any character to pull objects with orange handles. This is something normally reserved for only extra-strong characters. There are also side quests – a novel inclusion. Some people might want you to replay a level just so you can find something they had lost. Others might want you to make something for them. It’s clever, but I honestly wouldn’t go back to look for these until after beating the main story and unlocking plenty of extra characters first.
Each level makes excellent use of the characters at your disposal and their individual talents. These talents are often necessary to solve puzzles or find hidden collectibles. The locations from the films are wonderfully realized and meticulously recreated. The narrative follows the main points of the story religiously, but sadly you’re given an abridged version. Die-hards of both the Peter Jackson films as well as Tolkien’s books will be constantly thinking about the order the lines come in. Let me put it this way, when I stopped playing the game, I immediately wanted to watch the movies!
Short aside here…humor me. People who didn’t read the books but saw the (still awesome) Peter Jackson movies often fail to realize that Frodo isn’t the real hero of the tale… Sam is. Mind you, that’s just my humble opinion. I wonder if the writers thought so as well, because Sam is awesome! He can do all kinds of fun stuff: start fires with his tinderbox, make plants grow from soil patches, and even dig with his spade. Most characters only have one talent, two at the most, so Sam really stands out. I, for one, am grateful.
The level design is some of the best I’ve seen from these games. Take the very first level as an example. Frodo, Sam, Mary and Pippin are fleeing the Shire and have to sneak past the Black Rider – who is hunting them – to make it to Bree where Gandalf is waiting for them. In the LEGO LotR version, it’s a mix of platforming and stealth rather than action to get past the Nazgul. There are simple puzzles to solve as well, all designed around distracting the Black Rider so the party can slip past. The end of the level culminates with a mad scramble to Buckleberry Ferry, which unfolds with the player running towards the screen and dodging obstacles. It was a wonderful take on a very short scene from the movie, but at the same time managed to convey the terror of the Black Riders and exhilaration of the flight. All of this combined creates an amazing sense of oppressive atmosphere and heightened tension, which I found surprisingly effective.
The puzzles are basically what we’ve grown used to with the previous games. Relatively simple directional puzzles or collections are the most common. It’s either that or bashing everything in sight to un-earth the pieces that you need to build something to be able to advance to the next area. It’s Lord of the Rings, so many of the scenes are taken straight from movie. It’s actually quite interesting to see their interpretations in LEGO form. I agreed with most all of them, and thought “That’s how I would have done it too!” However, fair warning: some of the levels feature simple puzzles that are then repeated unnecessarily. We get it, okay? Doing something that is elementary more than twice just feels like padding.
There are some glitch issues, especially in free play. Stories of the computer picking the wrong character to join the team so you can’t advance because you don’t have the right tools are not uncommon. I encountered one where the game didn’t advance me after I had completed a puzzle. I actually looked it up on YouTube and literally said aloud: “That didn’t happen when I did it!” Sure enough, when I reloaded, it worked the second time. Frustration abounds, and you really lose your flow with the game.
Another issue is that there is a disconnect with the source material. LEGO LotR is the second LEGO game to now have spoken dialogue. The first was LEGO Batman 2, and the reason that worked was because it was an original script. LEGO LotR has lines straight from the movie. Here, it’s more of a distraction than anything, especially when the stern dialogue and tear-wrenching moments from the films are redone with little plastic people… it’s almost like the LEGO cuteness is mocking the seriousness of the quest. In fact, I’d really love to see Lord of the Rings given the same treatment that the early games got: the silent but cute treatment, all done with expressions and subtle humor. I’m curious how that would turn out, and if I would have been as annoyed by it.
From a graphical standpoint, LEGO LotR is the most impressive LEGO game to date. The dynamic lighting is the best I’ve seen in these games. The weather effects are well done as well. One could argue that having beautiful backgrounds interrupted by the blocky LEGO boulders and plants is distracting, I like it simply because it differentiates what is destructible and what isn’t.
In the end, LEGO The Lord of the Rings is fantastic – very possibly one of the best LEGO games made to date. The level design is ingenious and unique despite using the same tried and true techniques we’ve seen before. I like how different situations call for unique strategies. I also appreciated the risk taken since there is no central hub. At first I wasn’t sure about it, but using an interconnected series of short areas between the levels that take you all the way from Hobbiton in the Shire to the darkest depths of Mordor, I found to be a wise choice. You really get a feel for the “quest.” I was afraid after LEGO Harry Potter and LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean that the formula was starting to get stale. Traveler’s Tales has improved the series with the last two entries. If you are a fan of either the LEGO games or The Lord of the Rings, this is one worth playing!
Reviewed By: Simon Waldron
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of LEGO The Lord of the Rings provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.