Reviews

Lego The Lord of the Rings – Review

Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Wii, DS, 3DS and Playstation Vita
Reviewed On: Xbox 360
Release Date: November 23rd.
Publisher: Warner Bros
Developer: TT Games
PEGI: 7+

This title was provided free of charge by Warner Bros for review.

Just like you can expect a certain military shooter to arrive every year, you can always expect at least one Lego game to appear, and this year is no different with the release of Lego Batman 2 and now Lego The Lord of the Rings. However, before even the most loyal of Lego lovers bury their heads at the thought of yet another game, just stop and take a look at Traveller’s Tales latest offering, because it’s their most ambitious title yet, throwing in a huge open world and a load of side quests into their almost perfected gameplay formula, easily making this the best game in the franchise to date. I wonder what Tolkien himself would have made of this, though? Seriously, he would have probably loved the films, but can you imagine someone trying to explain to him that they’d turned his books into a game starring plastic figures that act out scenes from the films?

To faithfully replicate the now legendary Peter Jackson adaptions of the equally famous series of books by J.R.R. Tolkien, Traveller’s Tales took their open-world concept that they introduced in this years Lego Batman 2 and increased it massively in scope. They’ve created a free-roaming Middle-Earth which you are at complete liberty to explore, from the idyllic Shire to Rivendell or Amon Hen, it’s all been beautifully recreated.  Obviously at first you don’t have total freedom to wander straight on to Mount Doom or anything as that would make the whole thing a bit on the short side. The main storyline slowly takes you across the map as you play through the various missions which aim to replicate the films, but once you’ve wrapped up all the story-based missions you’re at perfect liberty to go where you want. Wandering around, exploring the world that TT have created is arguably far more rewarding than playing through the great story,  especially as there are loads of the usual Lego collectibles scattered around for you to acquire, such as the new Mithril bricks which can be taken to the Blacksmith who’ll use them to forge you shiny new gear, but more on that later. Although admittedly exploring Middle-Earth in its Lego form reminded how much I’d love for a Skyrim-esque epic single player RPG set in Tolkien’s wonderful world. Anyway, for obvious reasons the map isn’t made to actual scale, otherwise it would take you months to venture from one end to the other, by which point you’d probably be as fed up as Frodo was, instead this is a scaled down and compressed version of Middle-Earth, where it only takes a minute to run from the Shire to the town of Bree. Despite this the map is still freakin’ huge for a Lego game,  and getting from end of it to the other will take you a decent bit of wandering. To aid you in getting back and forth there’s the mandatory fast-travel system, but to use that you’ll need to find and use the Map Statues scattered around the world. Once again playing through the storyline will give you access to quite a few of these. And there’s also the also mandatory map which you can use to set up your own custom destination which results in the familiar trail of ghost studs to appear in-game to guide you to your chosen location. Oddly, though, TT have made a bit of a mistake here because interacting with pretty much anything in the world of Middle-Earth your custom destination will reset itself and the ghostly trail of studs will lead you instead to the next story mission, so of course if you don’t notice this happening you might find yourself heading in completely the wong direction. Yeah, I know this because that’s exactly what I did. Happily this is a flaw that should easily be remedied with a patch. Get on it, developers!

The Lego games often aren’t credited enough with how good they look. But nobody can deny Middle-Earth here looks absolutely beautiful, especially as the higher camera from previous games has been ditched in favor of a closer and more personal viewpoint. From that angle you can appreciate far more how nice the game looks. In particular the textures that TT use to form the landscape are superb. And like always they’ve managed to inject a tonne of personality into their little LEGO characters during cut scenes with their exaggerated expressions and gestures. You wouldn’t think little plastic figures could look good, but they do.The only thing that ruins the graphical quality is the peculiar background blur that leaves the landscape looking like its been smeared in Vaseline until you get quite close to it. This sadly ruins what should have been the numerous spectacular vistas that Middle-Earth offers. Otherwise, though, this is a nice recreation of Peter Jackson’s vision. And one that’s brought to life by the inclusion of the trilogies sweeping soundtrack, which remains just as utterly enthralling as it was the first time I heard it all those years ago.

It’s not just been the epic music that’s been cut and pasted into the game either, as TT have also ripped the dialog straight out of the films to tell their extremely trimmed down version of the Lord of the Rings. At first it’s rather creepy to hear Elijah Woods voice emanating from a little plastic figure as it gesticulates wildly, and the serious tone of the acting can feel feels rather at odds with the light-hearted humor with which TT recreate many of the most memorable scenes from the films, but after a while you grow used to, although I can’t say it ever felt completely right as it does take a little away from the charm of the series – watching the characters try to mime their thoughts and feelings to each other has provided most of the franchises humorous moments and it’s a shame to see it go, but at least TT aren’t afraid to try something new. Another problem I did have with ripping the voices straight from the films is that much of the actors performance is entirely lost without proper facial expressions. Lego Batman 2 didn’t have this problem because it had actual voice actors and the scenes were simple, but as we all know Lord of the Rings there’s a lot of emotion and depth coming from the actor’s expressions and that gets completely lost in the faces of little plastic figures, leaving some scenes feeling…odd. But I’m probably just over-thinking this: it’s a Lego game, after all. For reasons that are obvious TT couldn’t exactly tell the entirety of the story in their game, and so you’ll play through a very cut-down version of the plot, but you’ll still get to watch and play through some of the biggest and best moments from the three films, although Return of the King has a few noticeable scenes missing.  To do this streamlined version of the plot a few scenes have been changed around a little and some of the dialog has also been moved around a bit, but despite this it actually works pretty damn well, and TT handle it all with their usual barmy approach. You remember how the writing on the Ring was revealed in the first film? Well, in Lego Lord of the Rings the writing isn’t revealed when it’s thrown in a fire, it’s revealed when Frodo accidentally drops it into his cup of tea. It’s this sort of humor you can expect from the game, and it rarely failed to have me smiling away, although this title did feel less funny than many of the previous entries in the franchise, but that simply comes down to the fairly dark subject material. As for how the story itself turns out, well, it’s actually fairly coherent, despite it being just a tiny piece of the complete plot. If you’ve never watched the films then you’ll just about be able to follow everything that’s going on, although it’ll hardly leave you wondering what all the fuss about. By itself, Lego Lord of the Ring’s story isn’t that good. For those that have seen the movies, though, it’s all about the simple joy of watching our favorite scenes acted out by plastic people, even if the slapstick humor of past games has been toned down.

Of course underpinning all of this is the classic Lego formula which TT have now pretty much honed to near perfection. If you’ve ever played a Lego title before this is pretty much more of the same, and it’s up to you whether that’s a good thing or not, depending on how tired you’re feeling of it or how much you still enjoy it.  But there have been a few slight tweaks, so let’s break this down. Obviously to create their usual style of gameplay TT games have had to take some considerable….eh, liberty with how some of the famous scenes from the movies play out. Last time I watched the Fellowship of the Ring I didn’t notice Sam running around the place having to break objects so could build bonfires and then set fire to them, nor do I remember anyone having to clambering across ropes while the staircases came down in the Mines of Moria. But TT have done a fine job of slotting their gameplay into almost every big scene from the trilogy. As always you’ll run around the environments swapping between characters (there’s a total of 80 to unlock and play as this time around) to do character specific things, like how Sam can use his tinderbox to light fires, Legolas can create poles to swing on with bow and arrows or Gollum can climb certain walls , and build new items out of bits of Lego lying around by holding down B. Should all else fail you just smash-up absolutely everything lying around the place in the surefire knowledge that doing so will either unleash the building materials needed to create a staircase or that some unoffending bush will be hiding a key or piece of a crank that you need. Like the games before, the Lego “puzzles” are simple yet incredibly fun to complete. Likewise combat still just requires you to hit X and dying just means you lose a few of your Studs before instantly respawning where you died. This is a game aimed at kids, and at times I forget that and view it through my older eyes and therefore tend to almost nit-pick at its simplicity, but that’s stupid of me. The gameplay is simple, as belies a kids game, but it’s just plain, good, wholesome fun that adults can enjoy as well! Yeah, you head me, you might be an adult but that doesn’t mean you can enjoy yourself playing Lego Lord of the Rings.

Especially in co-op! It just wouldn’t be a Lego game without split-screen co-operative play so you can sit down with a friend or your kid and experience the game together. Sadly for those out there still maintaining hope that TT will change their mind and add in online co-operative play you’re in for yet more disappointment – it’s split-screen only.  Alright, so that’s still a little annoying for someone like myself who knows plenty of other people who love the game but who also happen to live pretty damn far away, but at least the split-screen co-op is still as fun as ever!

But whoops, I’ve sort of digressed again. I was supposed to be talking about the couple of little additions TT have tossed into the gameplay mix. Every character now has their own little backpack that can store their different items that let them do several things each, like Frodo’s elven cloak and little glowy vial, and also store items you pick up around the world, like a key to open a box. It’s a nice little addition, although one that feels a little clumsy to use. If you pick up something like a fish it doesn’t just automatically added to your backpack, instead you’ve got to manually choose which slot it needs to go in. And then to access the backpack you need to stop, hold down B for a few seconds, select your item and then spend a few more seconds watching your little character go through a slow little animation where they get the item out. I know it sounds like a petty complaint, but after a while using the backpack began to annoy me. I just feel like it could have been done far better, like using the D-Pad to open the pack instantly, like items just being automatically added in to the pack, and no slow animations for taking things out. But while the backpack doesn’t work as well as I would have hoped, the Treasure Trove is a much more interesting and well designed concept. Basically the Treasure Trove is a collection f special items that every character has access to, except when you’re playing through the storyline missions. These special items can either be found during levels or forged by collecting blacksmith designs hidden around the world and then taking them to the Blacksmith at Bree along with some Mithril bricks, also found scattered around the world. Some of these items are just decorational or fun, others are items for the numerous Fetch quests in the game ( more on those later) and others still allow characters to do things they couldn’t normally do, like a Mithril Trowel allowing Gimli to dig holes and grow plants, a skill usually reserved for Sam.

It’s after you’ve completed the main storyline where the game truly opens up. At any point during the storyline you’re of course free to go back and play any previous level in Free Play mode, a tradition of the Lego games where you’re free to use any of your unlocked characters, allowing you to gain access to previously inaccessible areas of the map. But once the story is complete, you’ve then got the entirety of Middle-Earth to roam along with the ability to instantly swap to any of your unlocked characters. And this of course means that you can suddenly complete many of those little random puzzles and odd little events that scattered around the place, each of which usually reward you with a Mithril brick, of which there are a tonne to find. For their latest game TT have also seen fit to throw in a load of side-quests for you to take on, by which I actually mean fetch quests! Lots and lots of fetch quests. They usually come in two flavors: either you’ve got to go and replay a story mission to fetch an item for the quest giver, or you’ve got to forge the quest giver a Mithril item, which of course means you’ve then got go and try to hunt down the correct design, which is tough because there’s no way of knowing which one is the correct one, and also ensure you’ve got enough Mithril bricks to forge the item in question. Success usually results in you being awarded some secret or a Red Brick which can do things like increase the amount of Studs you pick up by eight times the regular amount. It’s pretty cool of TT to add in so many of the quests as it gives you a literal shed-load of stuff to do, but I’ll be honest here: fetch quests are boring. The first few are fine, but after a while just running around doing these gets pretty tiring. But again, I’m viewing this from my perspective and not as a game geared towards kids. For them, I still think they’ll get fed up of doing them, but not for a while at least. And for completionists just like the previous game’s this is going to take you a good while to fully complete. I’m not going to hazard a guess, as quite honestly I didn’t complete anywhere near everything for this review. The main storyline took me around 7-hours to complete, and then I spent a good while just mucking around in Middle-Earth. Suffice to say there’s plenty to do. Oh, and then there’s the simple pleasure of running around as Sauron and wrecking everything. Mwhahahahahahaha. Sorry.

So, with the massive world of Middle-Earth for you to explore this is undoubtedly Traveller’s Tales most ambitious game yet, and in the process is arguably their best Lego title to date. Despite this whether you buy it or not is going to largely depend on how fatigued you are with the series: if you’re still not bored with the formula then this is the best game yet, but if you’re tired with gameplay then there’s few big changes here, although the appeal of playing through the epic trilogy in Lego form and exploring a sizable Middle-Earth may just be enough to pull you back into the franchise.

The Good:
+ It’s Lord of the Rings! In Lego!
+ Middle-Earth is awesome to wander around.
+ The gameplay is as fun as ever.

The Bad:
– A lot of the trilogy hasn’t made it in to the game.
– Backpack system.
– Still no online co-op.

The Score:

Graphics: 8
The Lego games aren’t exactly slouches in the graphical department, and Lego Lord of the Rings is no exception, although the background blur is horrible.

Sound: 8
It’s pretty hard to fault the epic soundtrack. As for the acting, it’s great, but feels a bit lacking without the actual facial expressions of the real actors.

Story: 5
It’s Lord of the Rings….sort of. Lots of great moments have made it in, but this is a huge story trimmed down into less than an hours worth of cut scenes. Possibly even 30-minutes worth. If you’ve watched the films that’s fine, but if you haven’t then this is coherent, sort of.

Gameplay: 8.5
They’ve pretty much honed their gameplay to perfection by this point. Not much has changed, but it’s still plenty of fun and the massive open world is great.

Lifespan: 8.5
Around 7-hours to complete the storyline, but a tonne of collectibles and things to find make this a pretty damn big game.

The Verdict: 8.5
The best Lego game yet! Which is exactly what I find myself saying with each new game, but it’s true. Lego Lord of the Rings is just plain fun, and isn’t that what gaming is all about?

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