Reviews

Lego The Hobbit Review – It’s Sherlock Disguised As A Dragon Made Out Of Lego

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Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, 3DS, Wii U and PC
Reviewed On: Xbox 360
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: 2-player split-screen

We’re just four months into 2014 and yet we’ve already been bombarded with two new Lego games. Two months ago saw the release of the Lego Movie Videogame, and now we have an adapation of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films, because apparently Warners Bros. couldn’t actually wait for him to complete the final part of the trilogy later this year, leaving us with a game that feels like it’s missing a rather significant chunk of itself.

I love the Lego franchise, but the decision to push this out without waiting for the final installment clearly demonstrates that the videogame industry really has no concept of too much of a good thing being bad for you. As much as people blast Call of Duty for being released every year with very little change, the Lego games have far surpassed them in that department, new entries being trotted out at a furious rate. And yet as a kids game Traveller’s Tale’s Lego series really has very few peers, and the little ones don’t have much to choose from in a market that now is more geared toward adults. So how harshly can I really judge this latest offering? After all, in the Hobbit Traveller’s Tales have what would seem to be far more suitable children’s material in comparison to something like the Lord of the Rings, which was deliberately written as being far darker. Here we having something far lighter in tone, and considerably less dense.

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As one would sort of expect based on the title of the game, Lego The Hobbit follows the events of Peter Jackson’s films, albeit missing the third and final part, which will presumably be tacked on as DLC later, although a second game cannot be entirely ruled out. Once again the voices of the actors from the movies have been transplanted into the game, creating a slightly jarring contrast between their serious, dramatic tones and the slapstick Lego sense of humour that’s usually going on it the background. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around someone being hit in the face as Ian McKellen delivers his lines with grim determination, but once you do there’s a lot of fun to be had from the idea. Since the series began using voices it has detracted a little from the charm – and still struggles massively to hold a candle to those good old days where each plastic character tried to mime their way through scenes – but I was rarely doing anything less than grinning while playing through the Hobbit. It’s a testament to the admittedly simple comedy that I generally enjoyed the scenes here more than I did in the films. A highlight came from building a massive key for a door, only for the hardy dwarves to use it as a battering ram instead.

The story has been condensed for the sake of the game, which is actually sort of impressive when you consider that both flicks can essentially be summarised as, “that one with too many damn dwarves” and “that one with Sherlock in dragon form.” Plenty of scenes have been cut and some minor restructuring has been done to try to keep the basic plot intact and digestable for the player. It works to a degree, but if you’ve not actually watched the films then don’t be surprised to only ever be vaguely aware of what’s going on, or why. If you have sat through both retellings of Tolkien’s work then Lego’s unique take should keep you merrily entertained.

The main problem is that the game ultimately suffers from the very same things that are wrong with the films, including lackluster dialogue, iffy pacing and very few interesting characters. Like both of the movies almost all of the dwarves lack any discernible personality, and so you’ll probably find yourself unable to actually put a name to any of them, their bearded faces blurring together. Indeed, I began thinking of them solely in terms of their abilities, like “one with the big hammer” and “one with the flail.”

Credit where credit is due, though, the transformation into blocky form successfully makes even the most questionable scenes from the movies considerably better and adds a layer of charm to the dwarves that otherwise simply didn’t exist. Already good scenes somehow become even better, like the now famous riddles in the dark, which is brilliantly transformed into Bilbo and a brain-damaged orc literally building the answers out of Lego. And yes, I did say brain-damaged orc because at all times there must be a second character for co-op to work, a limitation which the developers manage to carefully work around.

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It’s all largely standard fare here from a gameplay perspective, instantly familiar to anyone who has ever experienced any of the Lego games that have come before.. You take control of your little plastic  people and proceed to destroy absolutely everything in the name of collecting Studs, and complete simple puzzles that normally involve pushing levers or building objects out of the remains of the destruction you’ve wrought. Sometimes you’ll even need to battle foes using a straightforward one-button combat system, but death is nothing more than a minor setback as your instantly respawned, albeit with a small amount of Studs lost. It’s a game aimed squarely at kids with a formula that has now been used to create countless titles, and Lego The Hobbit does not attempt to alter it very much, adding just a few tiny new additions and, sadly, also failing to fix a couple of problems. Yet there remains an abundance of charm and joy to be derived from the basic, easy yet effective gameplay that ensures it’s something even adults can have fun with. With guns and explosions the dominating force within the industry there’s a unedniable joy to sitting down, kicking back and relaxing as you smash up the environment in the name of achieving a 100% level completion, or hunting down all the many, many unlockable characters to be used in free play.

There’s more interaction during puzzles than there’s ever been in a Lego game before which is nice, with new buddy-up moves letting you join forces with a second character to break big objects or strike huge foes, while other things like a stacking mechanic lets you stand dwarves on each others shoulders to create a ladder of sorts. A variety of abilities and thoughtful design also ensures you’ll constantly switch between all the available characters throughout the course of a level rather than just sticking with a few. It remains a shame, then, that as the cast with the most interaction seen in a Lego game to date their also the most unmemorable and dull of the lot.

A crafting system has been introduced, which makes sense given that it’s both a game about Lego and set in a fantasy realm, but don’t get too excited as you’re not allowed to simply build what you want from Lego bricks. Scattered around the open world and in story missions are crafting platforms which are used to create a specific item, such as a massive catapult, needed to progress through the story or to solve a random puzzle you’ve come across in the wilds. To build the item in question you’ll need to scour the environment for “Lego Loot” like wood, crystals, food and cloth, and feed the required materials into the platform. During construction of the item the game will slow down briefly and you’ll be asked to look at the ghost image of certain pieces and correctly pick them out from a radial menu, and the faster you are at doing so the more Studs you’ll earn as a reward. It’s a basic addition to the game, and, frankly, a bit of a dull one. There’s a small slither of satisfaction to be had from watching Lego pieces rain down to create something, but I can’t help but feel kids might find it frustrating trying to match the sometimes unclear pieces as a timer essentially ticks down, and even if you’re successful it’s hardly much fun. It feels like a way to allow people to build things, without actually letting them build things.

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So, what problems was I referring too earlier? Well, Lego Hobbit remains as fiddly as the previous games in many regards. Swapping between characters on the fly can still leave you wildly bouncing from one to the other until the game finally manages to figure out which dwarf you were aiming for, although often not before you’ve given up and used the radial menu instead. Finding the exact spot for button prompts is also frequently awkward and at one point led to me doing something I never thought I would when a lego game was involved: swearing loudly.  Ranged characters can still be cumbersome as targeting specific enemies or other things is a little hit and miss, a problem that came to a head during a mission based around Gandalf and Radagast in which my chosen wizard (Gandalf) insisted on shooting at something across the screen with his staff rather than whipping out his sword and killing the orc that was in the process of pummeling his face in. For such a wise man, Gandalf, you can truly be an idiot of biblical proportions sometimes.

Between storyline missions there’s a a highly condensed version of Middle-Earth waiting to be explored, chock full of secrets and little puzzles to solve, and characters waiting to be unlocked. The bulk of the side-missions on offer tend to amount to nothing more than glorified fetch quests that either involve replaying a story mission in order to grab an item, or forging something. It’s not exactly exciting stuff, but there sure is a lot of them to choose from, while the puzzles strewn around provide a far more enjoyable diversion. The big draw, here, really is the fact that it’s Middle-Earth and toddling around is a neat geek moment for any fan of either the books or the movies, albeit one already readily available in the Lego adaption of Lord of the Rings. Wandering around is also highly relaxing, as there’s no breakneck pace or fear of failure so often found in other games. You can just walk around solving puzzles and drinking in the world, helped by the fact that Lego The Hobbit looks pretty nice, even on Xbox 360, although the frustrating background haze remains firmly in place.

Spending time in the open world hunting down characters and replaying levels with an expanded roster  in the name of earning the illusive 100% completion is as much a part of the game as it has ever been, a task that requires some considerable dedication given the sheer amount of questions, Mithril Bricks and characters there is to be found. Heading back into a previously played level with free rein to choose characters from your entire collection is a lot of fun, but like always when your reward is just more bricks or items to hand in for yet another fetch quest the enthusiasm can die pretty quickly. You’re going to have to be pretty dedicated and willing to repeat tasks in order to achieve that 100% completion goal.

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And of course there’s the joy of split-screen co-op. Traveller’s Tales remain firm in their decision not to include online play, which continues to be a real shame for those of use with good friends in other countries, but getting a mate round results in loads of fun. Naturally, though, if you’ve got kids then it’s truly a blast to play, and you’re both free to wander around the entirety of Middle-Earth on your own before teaming back up to tackle a mission.

And so now we arrive at the biggest sticking point, which is that Lego The Hobbit feels like it’s missing a substantial chunk of itself in the form of the third and final film. If you don’t bother much with the open world and side-quests the story can be gotten through in around 6-8 hours, and when you arrive at the end it simply feels like there should be more. It feels incomplete, and worse feels like a cash-grab, a game released without its final section in order for more money to be made through either the sale of DLC, or possibly even an entire new game. While one could justify the final parts of Lego Harry Potter coming later, the final entry of Peter Jackson’s trilogy arrives in a relatively short amount of time. Instead we have this, which has been released to coincide with the second movie arriving on DVD. Even from a business perspective, one would assume that release the entire, complete game as the last movie arrives in cinemas would have been far more sensible. Part of me wants to recommend advising you to simply wait for the DLC to arrive, and then pick up Lego The Hobbit, but at the end of the day there is a lot of content already on offer here. It is, dear reader, entirely up to you.

At this juncture in time it seems almost redundant to criticise the Lego games for failing to innovate or change very much in the formula, and yet it does remain a true and valid criticism, so here we go; LEGO The Hobbit plays it safe, refining a couple of areas and adding a few new little mechanics, while infuriatingly still failing to fix problems that have plagued the series for years. You’re enjoyment of this game, then, depends not only on your opinion of the Hobbit films, but also how tired you are of the LEGO formula. Personally, I still find them absurdly enjoyable, and the perfect change of pace from the normal shooters and explosions. It’s not a bad game, it’s just one of the less interesting Lego titles.

The Lego series dependable. You can always trust that Traveller’s Tales to deliver a solid title with plenty of content and very few major bugs or other problems. Lego The Hobbit is no different, offering familiar gameplay and its trademark sense of humour that makes it the perfect kids game, one which adults can have fun with, too.

Oh, and Traveller’s Tales, I’m still waiting for Lego Chuck. Make it happen.

The Good:
+ Slapstick humour still makes me smile, even when I’ve seen it all before.
+ Easy, relaxing, fun gameplay.
+ Loads of stuff to find and unlock.

The Bad:
– Very familiar.
– Dull characters.

The Verdict: 3/5 – Good
Another solid Lego offering that’s bound to please the kids, but don’t expect anything resembling change. This follows the template set by previous games perfectly, and whether that’s a good thing or bad thing depends entirely on how much of it you’ve already played.

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