Lego Lord of the Rings marks another installment in the ever popular Lego series. This time you follow the Fellowship from J. R. R. Tolkien’s legendarium of Middle-Earth in your quest to destroy Sauron. You play as Gimli, Legolas, Gandalf, Aragorn, Frodo, Sam, Pippin, Merry, Gollum, and many more throughout the The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. You’ll even find characters only seen in the books and extended versions of the movies.
Lego Lord of the Rings features the major changes seen in Lego Batman 2: voice acting, a large open world to explore, and item crafting, a new addition altogether. The incredible voice acting stands out, as the dialogue is borrowed directly from the movies. Every line you hear will be familiar if you've watched the films more than once, and because of this, they can seem a little out of place in a Lego universe.
But watching the trailers of this game and hearing the actual actors’ and actresses’ voices come from Lego minifigures worried me as to how it would turn out in the actual game. I’m glad to say the developers surprised me with the amazing cutscenes and how well-placed the dialogue felt. Traveller’s Tales manages to keep the trilogy's serious tone throughout the game, all while adding in classic Lego humor. I found myself laughing for no good reason more than once before I finished the six-hour campaign.
Another fear of mine was how much (or how little) lore the developers would keep in. Lego Lord of the Rings follows the movies like any other Lego game, so you can expect even less content than the films as compared to the books. Still, I was very pleased to notice scenes only seen in the extended films. All of the cutscenes mashed together add up to an hour and a half of footage, but sadly Boromir’s famous “One does not simply…” line is not included (outside of an achievement), and neither is the flaming death of Denethor.
Middle-Earth has been recreated better than Lego Batman 2’s Gotham City, too. The open world contains fewer glitches, even though they are still prominent in this game, and this hub is more fun to navigate and explore. Scattered around Middle-Earth are maps that reveal the locations of various collectibles, but you may also find schematics for new items, quests to unlock helpful Red Bricks, Mithril bricks for item crafting, and Easter Eggs from Skyrim and Assassins Creed.
There are 250 Mithril bricks in total, each one a reward for completing levels or finding collectibles, but they should all disappear after you craft every item available. These items can be very useful, but it isn’t particularly fun hunting down a specific schematic, then the correct number of Mithril bricks, and finally crafting the item. It’s a little confusing at first, and it's unexpected to see a learning curve in a Lego game, however small.
The collectibles themselves are a little disappointing, as many were not as cleverly hidden as in previous Lego games. Often times I wondered if the developers were trying to get home early by throwing them in without any thought. Collectibles usually add more gameplay means once you revisit levels in Free Play. However, Lego Lord of the Rings merely doubles the time it takes to complete the campaign, not the fun.
The levels are not exceedingly creative either. Sometimes the game drags a particular scene out for ten or twenty minutes, which gets very boring very fast. Normally the levels are well paced and constantly changing, but you’ll often find yourself doing the same thing for the fourth or fifth time, asking if the developers realized how monotonous that part of the level has become. Nevertheless, it’s a ton of fun climbing a mountain as Gandalf to fight the Balrog, or gazing upon a larger Mount Doom of Traveller’s Tales' invention.
The Dead Marshes level is particularly long and drawn-out.
While on the subject of presentation, critics and moviegoers praised The Lord of the Rings films for their beautiful scenery, and this Lego license does not disappoint. The Lego minifigures move and look more realistic than ever, and the scenery can hold its own for matching the splendor of Middle-Earth. The Shire is as green and lush as you would expect, and Mount Doom is suffocating and grim. In the past it was slightly comical to watch Lego figures explore a semi-realistic world, but Traveller’s Tales manages to blend realism with bricks very well in this installment. I was constantly shocked by the detailed backgrounds or gigantic battles loaded with warring minifigures independent to your party, even if they were mostly just for show.
Howard Shore’s familiar Lord of the Rings music and the crisp sounds of the Lego world also make for the best sounding Lego title yet. The humorous cutscenes greatly aid Shore's amazing composition, but Lego games have a nasty tendency to repeat the same songs over and over until you grow tired of the soundtrack. However, I did not mind the looping symphonies here.
What I did mind were the glitches. Twice I ran into bugs that halted my progress and forced me to restart my Xbox; one of them forced me to transfer the save file to a different hard drive. This has been a problem in recent Lego games especially, and it does not seem like Traveller’s Tales has taken great lengths to prevent them. I also noticed random graphical errors and artifacts in the cutscenes, along with the usual slippery controls and difficulty determining the depth of the platforms onscreen.
Even I was surprised by the final presentation.
My biggest complaint would be the split-screen when playing with someone else. Thankfully, there’s an option to change the dynamic view to fixed horizontal, but normally it adapts to the location of both players by constantly moving, splitting, and merging depending on their positions. This means you’ll be on the top screen, or in the top-right corner, or at the bottom at any one second. The frequent rotation of the camera actually hurts your eyes while they try to keep track of your character, and this split-screen perspective even gave my brother a headache.
Yet this Lego game has quickly become one of my favorites. Although it still consists of problems from the previous Lego releases, you will discover a great experience playing the surprisingly fun and superbly presented Lego adaptation of Lord of the Rings.
Publisher: WB Games
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Number of Players: 1-2 (Campaign), 2 (Cooperative)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PS3, PS Vita, PC, Wii, 3DS, Nintendo DS