I don’t know about you, but I love LEGO. No seriously, I actually do. Earlier this year when I went to San Diego for Comic Con 2012 (yes, I am a real geek!), I visited the local LEGO store and spent 3 hours in there. When I was younger I would sneak LEGO pieces home from my Grandparents house because I hadn’t quite finished the adventure I was having. I still now look at LEGO collections and want to buy them. It’s the lack of space in my apartment that stops me. It’s the fact LEGO inspires creativity and imagination – not mindless consumerism. Maybe you haven’t touched a brick since you were a kid but if you’re a gamer there’s a good chance you’re more than familiar with the virtual versions.
The Lord of the Rings is the last great franchise which seems custom-made for turning in a Lego game. I tried to think of more, but excluding Marvel I don’t think there are any… feel free to correct me. The formula has existed almost unchanged now for seven years, and its requirements are by now clear: a universally recognised brand – ideally including a least a movie trilogy, a large range of varied characters, lots of different vehicles, and the potential for plenty of ranged and melee action.
Now let me just say one thing, I am a HUGE Tolkien fan, way before there was even talk of a Peter Jackson movie, and I always dreamed of a Lord of the Rings computer game. We have had a bunch, and I have tried them all but the latest Guardians of Middle Earth for Xbox LIVE Arcade, and other than Lord of the Rings Online, I can honestly say that in my opinion this is certainly the best official Tolkien game I think we’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the best movie tie-ins of any kind. Much has been abridged, and whole characters, but unlike most movie games you can actually follow the plot simply by playing the game – even if you’ve never seen the films or read the books.
Of course the fact that British developer TT didn’t need to rush to meet a movie premiere deadline, certainly helps when developing a big named game. No pressure from Publishers and fans means more time spent on refining the elements that make a polished title.
Of course TT has another advantage, they were able to use the entire Howard Shore official LotR’s soundtrack AND all the actual dialogue from the film. It should be a recipe for a great game, and the finished product is just that, and with licence to use dialogue from the motion pictures themselves, you would expect some intricate cut-scenes mimicking all the most iconic moments and ensuring that the emotional ones still resonate.
LEGO Lord of the Rings, like LEGO Batman 2 features a large open world environment providing access to the traditional story-based levels. Impressive are the story levels with some excellent cinematic lighting and painstaking detail to the near and far environments and textures. And despite the game’s size there are far fewer bugs and glitches than normal, although the camera can still be unhelpful.
The basic gameplay is exactly what you would expect it to be, trivial at best and requiring little more effort than mashing the attack button when you’re near an enemy. A few characters do have bows or magic staffs to fire ranged weapons, but that’s more or less it. The story levels are more puzzle-based than action, all designed to take advantage of the Fellowship and variety of characters you have in tow.
Every character has huge array of talents, from Gimli’s ability to smash stone tiles, to Legolas’ super jump, to Sam’s elven rope and fire-starting tinder box. The game’s still only two-player (and still offline only) but the co-op action remains as polished and complete as previous LEGO titles before.
There are a few new features though, or rather an expansion of already established ones. In a nod to the franchise’s influence on role-playing, characters can carry up to eight objects, including weapons, clothing, and equipment. Apart from switching between one or two items this doesn’t come up much in the story levels but once you start exploring the open world it fuels a huge range of optional fetch quests. The extra items can be found either in a story level or have to be forged (assuming you have the design blueprint) from special mithril bricks. The items range from weapon upgrades to silly headdresses, to a wand with a squeaking bear on the end, and a version of the Phial of Galadriel that shoots out disco lights. Even if they have no practical use there’ll be someone in the game world that wants it, and will exchange it for more mithril or sometimes a cheat brick.
LEGO Lord of the Rings is a top notch LEGO title one that surpasses other Tolkien tie-ins. Combining exploration of Middle-earth, battles involving some the lands most fearsome creatures, puzzles that would leave even Bilbo Baggins tongue tied and a deeply rich and engrossing storyline following the complete film trilogy, this is a one of the best LEGO title built to date (pun intended). TT have ensured it is effortlessly accessible despite what should be a bewildering array of different systems and abilities and made it hugely charming to both children and adults alike, whether or whether not a Tolkien fan.