Looking back through the previous games in the LEGO line it’s easy to see why the franchise has succeeded up to yet; the subject matter. From Star Wars to Harry Potter, they have consistently been able to meld the whimsical nature of the blocky toy with the popular licenses in a way which makes the mechanics both fun and relevant. However, with such a classically serious franchise as it’s latest inspiration, has the series tried to stretch itself too far?
First of all, let’s look at Lord of the Rings itself. Published in 1954/55, it’s a literary classic which was turned into a series of films in the early noughties and is now a household name with a hugely devoted following. The story and world influenced the fantasy genre in ways that Tolkien couldn’t have ever imagined. In other words, it’s a big deal, and in many ways the perfect fit for a LEGO adaptation.
As with every LEGO game, LOTR relies on a simple premise; you play through a series of connected scenes from a well-known story interjected by humorous cut scenes, smashing everything in sight to collect “studs” whilst finding various hidden objects and collecting Gold Bricks. Once completed you enter “free play”, playing the missions again without the linking sections and with the ability to switch characters at will.
Whilst the classic concepts remain, new ones are also introduced. The open world from Lego Batman 2 makes a return, allowing you to explore the towns and villages of middle-earth between the levels. In this open-world you can forge/buy tools using this world’s Gold Bricks – Mithril, which can then be used to help traverse the world and find more Mithril and Buy more characters. As an addition to the formula it adds an extra incentive to explore, despite a rather obvious issue. You only have enough Mithril to start really buying tools once you have finished the story, and by then you don’t need them as much.
A neat addition to the drop-in multiplayer aspect of the series is split parties. Whilst the annoying dynamic split screen remains it allows more of the narrative to be portrayed, mimicking the dynamic nature of the films. For example, in certain sections one player controls Sam and the other Frodo, with Frodo invisible using the ring’s power. Both players must do different actions, working together to reach a single goal. However, this doesn’t translate as well with a single player, as the length of the level is essentially doubled whilst making each individual section less interesting, due to narrower character pools.
Difficulty-wise, it could easily be said that for an adult gamer it would be too simplistic, but I can imagine the puzzles would feel more complicated and exciting to a younger audience. It’s no easier than any other Lego game though, and still great fun. The only problems I encountered throughout the game were mainly down to not realising I could push something, as it was badly marked in comparison to every other puzzle element. The puzzles themselves are very repetitive, reusing a finite number of character abilities in the same situations. The use of character height in puzzles; such as high snow-drifts, allows more challenge when it comes to moving around, but again, the same trick is used multiple times with little or no change on the initial concept.
The addition of a slightly more interesting combat system and quick-time events break up the brick smashing this time around, refreshing one of the most frustration aspects of previous titles. I wouldn’t call it innovation, but it’s been long overdue and it really freshens things up. The abilities have also evolved, with the potential for certain abilities to have a variety of applications. Gimli’s smashing ability in particular feels satisfying, despite being rather shallow.
Graphically we see much of the same as could be found in Lego Batman 2; enhanced shading and smoothing of the lego characters works nicely but unfortunately the main element of the series; Lego blocks, has been relegated to a background role. Whilst in previous titles the world itself used to be almost entirely made of Lego, LOTR swaps this, portraying a colourful lego-inspired world with small amounts of actual lego inside it. Consequently there is less to destroy, and you never really get the same level of plastic-based immersion that has been so central before. There is much more in common with the films than lego, especially in the sound-design. The voices are lifted directly from the films, and therefore cannot be criticised for authenticity, as is the music. Both elements are stunning, but that’s why the first and third films won academy awards for original score.
And this is where the game falls flat. It’s essentially just the films with lego characters instead of actors. The lego-based surreal comedy is reduced to a minimum, with the remaining moments feeling out of place. Boromir is killed by a banana fired from a bow, followed immediately with an attempt to be touching about his death. These comedy moments punctuated the titles in the rest of the series heavily, keeping the tone light and preventing the subject matter from taking itself too seriously, but it seems as though this aspect which made it so successful has either been completely forgotten or ignored by the massive ego of Middle-earth.
Don’t get me wrong, Lego LOTR is a great game, but it’s very arrogant about it and this prevents it from being accessible to its audience. Rather than making the subject matter fun, it’s dragged down by such a massive license, but also doesn’t explain the plot well enough for those who haven’t seen the films to follow.
Despite everything though, it’s still rather fun at times and it’s interesting to see what they have done to make the fantastic narrative more friendly to a lego-loving audience. It’s a good story with solid mechanics in a beautiful world, just missing the mark in terms of tone, and if you have a bit of patience it’s easy to see past this flaw.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.
Lego: Lord of the Rings Review,