|System: PS3*, Xbox 360, PC|
|Dev: Traveller’s Tales|
|Pub: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment|
|Release: November 13, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Cartoon Violence|
by Josh Wirtanen
The LEGO video games impressed a lot of us back when LEGO Star Wars first came out. But through the years, the series started settling into a routine, and it wasn’t long before each new addition to the series started feeling like a reskinned version of the last one. There came a point where most of us were in agreement that some major changes were needed in order to convince us that we should keep spending money on these games.
Then LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes came out and did some legitimately cool new things. While that was neat and all, LEGO The Lord of the Rings is here, and it completely rewrites the LEGO formula from the ground up.
Sure, you still take control of some quirky little minifgs and steer them through the plot of some major blockbuster films. (Yes, this game is based on the Peter Jackson films rather than the books, but if you would rather play a game based on the books, check out Lord of the Rings Online. It’s fantastic, and it’s free to play.) But Traveller’s Tales knows what very few game developers seem to realize: The Lord of the Rings IP is far too great to be forced into a dull, repetitive box.
The very nature of Middle-earth makes it less conducive to the typical hubworld/level formula of past LEGO games, so Traveller’s Tales has crafted what they’re calling an “RPG lite.” First of all, there’s a fully explorable overworld that you’ll wander around on between levels, and, while the levels still take place off this overworld map, they feel much more a part of this cohesive world than they could have possibly felt if tied to hubworld format of old. In fact, I had a friend over when I started playing, and after we finished the first couple story sequences, we found ourselves simply exploring the overworld for about two hours. No, I’m not exaggerating. There’s just so much to see and do that it can be overwhelming at first.
Besides just wandering between story levels, you can also find secret hidden mithril bricks, many of which are tied to minigames or puzzles. (There is a whac-a-mole minigame, for example.) And there are quest-granting NPCs that will give you side quests to tackle—if you feel up to the challenge.
There’s even a bit of a crafting element to the game, though it’s pretty shallow. You will find blueprints as you explore the overworld and the various story levels, and those can be used to unlock designs at a forge. Once you have unlocked a design, you can use those mithril bricks you’ve been finding to have the blacksmith make the item for you. Some of these items are useable, granting bonus abilities to additional characters. For example, Samwise, as we Tolkien nerds all know, is a gardener, and in LEGO The Lord of the Rings, he’s able to use a spade to dig up items or grow plants that will help you get to otherwise unreachable areas. However, you can craft a mithril spade, which grants gardening abilities to your other characters as well.
Another thing you can eventually craft is armor. Yes, you’ll get to increase the stats of your minifigs by equipping various types of armor now.
All of this is a radical departure for the LEGO series, yet it meshes with the Lord of the Rings perfectly.
With Warner Bros. currently holding the license of the Peter Jackson films, the game draws a majority of its audio from the movies. And really, the Lord of the Rings films contain some of the best audio we’ve ever heard, so that means that LEGO Lord of the Rings sounds absolutely fantastic. This includes the suburb score from the films, which will make you all tingly as soon as you pop the game into your disc drive, and the voice acting. Yes, Sir Ian McKellen is Gandalf, Elijah Woods is Frodo, Hugo Weaving is Elrond, and so on. If your brain is programmed to think of these people in the roles of your favorite characters, LEGO Lord of the Rings won’t force you to rethink that. My only complaint is that during the Dead Marshes sequence, Gollum speaks two lines throughout a majority of the level, and he will repeat those lines almost nonstop. It quickly goes from forgivable to grating, especially when the pathway through the marshes requires so much doubling back and puzzle-solving.
With all this film influence, the game is a bit darker in tone than we’re used to seeing from the LEGO games. Sure, there are plenty of lighthearted gags, like Samwise carrying a teddy bear or the riders of Rohan doing synchronized dance moves while on horseback, but these are a lot less frequent than what you’re probably used to. It must have been a precarious balance to strike, between the seriousness of the content and the jovial mood of typical LEGO games, but Traveller’s Tales seems to have absolutely nailed it.