Though it was a pretty poorly kept secret up until that point, Burbank-based Warner Brothers Studio took the opportunity of the 2012 E3 Expo in Los Angeles to announce the Lego: The Lord of the Rings game. Out just in time for the release of the first The Hobbit film, developer Traveller’s Tales has made some pretty significant changes to their Lego games formula. The story does follow the timeline of Peter Jackson’s adaptation, but includes a couple additions from Tolkien’s classic trilogy that were omitted in the films. And, for the first time in a Lego game, the original audio from the movies has been used.
Right from the beginning, Lego: The Lord of the Rings looks like no other Lego game you’ve played. Actually, minus the more than 80 mini-figures you can unlock, you’d hardly know it was a Lego game at all. The game kicks off with the Battle of Dagorlad, which is the prologue story of the battle with Sauron. The game gives you control of the three kings, Elendil, Isildur, and Elrond, and a taste of the new feel to the combat. Each of the characters has their own abilities and though it’s not particularly relevant in the prologue, they can also carry inventory. This adds a new wrinkle to the question of who controls which character in local co-op.
Part of the appeal of the Lego games has always been the easy controls and amazingly this is still intact. The left analog stick is used to move your character and the right analog stick is used to adjust the camera. Everything else you need to do is done with the face buttons: X button to jump, tap the Square to attack, tap Circle for action or building, and a quick press of the Triangle button will switch your control to the nearest playable character. With long presses, these buttons have new functions. A long press of the Square button will allow you to aim missile weapons. Holding the Triangle button allows you to select a character to control and a long Circle button press brings up your current hero’s inventory.
With the fantasy setting, inventory system, and unique abilities, Lego: The Lord of the Rings has a lot of RPG elements. At some point you’ll probably forget this is a Lego game at all until a mini-figure makes a silly face or one of your favorite parts of the movie has been skipped over. Starting with the lush green landscape of the Shire, Travellers’s Games has made a beautiful world. As you travel through Middle-Earth, it will be hard not to be amazed by how good it all looks. Each of the many areas is vibrant and a distinct representation of the films’ locations. This makes it easier of course to forgive the graphical slowdowns and other occasional technical issues.
Lego: The Lord of the Rings’s Middle Earth is a huge sandbox in which you can play some of the sequences but those are very linear and tightly scripted. With that in mind, you may feel the urge to leave the story and jump right into the free play, but that would be a mistake. There is plenty to go back for in free play mode but, some of the tools you’ll need are only unlockable through the widely varied main campaign. Depending on how many of the side quests you pick up, and how much time you spend digging around, the trilogy will take about 10 hours to get through. Once you’re done with that, be prepared to spend significantly more time trying to unlock and track down everything the game offers.
The cumulative effort of Lego: The Lord of the Rings leaves me wondering who this game is really for. On one hand, the game offers the deepest adventure yet in a Lego game. On the other, it is still a Lego game and the humor is clearly geared towards younger players. The intersection of those two groups has to be smallest targeted demographic yet for a Lego game. That being said, Lego: The Lord of the Rings is a beautiful effort despite a few technical issues with the graphics and sound importing. If you buy this game for younger children be prepared to help a lot, and if you’re a fan of the movies or books, be prepared for some butchery.
Lego: The Lord of the Rings is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief. This game can also be found on: PC, and Xbox 360.