I am a fan of the evolving TT Games’ Lego series, from the Star Wars titles to the Batman ones. I have gone through nearly all of them not only because they are fun, but also because they are very playable with my sons and that is rare in modern videogames. None of the franchise entries have grabbed me and kept me up late nights like Lego: The Lord of The Rings has. Perhaps it is my fascination with the movies as the source material (I own DVD and Blu-ray copies of all the iterations) or the refined gameplay present, but I can easily say this is my favorite Lego title from TT Games, unseating Lego Batman in my mind.
The gameplay premise of Lego: The Lord of The Rings is the same general model as the previous forays from TT games. You travel through various scenarios, battling enemies, solving puzzles, collecting studs, and finding secrets. The magic in this game version is the fact that a cohesive story is told mirroring the three movies in the trilogy and using actual dialogue from the films. This is only the second TT Games Lego title to use audio (Lego Batman 2 got voice actors for the story segments) but this one is made wondrous by hearing the actual actors from the films as the Lego action unfolds on screen to varied serious and comic results.
Many scenes are shown verbatim from the films, the sequence of Gandalf on the bridge screaming ‘You Shall not Pass’ to the Balrog gives me goosebumps. TT Games cleverly switched dialogue around so they could manipulate the imagery to push the 9+ hours of film moments into about an hour of cutscenes. They did this so expertly that for the first time in my long history of playing Lego games I was actually looking forward to the next story segment. The use of voice is the best addition to the series in a long time and I am hoping it is here to stay, I don’t think I can go back to the mumbles from previous games again.
Gameplay-wise there is an extremely satisfying series of missions throughout Middle Earth. Unlike the Star Wars or Indiana Jones games there is no main mission hub, instead there is an always accessible map of Middle Earth and you can go to each discovered location or mission anytime with quick travel or actually walk overland to your destination.
The key to this game, much like the others, is that initially you will only find a few of the hidden items as characters and blueprints. Items are only fully accessible once you re-play missions in freeplay mode with the right characters unlocked. In the past this has annoyed me, but because of the ease of moving to sites and generally fun missions, I quite enjoyed going back to try to find everything.
Another new twist In Lego: The Lord of The Rings is that there are quests you can get from random NPCs. These range from building an item at the Blacksmith or finding a lost item in a story mission. The quest givers get clearly identified once you find a statue in each area and this makes it easy to trigger all the quests, which are generally how you get red bricks for the extras in the game.
The gameplay is a little more flexible this time around as there are items you can make that substitute for the unique skills of the characters. Need to hit targets and Legolas isn’t in your party? Equip the bow in overland or freeplay mode and fire away. Need to climb walls without Gollum? Equip the climbing shoes and get up that wall. It is a great system and makes it easy to use one character to solve all the puzzles. The only issue I found is that certain blueprints are hard to come by and some items are not seen for some time which makes switching characters nearly a necessity.
There are other annoyances such as the somewhat flaky platforming, no ability to freeplay in Middle-Earth until you complete the game, and some really tough to find chests. Other than that I can easily say this is by far my favorite Lego title yet. It hits the right notes of gameplay, story (especially with the movie voices), and fun factor all of which make this a title fans of The Lord of The Rings and Lego games must own.
Lego: The Lord of The Rings is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, PC, Vita, Wii, and Xbox 360.