The Lego video game franchise has seen its highs and lows in the past. It was kicked off at a good start with the well received Lego Star Wars games, but continued onward with other licenses garnering a relatively unbalanced reception. Lego Indiana Jones and Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars were arguably the low points of the franchise, but both Lego Batman and Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes had the advantage of original stories and even voice acting to boost the series to new heights. However, with a trilogy of films like Lord of the Rings, it could be easy to take another step back into those low areas once again. So does Frodo’s journey propel the Lego franchise to newer levels, or does its fixed story make it feel like more of the same? Like the other stud-filled titles, Lego Lord of the Rings has its flaws, yes...but to my surprise, it may just be the best installment in the series to date.
The concept is so simple, even a Dwarf could understand it. Take some of the most well known licenses in pop culture and make a family friendly casual game with a Lego coat of polish. With Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, and Pirates of the Caribbean getting the plastic brick treatment, it was only a matter of time before Lord of the Rings had its turn. Lego Lord of the Rings’ spans all three film-adapted stories consisting of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and Return of the King. As you probably know, the plot of the films takes a seat in the back of the bus while the series’ familiar tongue-in-cheek humor and family-friendly gameplay are the main attraction.
"Lord of the Rings was a supreme candidate for the Lego treatment, and Traveller’s Tales has put together the perfect set of gameplay elements to complement the license they were working with."
If you’ve spent time with previous entries in the Lego video game franchise, gameplay will largely feel familiar, but with enough added differences to entice setting foot in the Lego world again. Players will progress through a series of stages hitting all the most Lego accessible moments in the Lord of the Rings trilogy with some family friendly changes. Stud collecting, enemy hack and slashing, character unlocking, and some light puzzle solving permeates the experience. Free play mode also makes its obligatory return, allowing you to play through every stage with a variety of characters for even more item collecting. However, some new-school elements come into play here. Traveller’s Tales runs with the free roaming aspect they used in Lego Batman 2 and takes it up a notch. No, you don’t have all of Gotham to explore, but this time, you have all of Middle Earth to freely discover hidden secrets, items, sidequests, blacksmiths to forge new weapons, and means of transportation. Add the fact that you have a full inventory capable of mixing and matching weapons, tools, and items, and you’ve got yourself a light RPG experience for the more hardcore crowd. With no leveling up system available, you’d think these RPG elements would be nice but unnecessary. Fortunately this isn’t the case considering you will need all the right weapons and tools, as well as those completed sidequests if you plan on reaching that 100% mark. This once again adds to the already high replay value the Lego games are known for, but with even more variety and accessibility.
You can never complain about drop-in drop-out cooperative play, except when the person you’re playing with isn’t exactly...cooperating. Nearly every problem with cooperative play is the players fault, but every so often, there can be unavoidable annoyances as well. Getting too separated from your partner results in a split-screen camera angle that works well for the most part, but can get a bit disorienting. These faulty cameras mostly become a problem when players are in a crowd of other Lego NPCs. With this being Lord of the Rings, you will often be in the middle of fast paced war action, and with this being Lego themed, it can be hard to differentiate between your character and others. The sudden split of the screen along with losing sight of your character can at times, can get confusing.
Like its predecessors, some unfortunate flaws and repetitiveness plague certain areas of the gameplay. The Dead Marshes stage taken from The Two Towers is in particular, the dullest part of the game. A player can only follow Gollum and put out fires for quite some time; it doesn’t need to be done over and over again. Another example is the boss battles resorting to mere button mashing that seems to carry on much too long for comfort. The Lego franchise is known for its somewhat repetitive gameplay and puzzle solving, but thankfully, Lego Lord of the Rings knows when to quit aside from these moments that are few and far between. Secondly, with the number of buttons on the Xbox 360’s controller, button mapping should not have been an issue with a Lego game, but there is a slight problem here. The B button is used to activate character specific interaction spots, build lego pieces, drop items, pick up items, and open your inventory. Too many times did I accidentally open up my inventory instead of interact with an object. With character selecting being mapped to both the Y button and the triggers, this problem could have easily been avoided.
As for general things to do, it will take a long time for Lego Lord of the Rings to get boring. As with the previous entries in the franchise, you have a Lego studs meter that gradually fills up with every stud you collect in the given stage. Also returning are the Lego model pieces for each stage, where you can collect a gold Lego chest to build a shiny Lego model as a sort of collector’s item to look at. As said before, sidequests and blacksmithing are a welcome addition to the Lego franchise, and bring the series to a place it hadn’t been before. Character unlocking once again plays an important role, as you can’t access some areas and items in previously played levels unless you get the right character for it during free play. Throwing a Hobbit or Dwarf character to reach a platform is always fun, but sometimes you need one around to do so. We all love using Legolas to shoot arrows at targets, creating a swinging point, but sometimes this can only be done in free play.
Lego Lord of the Rings really hits it where it counts when it comes to gameplay, for the most part...but the real scale tipper here is the presentation. At times, I was struck in awe at the amount of detail in a game merely aimed at a more casual audience. Voice acting in these games was made famous in Lego Batman 2, and it makes a return here, though that’s not all there is to it. What we have here is the actual audio, voice acting in all, from the three motion pictures. It doesn’t feel out of place or disorienting in both the cinematics or gameplay, it just sounds perfect. Being strictly tied to the audio of the film, it would usually be hard to conjure up any of the humor the Lego games are known for; but added grunts, chuckles, and comedic facial expressions and animations exceed expectations and gets the job done. Visually, for what it is, Lego Lord of the Rings is stunning. Never would I think a Lego Sauron could look so epic, but he does. The frame rate, considering how many Lego characters can be put on screen all at once, is also a bit impressive as it will never slow down, at least not during single player. The only real detriment to the game’s presentation would be a few too many pop-in objects that decide to appear a little too late for comfort during free roaming segments.
It’s easy for gamers to experience deja vu when it comes to the Lego video game series, but a little deja vu isn’t a bad thing. What matters is how you handle the same formula, and what specific changes you can make depending on the material you use. Lord of the Rings was a supreme candidate for the Lego treatment, and Traveller’s Tales has put together the perfect set of gameplay elements to complement the license they were working with. No Lego game in the past has been flawless by any means, and the trend continues in Lego Lord of the Rings. However, there’s no denying the newfound gameplay variety, the sheer epic scale of the source material to give it a boost, a near perfect presentation, that tongue-in-cheek humor we all love, and of course the fact that it’s a blast to play.
Release date : 2012-11-18
Publisher : Warner Games
Developer : Traveller’s Tale
Gameplay : Action-Adventure
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