LEGO Lord of the Rings does not deviate much from the tried and true formula of past games in the series. Basically, you perform some simple platforming while smashing everything that can be smashed and solving puzzles on the way to the next story event. There's no penalty for dying no matter how often your characters are prone to do so and the enemies are scripted more for entertainment than to provide an actual challenge. These aren't complaints, mind you. LEGO games continue to thrive because they don't try to appeal to everyone. Instead, they stick to what they're good at and that's providing families with something to enjoy together, no matter the player's age or skill level.
Minifigs of the Shire
Now, being a LEGO game about The Lord of the Rings, this title has some neat game play elements based on the events of the movies. For instance, Frodo can use the One Ring to turn invisible and sneak around in some missions. The basic stealth mechanics are nicely done, making for sweet tidbits to look forward to in between all the platforming.
The levels are linear, supplemented by a constant supply of scripted, cinematic moments. Having a near endless supply of LEGO orcs battling with elves and humans is a delight and it certainly makes the game world feel massive. We like how these are used to control the pacing to keep things from getting too comfortable and you are able to feel like a part of the action without having to deal with overused quick time events.
Characters have eight active inventory slots which allow for quick access in the middle of adventuring. A treasure trove of 84 additional goodies is shared between players and this stores items such as crafted tools. In the past, you were forced to swap your favorite characters depending on the level design.
A Bit of RPG for a Platformer
The item crafting system replaces the tedious character swapping mechanic as it allows any character to solve puzzles as long as they have the tool for it. Gollum, for instance, has the ability to fish objects submerged in water. Combining a stick, some vines and a hook creates a fishing rod which does the same thing. There is a large assortment of available tools and they fit in well in LEGO Middle-earth. If you manage to find enough blacksmith designs, you can keep using Aragorn, Gimli or Sam simply by giving them the right equipment. Have the fishing rod handy but need a fire-dousing bucket or a Mithril Disco Phial (yes, it makes characters dance)? It's all stored in your treasure trove after you craft it.
If you didn't find the character swapping to be particularly annoying, then you'll be glad to know that some items also extend skills to other characters. Not only does this allow you to stick to your favorites, it also allows for some hilarious scenarios. Forget about Legolas, who can resist a pair of swashbuckling hobbits? Other items serve as weapon upgrades which allow you to, say, fire carrots or shoot fire from your bow and some are just there for fun, giving you the chance to give characters new hairstyles or play the Lord of the Rings theme song.
Bigger than Ever
Although you don't actually have to journey for days just to get from point A to point B here, the world of LEGO Lord of the Rings surely feels big. You can see actually see the key locations on your screen and you can go back and forth from, say, the Pelennor Fields to Bag End in a snap but the game world's clever design successfully gives a sense of scale. Completing the linear story missions also gives young players a chance to get acquainted with the different locations as they go through these lead by trails of blue studs. Waypoints may be changed as well, making quest fulfillment a breeze even for the directionally challenged. Map stones also serve as points for fast travel and they indicate nearby quests and goodies when active.
Long time series fans will not be disappointed to find more of its trademark charm in LEGO Lord of the Rings. Because the game follows the movie saga so closely even in terms of visual flair, there may be moments where you find yourself forgetting that this is a LEGO game. That is, until you spot a pile of blocks to decimate to pieces.
Having well-detailed backgrounds isn't at all a bad thing by default, the issue we have lies more on the disconnect when it comes to the LEGO bricks and its surroundings. It makes the world feel less like it is populated by LEGO bricks and more like a bunch of play sets were placed in front of pretty, cut-out pictures. Regardless, you will have your hands full exploring key locations in a faithful recreation of Middle-earth. The lighting, texture work and environmental effects all blend together to make every location distinct. Rivendell looks magical, with an ethereal quality that is very different from the green, misty glow found in the Path of the Dead. Despite the straightforward interpretation of the visuals, it's hard not be impressed with the graphics.
A Little Bit of Everything
If there's one thing that makes button mashing in this game oh-so-addicting, it's the audio feedback that comes after doing so. It is for this reason that the combat LEGO Lord of the Rings actually feels believable. Weapons have some weight to them and blows don't feel like hitting things with a balloon. The shower of studs which come after knocking things around is always welcome to. It's those little rewards that turn something repetitive into a real treat.
The spoken dialogue, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. Because it lifts the audio straight from the movies, the acting is superb. On the other hand, there seem to be compression artifacts left in the tracks, resulting in some background noise. Using the existing narration also leaves little time for humorous tidbits, keeping these within brief, slapstick moments happening in the background.
Middle-Earth Looks Great in LEGO
Once you've tossed the One Ring to the fires of Mount Doom, you unlock the game's open world mode and that's where the real fun starts. In this mode, you can replay levels, explore to your heart's content and complete your collection of collectibles. The formula will be a familiar one for die-hard LEGO fanatics but if you also happen to love the movies, then it can't get any better than this. Not only does the game stay true to the film trilogy, it also adds its own blocky charm into the mix.