LEGO The Hobbit features familiar elements from past LEGO games as well as new mechanics unique only to this title. Ride around the Middle-earth in style by customizing your very own pony, horse or Warg. Complete missions and unlock various events which will lead you to mini quests, recipes or curious encounters. Presuming you've played a LEGO game before, the main storyline will likely last you around five to six hours.
The Road to the Lonely Mountains
Speaking of storyline, the movie itself did not fare so well due to the liberties taken in translating Tolkien's saga to the big screen. Although it kept most of the main ideas intact, many felt that the original's text was stretched only to prioritize style over substance. LEGO The Hobbit does away with a few transition bits and ties them together with voice narrations. That would not be a problem for anyone who is already familiar with the source material but newcomers may need a helping hand in piecing things together.
If you've played any of the other LEGO games then you'll be no stranger to the majority of the mechanics. There's local two-player co-op mode which is a great fit for couples or parents and their little ones. You've got a story mode consisting of linear stages which recreate events from the movies. Once you've finished these, you unlock free play which allows you to enjoy additional characters, go on side quests and collect new goodies. While following Bilbo there and back again, you will need to solve puzzles by swapping characters and using their special skills and wreak havoc against every LEGO piece that can be smashed for collectibles.
All Things Arkenstone
Although for the most part, the missions stick to a known formula among LEGO game fans, The Hobbit does have its own share of memorable moments. For instance, Riddles in the Dark teams Bilbo up with a befuddled goblin (the mandatory second player) and there are a few sets which feel massive in scale which will have the hobbit and his buddies climbing up cranky stone giants or battling Smaug, the big, bad dragon.
Then there's the new crafting system. Being a LEGO game, it's only fitting for it to have actual building mechanics, right? Well the guys over at Traveller's Tales have listened and have included the mechanic in The Hobbit, however, it's a mixed bag. Craft Plates are now available all over the Middle-earth, be it in the set story levels or the open world-like free play mode after. Materials obtained by smashing everything in sight or fighting baddies to get LEGO pieces to construct items or replicas.
Once you've got all that you need for one, go to a Craft Plate and build, build, build away. Of course when we say that, we mean playing a tedious match mini game wherein you have to pick a piece that resembles the one flashing on your screen. Minecraft it is not as it requires no creativity whatsoever, only visual logic. Perhaps they could reuse the concept but pair it with a more enjoyable mini game or at least one that isn't so repetitive in nature.
A Barrelful of Dwarves
There are many playable characters in this game. You've got the main cast consisting of Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and all the dwarves (Thorin, Balin, Bifur, Bombur, Bofur, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Gloin, Oin, Dwalin, Dori, Ori and Nori); valuable allies such as Bard, Tauriel and Radagast; Lord of the Rings veterans such as Legolas, Sam, Frodo and Gollum; as well as a wealth of others including a baddies like the Barrow-wight.
Some characters have several versions of themselves which not only differ in appearance but also in terms of the weapons and the abilities they have. Some are certainly more fun to use than others. Bombur, for instance, can belly bounce and Dwalin can smash things with his hammer. You will need to rely on specific abilities in order to get past puzzles. You also need to team up for buddy attacks to beat major baddies such as the Goblin King.
All the Good and Bad of the Films, Only in LEGO
The downside to the characters in LEGO The Hobbit is the same problem people had with the films: they just aren't easy to tell apart. Being made of LEGO, those that are from the same race are usually palette swaps so it'll be hard to keep track who can do what ability. The dwarves, for instance, do not have much in terms of distinguishable features. Some are just not memorable enough because they were never given a chance to shine, movie or otherwise. This results in more than a few trial and error puzzle solving scenarios, cycling through characters and hoping to find the one with the ability you need.
Of course, the upside to being based on a whimsical movie is that it leaves plenty of room for endearingly silly scenarios. Having stone giants keeping a tally of their score while mountain goats get dropped, squished and struck by lightning around the companions is certainly entertaining. Seeing the dwarves smashing tables in Rivendell or using a gigantic key as a battering ram makes sense because this is a LEGO game. It's a Middle-earth full of visual comedy and we absolutely love it.
If there's one thing that generated a lot of buzz about The Hobbit film trilogy, it is its use of high frame graphics. Although LEGO The Hobbit may not have done anything similarly bold with its visuals, there is no denying that it is eye-catching. It captures the spirit of Peter Jackson's sets by keeping the general look and feel of each place. Rivendell, for instance, is polished and elegant while Erebor is grand and craggy. Lighting is cleverly used and it plays a huge role in making each scene look magical. There are also plenty of charming little details to catch your eyes if you've got the time to take in the scenery. On the downside, the use of realistic colors do tend to make characters blend in with the background so you may have a difficult time playing this on a small screen.
Audio from the original film was used for the most part so we have nothing bad to say about the acting. Unfortunately, it also restricted the amount of time available for game-only humor. Whereas in LEGO Batman 3, you can have gag scenes where Cyborg and Green Lantern trash talk each other, LEGO The Hobbit can just stick to the film's script. There are occasional voice works but these are oftentimes disjointed with the rest of the scenes. Thankfully, the narration is done by the talented Christopher Lee (Saruman himself). It gives both a familiar link to the movies and is undeniably well done.
You Have to Be a Fan
LEGO The Hobbit isn't something that completely revolutionizes the series but it does have enough new tricks up its sleeve to keep old fans interested. The free play aspect extends the game time at least threefold and the occasional humor will keep you from getting bored. It is a shame that the game was released without waiting for the third movie, but The Battle of the Five Armies is playable as a DLC.