I was very impressed by Lego Batman 2*; a solid story and great game-play (not to mention humour) all played a part in reinforcing the idea that Traveller’s Tales makes some pretty amazing games. LEGO The Lord of the Rings is further proof of that, and combines a beloved story and movie franchise with the awesomeness that is LEGO, making what I feel to be the best game in the LEGO franchise so far – one game to rule them all, you might say.
The game is based on the Peter Jackson retelling of Tolkien’s story, complete with scenery, dialogue and music straight from the three films. The visuals are more spectacular than any other LEGO game in the series so far – right from the beginning of the game, the bar is set high: crisp, bright foreground block action in the Shire mixes very well with the majestic vistas of Middle Earth in the background. What makes this impressive is that the game is massive (far bigger than LEGO Batman 2, which was huge); don’t be surprised if some distant background element eventually becomes something that you experience up close and personal. It will also come as no shock that exploring the nooks and crannies of LEGO Middle Earth to find all of its secrets will take a very long time.
Gollum realized with horror that there was no toilet paper left in the Misty Mountains.
Tolkien’s original stories were quite different from normal fare; he had multiple plots, and told them separately, giving full attention to one group of characters at a time. Peter Jackson changed this up a bit by playing the divergent sections in smaller chunks, getting as close to having them happen in parallel (temporally – from a viewing perspective) as was comfortable (without robbing any single timeline). LEGO The Lord of the Rings sort of sits in the middle, allowing the player to continue following one particular group as long as possible by playing their related missions. This has interesting repercussions on cooperative game-play, enabling both players to end up in very different places thanks to split-screen play. Keep in mind, though, that certain events (such as accessing the map) will take up the whole screen; and once someone triggers a cut-scene, you will both end up back in the same playing area, regardless of how far apart you were from each other.
LEGO Batman 2 hurled the player into the action after the first cut-scene – complete with a mini-boss fight. LEGO The Lord of the Rings starts off with what is essentially a big boss fight; no time is wasted here in throwing the player into the action. This might be considered an odd design choice, and possibly off-putting to LEGO videogame neophytes. However, this choice to follow the movie almost to the letter immerses you in the action from the get-go, and is followed by a much calmer level to put things into perspective. Peter Jackson’s epic films had great pacing – why would the developer deviate from a great formula?
He’s trying to re-live his youth.
Like the other LEGO games, there are a number of ways to play this game. Aside from the main campaign, there is a free-play mode for each stage that is unlocked upon the completion of that particular level; you can use any character that has been unlocked, giving you access to more secrets in each area. Eventually, all of Middle Earth will be open to you, and you will be able to purchase characters that you have not been given during the course of the game.
Each character in the series has unique abilities that allows them to interact with various parts of each stage. Certain characters also gain abilities as you progress through the story, lending an RPG-like feel to the game. Some characters are gifted with multiple versions, which can make for some interesting co-op team-ups. Character inventories are managed by a simple interface that is pretty slick, enabling the player to manage items that the character owns; the player will also be able to pick up some objects and store them in the inventory.
There are quite a few objects to collect in the game – some of which become quite important in regards to story progression. Mithril*** bricks, for example, can be found in various places (or by finishing quests) and can be used to craft Mithril objects that may be required to access certain areas. Of course, just having the bricks is only half the battle. Hidden away in the different stages are the blueprints required to craft said items. Some of the items grant new powers to characters, so it is definitely worth checking out the Forge.
Gimli the interrogator: axing the important questions.
Graphics are bright and colourful – but there seems to be a certain something that I can’t quite put my finger on that makes it all seem much more realistic than the other LEGO games. I’m not sure if it’s the lighting or the animations – but there is definitely a factor that really makes this game stand out. The audio is taken right from the movies. Thanks to the fantastic sound work of the source material, all voice clips are spot-on. Sound effects are also appropriate, and Howard Shore’s score holds it all together, acting like a Samwise Gamgee to the game itself.
LEGO The Lord of the Rings is much more than just a solid videogame – it is an instant classic and a great companion to the Film Trilogy (or even the books). Great visuals and sound coupled with intelligently-designed game-play and a laundry list of unlockables all add up to make this a game that you can return to over and over again****. Traveller’s Tales didn’t try to fix what was never broken and built some nice shiny new bits to allow for more flexibility in the game. Finally, Local multi-player is a great way to share the fun! With Christmas fast approaching, this game should probably be on your list to give to someone that you know!