The latest Traveller’s Tales title, LEGO The Hobbit, covers films one and two of Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy. Like LEGO The Lord of the Rings, the game does a great job breaking the movies down into nice, compartmentalized chapters without losing the overall plot. The trend with the LEGO game franchise is that each successive game improves slightly; in the case of LEGO The Hobbit, I think that the improvement is quite noticeable. Whether or not this is because I’m playing it on a next generation platform (and am comparing it directly to the previous Tolkien-inspired title), I cannot say. However, you can judge whether or not you think this might be your jam based on my experience with the game.
LEGO The Hobbit is about two thirds of Bilbo Baggins’ journey to help the dwarven company (led by Thorin Oakenshield) in their quest to reclaim their lost kingdom of Erebor, which is located within the Lonely Mountain far to the east of the Shire, where Bilbo lives. Of course, it is Gandalf the Grey (a wizard) who has brokered this partnership, and he spends a good chunk of the journey with Bilbo and friends. LEGO The Hobbit moves even further away from the normal hub-based LEGO system by presenting all of your options as events spread around a map of Middle Earth. Missions that are part of the main campaign are easy to find, as translucent LEGO Studs line the path to the next challenge. It’s a great way to do things, and progression in the main campaign is rewarded by events that become unlocked.
Where it all began.
The stages in LEGO The Hobbit are very much like the stages in other LEGO games: enter the mission; break everything to collect as many LEGO studs as possible; solve all of the puzzles that are there (if you can); try to find all of the hidden goodies; and move on to the next area. While that may sound like a dig at Traveller’s Tales – it’s not. This tried-and-true formula makes the transition to a new game very easy for those who have played a LEGO game before; and those who are just discovering the fun that is a LEGO game don’t have to worry about their lack of familiarity with the “rules” because this style of game-play is not the most difficult thing in the world to learn. A relatively skilled gamer who has played a LEGO series game before should be able to complete the main campaign in fairly short order (around 7 hours, give or take); but running around and exploring to find all of the hidden goodies is going to take much, much longer.
Controls for this LEGO game follow the same formula as those in previous titles. Even Smallest Thumbs (who is seven years old) picked it up fairly quickly. There are some new twists (in terms of in-game gimmicks that use existing mappings) – but everything is very well documented. In fact, documentation is skillfully woven throughout the game, thanks to the hint stone system. Hint stones are placed about the levels wherever new actions are being introduced, guiding the player through what needs to be done and making it obvious one should be spending their time.
LEGO The Hobbit features a “buddy-up” system that enables you to “pair up” with another ally in order to increase attack power and interact with certain objects (like larger, breakable barriers). When you are standing close to another character that you can link with, an indicator will appear (so that you know who you’re linking up with). This mechanic looks pretty amazing, with some interesting and hilarious animations surrounding the action itself (just try playing the part of a dwarf and buddying-up with a hobbit and you’ll see what I mean). Cooperative play is a drop-in/drop-out affair, made all the better by a dynamic split-screen that allows a fair amount of exploration apart from your partner. This type of freedom is most welcome to the divide-and-conquer strategy – except in those instances in which you need to buddy-up to take down something much bigger.
Some people take their stew very seriously.
On top of the usual LEGO stud collecting, LEGO The Hobbit also involves collecting goods in order to build structures (that are necessary to advance in the levels). Goods add a cool layer of resource-gathering to the game, effectively ensuring that players take their time and explore the landscape. In many cases, if you’re stuck for a certain material, there are people scattered around Middle Earth that will trade you for certain goods; but it might not necessarily be the material that you’re looking for – so best practice is to stock up. Goods can be attained from destroying certain objects, but one character can actually interact with ore deposits. Bofur has the ability to mine these ore-filled rocks; instead of the normal destruction that commences upon a strike, a timing-based mini-game presents itself. Hitting the button at the right time (on the first round of the exercise) nets the player a substantial brick bonus and a good number of pieces of loot. It’s a nice touch that can save you some time when you’re gathering goods for building plot-forwarding structures.
Similar to The LEGO Movie Videogame, the objects that you require the goods to build are constructed via a mini-game. The particular kit in question rapidly constructs itself on the right side of the screen and then pauses at certain parts to challenge you to select the next piece that is required. You use the left analog stick to select the appropriate piece and then the kit continues to build itself. In the upper left of the screen is a stud count, which starts to count down if you pause for too long. There are some kit puzzles that will challenge you several times with several selections to be made in a row – so the reward for quick thinking is a challenge to attain. It’s a simple device that breaks up the game nicely.
Dol Guldur is something of a fixer-upper.
The devs behind the LEGO series definitely love the source material, and they know how to have fun with it. Stronger character traits from the movie tend to become mapped to hilarious in-game stereotypes that will make fans of the original movies laugh out loud. For instance, when Fili and Kili show up at Bilbo’s door, they are cast as the young pretty-boy dwarves – immaculately groomed and constantly preening, they have winning smiles and posture like models. Fili even uses a pair of pruning shears to clip an errant hair from Kili’s mane. He hands the shears to Bilbo on his way in, commenting that he just had them sharpened. Later on, during the part where the dwarves pretty much take over Bag End, two dwarves are seen carrying a giraffe from the storage room as if it were an everyday occurrence. This kind of stuff works really well with the source dialogue; the serious tone of the audio paired with the zany visuals makes for great entertainment.
On the Playstation 4, the game looks incredibly crisp and visually stunning – even more so than LEGO The Lord of the Rings (which is the closest real visual comparative, owing to the face that it features Middle Earth as well). The developers imbue each character with personality through their costumes and expressions, though it may be difficult for neophytes to distinguish some of the dwarves from each other. There are no detectable artifacts in the graphics that I could see, other than a moment or two when there was some minor clipping silliness. Sounds effects are nothing new, really; although it has to be said that the sound field sounds really full, which simply makes the game more immersive. Music is Howard Shore’s awesome score, and the voice track is pulled from the films. Other than some small levels of background noise accompanying the voice tracks (which give away their source), everything fits together nicely. As per the usual formula, each successive LEGO game pushes the envelope just a little – enough for us to notice and appreciate the efforts of the developer. One of my favourite touches is that Christopher Lee narrates the transitions between the main story missions.
I wonder why they call it Laketown?
In terms of longevity, there is much to do in LEGO The Hobbit (as I have mentioned earlier). Finishing any mission allows you to replay that same mission in Free Play mode, which lets you bring along other characters that you have unlocked and purchased. It is next to impossible to complete any level on the first try, due to various obstacles that can only be overcome by characters that aren’t actually part of the story at that moment. In addition, recipes are scattered throughout Middle Earth that allow you to craft objects that can help you in your quest to attain everything. If you’re a completionist, you had better plan to hunker down and spend a fair amount of time unearthing everything that this game has to offer.
Whether you are a fan of LEGO or The Hobbit or not, LEGO The Hobbit is a fun and rewarding game that is well-made and will provide tons of entertainment. For those who have younger kids that don’t want to expose them to the violence in the film series, this is a great way to introduce them to the mythos of Tolkien’s masterwork – without scaring the snot out of them. The controls are easy to learn, and the mechanics are fun to figure out; plus, there are a few entertaining mini-games and plenty of great humour, making for a great family gaming experience. This title is available for the Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita (although, the hand-held versions are never as impressive as the console ones).