It’s here at last. Huge battles, tiny hobbits and a Lego ring.
I have to hold my hands up and admit a bias: not only do I generally love the Lego games, I’m something of a Tolkien buff. I am naturally predisposed to like Lego Lord of the Rings. And with The Hobbit film out this month, the timing’s pretty good.
This outing keeps the general style of the Lego games – plenty of visual gags in the cutscenes, plenty of puzzles to solve by demolishing and re-assembling Lego blocks while fighting off Lego bad guys.
But never before has the scale been so grand. This is Lord of the Rings, from start to finish.
And when I say start, I mean it. We don’t begin playing Frodo and Sam. We start with Elrond, Elendil and Isildur as the Last Alliance of Men and Elves fight Sauron. That epic battle is a playable scene, and you do have to defeat a Sauron made of Lego Technic.
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. The opening scene is straight from Peter Jackson’s movies, with Cate Blanchett’s prologue – but Legofied. The comedy starts when one of the Nazgul drops his ring and sheepishly picks it up.
Even Howard Shore’s soundtrack is there.
Once you’ve defeated Sauron, you get more cutscenes until it’s time for Frodo and Sam to leave the Shire and head for Bree. Cutscenes continue to break up playable levels: Weathertop, the Mines of Moria, the Battle of Helm’s Deep and more.
I understand why they couldn’t make more of the game playable, but the sheer quantity of cutscenes does become a little much at times – it’s a good job the humour is usually of the laugh-out-loud variety.
There are times, even with two players, when you’ll need to swap characters as if you’re playing a single-player game. At times there are three playable characters, each of whom has something to do to solve the level (Elrond, Elendil and Isildur in the Last Alliance, for example, or Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in many of their scenes), and at times one or two people have to play all four hobbit heroes, even all nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring.
The cutscenes tend to mimic the film quite faithfully, as do most aspects of the playable levels (excepting the presence of Lego blocks and puzzles to solve). Swordfights have a surprisingly realistic twist to them, with animations of blocks and parries, though that doesn’t affect the way you play (just keep mashing the attack button).
The puzzles in the game are too complex for my 5-year-old to solve on his own, but that’s been the Lego series all through; we tend to play them together. My guess is that the game’s aimed at kids 8 or 10 years old (and at kids aged 20-plus).
Some of the puzzles depart slightly from the usual Lego fare – sneaking past the Nazgul as the hobbits leave the Shire is nice, especially as Frodo has to keep fighting the urge to put the ring on – but the majority are exactly what we’ve seen in Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Batman and so on.
The pleasure is less in the gameplay than in seeing how Middle-Earth is recreated in Lego terms, awe at the epic nature of some of the scenes (the Battle of Helm’s Deep is particularly good) and delight at the gags and gentle mockery of the characters.
All in all, it’s a pretty good game, but it isn’t a great one. If you’ve played a Lego game before, you’ll find the format very familiar – perhaps over-familiar.
Is it worth buying? If you’re into Lord of the Rings, haven’t played so many of the Lego games that you’re bored of them and want a light-hearted action platformer, this is just the game for you.
Personally, though I do enjoy the game, I’m not finding it as gripping as I have previous Lego outings. The formula that seemed so good in Indiana Jones and Batman is starting to wear a little thin now. It’s fun, but it’s a little easy to put the game down after an hour of play. I want to like it much more than I actually do.