Traveller’s Tales have been on a roll with the number of quality Lego games they’ve been producing lately, and the latest game in their stable is Lego The Lord of the Rings, based more on the movies than on the books. How does the jaunt across Middle Earth compare as a Lego adventure? I took my trusty Mithril controller in hand to find out. (Please note that this review is strictly for the PS3 and Xbox360 versions of the game. Other versions may differ drastically.)
When I was around eight or nine years old, my dad took me to the library and pulled The Hobbit from the shelf for me, and told me to read it. It took my young mind a few days to get into the story, but I was soon entranced with the world of Middle Earth that Tolkien had built. A few years later I discovered The Lord of the Rings, and spent my entire two-week Easter vacation in my room, eyes riveted to the pages of the hefty tome. To be honest, I got yelled at by my mom a few times for not hearing her when she called for me, but the magic of Frodo’s journey to Mordor kept me so enraptured that the outside world disappeared for me. You can imagine my joy when I discovered that the movies were going to be made of the books, and since then, several games have also appeared, all revolving around Middle Earth in one way or another, and with varying amounts of success (see my War in the North review for an example). This brings us nicely around the latest game to feature Tolkien’s characters.
Lego The Lord of the Rings tells the story as based on the films by Peter Jackson, less than the fuller tale from the books. With this paradigm, Traveller’s Tales has lovingly and faithfully recreated the entire journey from Hobbiton to Mordor. Like the prior Lego Batman 2 game, you’re given an entire region as your playground, and this time the “entire region” is pretty much all of Middle Earth from the films. The environment is beautifully created with the same love and charm that we’ve seen in other Lego franchise games.
Another “Like Lego Batman 2” feature is that the game is fully voiced. Instead of getting voice actors in, though, they used the archive voices from the films, so yes, that is really Elijah Wood’s voice you’ll hear. Of course, because it’s all archive footage, they can’t introduce anything to the game that deviates in any way from the films. In spite of this, they’ve still managed to introduce their standard Lego humour to the game. One great example is the section where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are found in the grass by the riders of Rohan. In addition to the inquisition that they received in the film, the riders prance around the trio very much in the style of synchronized swimmers. The serious dialogue coupled with the funny visuals makes the whole effect that much funnier.
A staple of Lego games is the co-op gameplay, and this game is no different. What IS slightly different about this game is that in some cases, players one and two will be doing two different things. This is quite evident from the second level you play. Player one, for example, will be controlling the Hobbits as they try to escape the Black Riders, while player two is furiously battling Saruman as Gandalf the Grey. It’s a strange mix of gameplay, but it works. If you play the scenario as a single player, then the game simply prompts you to switch to the second bit to proceed.
Lego The Lord of the Rings plays a lot more like an RPG than prior Lego games, and you’ll also have a lot more difficulty obtaining those rare Red Bricks this time around. Every single Red Brick is tied to a fetch quest in the game, and the fetch quests are all inside the levels. You’ll never find everything in a single playthrough, or possibly even in a second playthrough. In fact, as of writing this review, I’ve finished the main story, but still have just about every fetch quest left to do! There’s an insane amount of gameplay here, even for two players. In fact, what’s awesome is that players one and two can both be in completely different parts of Middle Earth at the same time if they so wish.
If you’ve played prior Lego games before, you’ll be familiar with the “one character, one role” trope. While this is still initially true for Lego The Lord of the Rings, it soon changes. Instead of the standard Gold Bricks that you usually collect in other Lego games, this game has you collecting Mithril Bricks. As you adventure around, you’ll also collect blacksmith plans. Take both the plans and the bricks to the Blacksmith in Bree, and you can forge items to allow your characters to fulfil the roles of others. For example, only Legolas can initially fire upon targets with his bow. When you manage to forge a Mithril bow in the smithy, you can have any character equip it and use it to fire upon targets.
Traveller’s Tales have managed to keep Lego The Lord of the Rings kid friendly, while introducing them to the world of Middle Earth. My own kids thoroughly enjoyed playing the adventure with me. Despite the fairly heavy source material, the fact that the Traveller’s Tales have managed to retain the same charm, humour, playability, and puzzle-based play of the prior games is a testament to how much they’ve honed the Lego genre to an art. It’s got a lot of gameplay even after finishing the main story, and there’s so much replayability in it that even completionists will be sitting with the game for weeks on end.
For fans of both the Lego games and of the Lord of the Rings, I highly recommend this game. It’s a brilliant addition to the Lego series, and the refinements they’ve made to the gameplay shows. There is a lot to recommend to it, and the co-op gameplay is a great way to spend time with friends or family. The only downside is that the game doesn’t feature online play (and loses points there), but otherwise it’s just about as wonderful and fun as you’d expect.
Final score: 8 ½ Mithril prawns out of 10
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Publisher: WB Games
Platforms: Xbox360 (reviewed), PS3, PC, Wii, PS Vita, 3DS, DS Lite
Age Rating: 3+