In a strange sort of way, the releases of the Lego games have slowly but surely aligned themselves with theatrical releases for some of the biggest Hollywood titles and thus, sort of become tie-in movies. Though they most certainly must not be categorised as such, given that particular genre’s sordid past, the veteran developer Traveller’s Tale has, after a decade, stumbled onto a tried and tested formula that than 20 releases is really beginning to grow repetitive and a little bit tiresome.
Since the release of Lego Star Wars, we’ve seen some of the world’s biggest franchises receive the illustrious brick treatment, from Batman to Harry Potter, before we finally arrive at Lego The Hobbit. Much akin to that of Lego Marvel Super Heroes and The Lego Movie Videogame – and even to an extent both Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 and Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes – the blocky titles have released alongside (near enough) a film-based counterpart.
Unfortunately, whilst the Lego games may not have fallen foul of the quality issues that plagued years and years of poor movie tie-ins, it feels like well trodden ground. Ten main releases (with a further four smaller titles) in just under five years will do that though. Franchise fatigue has well and truly set in.
The first thing notice about The Hobbit is that it only contains the first two movie components. Unlike the Lego Harry Potter titles where the sheer length of available content and spread out nature of the movie releases lent itself to a two-part release, the early release of The Hobbit is a tad strange. Given that the third part of The Hobbit film trilogy will be out by year’s end, why not wait until then and include all three parts? Granted it seems as though the final part will arrive as DLC but it seems a strange way to do it.
You’ll follow Thorin Oakenshield’s company of Dwarves through the mountains, across the Shire and through Mirkwood with each of the levels consisting of the key scenes from the movies. This means that either you’ll enjoy the comparison, or experience it for the first time and get to enjoy a classic. As always, the story is well told mixing action and humour expertly; the use of understandable character audio may initially feel a little unusual if you’re a Lego purist, but to have the voices of the cast is wonderful and improved thanks to the additional narration by Christopher Lee (Saruman). Since there’s only two-thirds of the story here it does inevitably leave it feeling a little short of a conclusion.
In traditional Lego fashion, you smash-up everything you can see, collecting studs – the game’s currency – whilst you solve some puzzles and defeat some enemies along the way. A vast character range is a Lego staple – with the likes of Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and more Dwarves than you can count, and as usual characters provide their own access to particular elements. In this case it’s by the individual abilities, whether that be a Dwalin’s Warhammer or Gandalf’s Staff.
A severe problem arises though in the similarity of the Dwarves appearances. With one or two it’s manageable but as soon as you get a trio or greater – which is rather often – then discerning who is who can be incredibly frustrating. Given that gameplay is so reliant on utilising their varying powers this becomes an annoyance quite quickly. The quick select is hardly any better and will more often than not force you to use the character select menu in order to ensure you have control of the correct one.
Elsewhere, the primary new mechanic is a crafting system which can be used to construct kits at various points in the campaign in order to progress. Each component is found by destroying or mining a particular object, with certain ingredients only accessible by select characters, but I never found myself having to hunt them down as they were plentiful. This may have been due to my ‘destroy and collect everything in sight’ approach from the off, but surely this is the only way to play games that rely on such a ‘collect them all’ hook. Back to the kits; a variety of parts will build up with you being asked at particular intervals to select the next component correctly from an array of eight. The faster you can complete this task the more studs you’ll earn as a result. Though it may be the closest you’ll come to actually building something within the Lego games, it remains ultimately a highly glossed up Quick Time Event (QTE).
Though it doesn’t feel as though The Hobbit makes the full use of the PlayStation 4’s power it’s undeniably an attractive title. Character models and environments are well crafted and the lighting adds an extra layer of beauty. With each story level contained within itself they present a varied palette, but it’s their interlinking via a decently sized open-world hub that runs throughout Middle Earth. Different events are unlocked and strewn about as you progress – offering yet more in the seemingly never-ending completion tasks.
Co-op play is another of many Lego staples and that’s no different here. Being able to play with a friend should make the experience all the more enjoyable – but the dreadful camera angles in split-screen hinder more than help.
Amongst an unrelenting slew of Lego games, The Hobbit neither rises to the top nor sinks to the bottom. The narrative elements are close to exceptional (as always) and though the gameplay certainly not particular broken or poorly executed (character selecting aside), it’s just become tedious. The decision to release with a third of the plot missing remains baffling but, it’s a Lego game, there’s more than enough content to tie you over. Any new additions fail to make a real impact on your experience and a few too many of the issues from older titles remains. However, if all you’re looking for is a Lego adventure around Middle Earth and the story of The Hobbit then you’ll get exactly what you’re after.