What better way to celebrate the upcoming ‘The Hobbit films’ than to delve back to a decade ago to relive Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Most would probably do this by buying the extended box set of all three films, watch them over the weekend and wonder why their sofa has developed a posterior shaped groove. But some might feel that all that fantasy orc butchering, homo-erotic tension between hobbits, and the racial stereotypes of Elves and Dwarves is just a little too much for their little ones to digest. So for those people and anyone else who just wants to see the series in a different perspective, here is LEGO Lord of the Rings – the latest adaptation of a line of toys to videogame format.
As a representation of The Lord of the Rings, it borrows heavily from the films by simply cutting and pasting the dialogue. The result is a game that is authentically and expertly crafted around key dialogue points, while replacing the imagery with LEGO versions of the cast. It’s incredibly appealing to look at as a result, with even a touch of the series’ classic visual comedy by inserting random child friendly elements. Gandalf is no longer a compulsive smoker, but loves his cup of java for example. While its appeal to children is obvious, the way that it evokes memories of the films themselves by inserting twists in a tasteful way will make more mature audiences smile. However, it is a heavily abridged version of the narrative, so probably not the best avenue to introduce the series to someone.
Like Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes before it, Lego: The Lord of the Rings’ hub-world is the entirety of Middle Earth, complete with locations such as Hobbiton, Rivendell and Minas Tirith. Yet despite this, the game is reluctant to open out until you experience the trilogy through its eighteen main levels, which are your standard fare Lego-based levels with all the trimmings. The simplistic levels involve the same ability based puzzles, stud and item collection based game that we’ve seen since Travellers Tales first tinkered with Lego. Characters have a wide range of abilities: Aragorn can track hidden things using trinkets with a green glow, Gandalf can manipulate objects using magic, and when Frodo isn’t whining like a damsel in distress he can light up dark passages. Some characters such as Sam, Legolas or Gimli have a more extended period of play than most of the others though. In short, it doesn’t do a lot new, besides throwing dwarves around every five minutes.
While you have limited scope to explore during the campaign, the game eventually allows you to instantly travel between Map Stones freely once it is all over. Buying characters with studs collected on your travels is trickier here as you need to have at least located them by activating the Map Stone to reveal their dwelling. You can also find tons of mythril bricks to craft unlockable items from recipes found around the map. These can be obtained by finding them randomly on the map, completing mini-challenges to get them as a reward, or via the levels themselves. You can also undertake quests to get a specific item to a character for a reward of some kind. Local multiplayer is available from the get-go and features a dynamic split-screen that moves as each character moves around, which takes a while to get used to. Sadly with the automatic nature of the combat system, you will probably find you’re hurting your friend more often than the orc that wants your blood, meaning a lot of unexpected deaths.
But here’s the thing. While Lego: The Lord of the Rings is a fantastic looking game and the challenge is appropriate for smaller audiences, the only truly new features are fetch quests that are quite dull. There are also more bugs here than in many more recent titles as well; bosses glitch out to the point where they become unbeatable, Gollum got stuck in a wall and freaked out and Uruk Hai started flying around the Ents in Isengard. More than likely though, frantically hitting things will cause one or two to not act properly, meaning that you either won’t get a bonus objective or even complete the level. Respawning when you die may also warrant unexpected deaths as it is imprecise enough to put you in perilous situations. It’s a bit of a buggy mess, though thankfully frequent checkpoints in the form of statues soften the blow.
The world of Middle Earth is a beautiful place to behold and Lego: The Lord of the Rings largely replicates the splendour in the best looking Lego title to date. The story is nicely retold with thoughtful twists to keep the trilogy light and vivid without intruding too much on the narrative. However, despite first impressions, there’s actually very little to do beyond complete levels, find hidden blocks and finish simple fetch quests. These traits are typical of the franchise as it strives to appeal to children more than anyone else, but the bugs experienced take a lot of fortitude to tolerate even as an adult. Perhaps Boromir was right: One does not simply walk into Mordor.