Lego The Lord of the Rings (Xbox 360) Review
Posted by Michael Weyer on 12.15.2012
Traveler's Tales makes the Lego version of Middle-Earth shine thanks to great graphics, puzzles and a surprisingly immersive open world experience.
Title: Lego The Lord of the Rings
Publisher: Warner Brothers Games
Developer: Travelerís Tales Games
Players: 1-2 Co-Op
Rated: Everyone 10+
Trying to come up with ways to keep a formula fresh is always challenging for a gaming franchise. For years, Travelerís Tales has brought gamers the always fun Lego video games, bringing about versions of Batman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and others with a quirky sense of humor and inventive puzzles. Now, they tackle one of the biggest licenses of all. Timed to release with Lego toy sets and the upcoming Hobbit movie, Lego The Lord of the Rings has the developer taking on Peter Jacksonís Oscar-winning smash hit trilogy with their usual flair. However, as if realizing this property deserves more than the usual Lego treatment, TT has given this game some depth and shifts in presentation that make it one of the most worthwhile games of the entire franchise.
The formula for Lego games has long been set and youíd think itíd be the same: A series of levels, about six for each of the three LOTR films that tell the story in Lego form. You go around solving puzzles, battling enemies and smashing various items to unleash coins to try and build up your treasure. That treasure can be used to buy new characters as you unlock them and you can then return to replay those levels with those characters to reach areas you couldnít before and get the gold chests that can add up to an icon of Middle-Earth.
Thatís all here too but with this game, the presentation is a bit different. First of all, rather than be nearly silent as with almost every previous Lego game, this one has dialogue. Specifically, you get actual sound bites from the movie so you hear the voices of Elijah Wood, Sean Austin, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen and the rest of the cast alongside the Lego action. This might be a bit jarring to some as much of the charm of the series has been watching the pantomime way the games tell the story of their respective franchises. Yes, LOTR has a complicated story but if they could make the Harry Potter series work without dialogue, youíd think they could do that here. Thankfully, we still have the usual tongue-in-cheek humor the franchise is known for with bits of goofy disguises, Gimli prone to either pratfalls or crying jags, various sight gags and more. Itís a bit more tempered this time around by the serious delivery of lines but it still works as itís fun watching iconic scenes with Lego figures.
As usual, the characters all have unique skills. Small ones like hobbits or dwarves can slide into trapdoors, Legolas and other archers can hit targets with bows, Gandalf can use magic at certain spots and certain blocks can only be broken by Gimliís axe. Sam is a really loaded character as he can not only dig up objects but plant seeds that grow into needed areas, start fire and has a special elf rope to hook onto certain loops. There are other unique touches such as how a larger character can pick up Gimli and throw him to a certain block he can smash apart. Aragorn is able to do some tracking at places and later carries a sword capable of smashing red bricks apart. Other touches include Merry having a fishing rod to use at places while Pippin can use a bucket of water to put out fires. Also, the way you buy characters can be a challenge in itself as rather than be in a central hub to purchase them, you have to meet them across Middle-Earth, occasionally fighting guys in order to buy them. Getting Sauraman requires you to do a massive climb up a tower as challenging as anything in Assassinís Creed among other touches.
This brings us to the major shift of the game which deepens it far more than other Lego games. Rather than in previous games where you had a central hub that you can choose levels from, Lego LOTR is basically an open-world game. To play it out, you have to follow the story of the films from area to area, each time opening a place from Hobbiton to Bree to Moria to Rohan and more. Note that save points are scattered midway through levels, a relief for those who may not want to wait to get through an entire stage in order to quit. Each area is packed with various side quests as you find them that have people requesting you search for certain items when you replay an area or find the mithril bricks hidden around. Note that itís best to wait until youíve finished the story to play the open world as youíll need characters like the Beserker to blow apart places or such and itís only then you can swap characters around. You can mix them up such as using Legolas to climb up a huge tower in Minas Tirith then change to Sam in order to light a fire which sets off the famous ďLighting the beaconsĒ scene from the film. Also, throughout the game, youíll find designs you can use for a blacksmith in Bree to create items in exchange for mithril. Some of these you use to complete side quests by giving them to people while others can be used in the play like a bow that fires three arrows at once or a rope needed to climb up certain places. It all adds up to a major turn that elevates this over other Lego games.
There are some issues, of course, many of which have been present throughout the franchise. You get some periods where the camera wonít conform to your directions which can mess up jumps. Also, the puzzles can be a bit obtuse, not to mention the poor AI for your fellow characters. On that, the large amount of characters in some levels (up to nine at places) makes it a task jumping between them when you need to access, say, Legolas, quickly to fire a shot at a troll. One level is frustrating as you need to fire at a moving target but attacks by orcs bother the attempt. There are a few slowdowns at places with frame rates and it is amazing that after all this time, Travelerís Tales still hasnít figured out how to do online co-play. Also, some may be a bit miffed that the world of Middle-Earth is pretty condensed, only a short ride from Rohan to Minas Tirith and many of the surfaces of grasslands and mountains seem the same.
But the poor stuff is overwhelmed by how excellent the rest of the game is. The graphics are simply astounding, the way they retell the movieís story in Lego form a joy to see. Thereís good touches like how Frodo and Sam look more weary as their journey goes on, to the point of Frodo unable to jump at the Mount Doom level. The detail is amazing with water in rivers and lakes and the massive battle scenes of Helmís Deep and the Pellanor Fields let you see hundreds of orcs fighting about and the effects for the explosions and magic are good. Thereís also how the levels work, bouncing between the plots from Gandalf fighting Saruaman to controlling Ents to ravage Isengard. The sequences where Frodo puts on the ring are brilliantly done, the haunting shades making you feel like youíre in another world. Also, the sequence of Gandalf and the Balrog doing battle while plummeting thousands of feet followed by fighting on the mountaintop are both terrific as is the sequence involving the Army of the Dead. The story is already great, adding the Lego motif makes it a bit humorous but still retains the thrills of the films (Lego Gollum is still freaky as hell).
Overall, the Lego theme still fits well as youíre sucked into the fun puzzles and combat, the way the levels play out and just the delight of playing this classic tale with goofy figures. While it may not have the same level of humor as previous games, a few bits that make you chuckle and fitting the story well. The addition of an open world of quests and the always inventive touches for the characters make this a much longer game to play through and adds to the fun of seeking treasures out. While it may not be up to the higher standards of, say, the Star Wars or Harry Potter entries, Lego The Lord of the Rings is still one of the better video game experiences in Middle-Earth that a fan of any age can more than enjoy.
TT has outdone themselves here. Their replication of Middle-Earth in Lego form is beautiful, the lavish settings for Lothlorien and Rivendell lush with sunlight drifting through the massive trees and the snowy scenes of the Pass make you feel the chill of the sequence. The details are spot-on with the swampland, grains of rocks and sand and more, yet still retains the slick sheen of the Lego series. The characters are fun to watch move in their various ways, nicely mixing Lego versions of the famed movie personas with good effects for battle. When you see the massive armies in battle scenes, you can be so distracted, you might miss the action you need to perform as itís quite impressive to see the world of Middle Earth laid out as you ride from one section to another. Plus, you just canít help but giggle at watching the cut scenes of major movie moments with the Lego figures which are excellently done. From top to bottom, a great presentation to pull you in.
With the addition of actual voices, Lego LOTR is a much broader soundscape than previous LEGO games. The voices of the actors are clear from the film clips although the voices for the characters who give you the side quests can be a tad blander. However, you get the fun sound effects with nature ones like raging water and bizarre wind during the Ringwraith sequences. Also, Howard Shoreís beautiful score fits perfectly, despite how it may sound repetitive during the open world exploration. Overall, a great advance for sound for a LEGO game that pulls you into the story.
Fun is what these games are all about and while the humor is a tad more subdued, you still enjoy the experience. LOTR fans will get a kick out of seeing the story in LEGO form and even those not fans will love the usual style of LEGO games. There can be frustrations with some fighting and the puzzles but it adds to the pleasure when you solve those. Plus, itís fun playing as orcs or even ghosts at various spots and redoing levels in free play with the ability to unlock places hidden to you before. The open world dynamic adds a lot more to the fun as you can spend hours riding around to admire this version of Middle-Earth and explore it in all its ways. The game keeps up the usual hijinks of a LEGO game as you just canít resist the urge to explore more, enjoy the puzzles and just indulge in a game meant to be pure fun.
The main story will take about ten hours all told with the free play a bit longer. You might want to play each twice to improve your scores and use solutions you didnít use before, not to mention the various characters you can unlock and use. However, the open world and side quests make this a much longer version than other LEGO games as youíll be pulled into exploring the areas for quests and replaying the levels to find certain items and treasures. Not to mention able to unlock and play the various extra characters which adds to the fun of levels and makes you want to play around more. So unlike some other LEGO games, getting a 100 percent rating takes a while and makes this game one to truly invest some time in.
The detail of the Lego figures and the amazing take on MIddle Earth is excellent, letting you care about these characters and wanting to play more just to see how this world unfolds.
TT has this down to a science as you'll be sucked into the puzzles, action and the fun of smashing stuff up. Despite some issues with camera angles and difficulty, it's a great style of play that makes this one of the best games to use the Tolkien license
With the addition of actual voice clips, the soundtrack booms with great effects and Howard Shore's score to complement the action, letting you enjoy the world much better.
The open world of side quests makes the game much longer with the ability to do the various levels over again and enjoy the characters you can unlock adding to the wish to play it over again.
Like all LEGO games, you just have to love watching the story unfold in this form, exploring Middle Earth and finding secrets, a package that appeals to fans of all ages.