After a few years hiatus, The Lord of the Rings is set to invade pop culture yet again by every medium possible.  With the first in a trilogy of The Hobbit films arriving later this month and breaking cinematic ground, Middle-earth will also be accessible on your favorite consoles through multiple releases. The first of these, LEGO The Lord of the Rings, is the second major LEGO release for the year, following the well-received LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes, which received accolades for its willingness to shake up the formula with an open world.  Surprisingly, developer Traveler’s Tales has taken another risk with its latest LEGO title, introducing new elements in a franchise that has often been criticized for its homogeneity.  While not the most complex iterations of these mechanics, many of these additions make for a more fully rounded experience, though some tinker a bit too much with the already solid formula.

Since the beginning of time (or at least since LEGO titles have been in production), no matter the franchise at its core, these titles have focused on collecting.  For those with a predilection for combing over every inch of a level for each hidden treasure, LEGO games have worked like a charm, and LEGO The Lord of the Rings is no different.  Each story level, covering the trilogy of books – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King - has LEGO studs to amass, small challenges to complete, characters to unlock and crafting mechanics to toy with.  Yes, crafting is in the game, but more on that in a second.  While LEGO Batman 2 built an open world city to explore, LEGO The Lord of the Rings has players traveling, just as the characters of the books and films do, across a vast expanse of Middle-earth.

Gimli may be small, but don't expect to survive a few swings of his axe.

Depending on where in the story you’re playing, you’ll control different characters in the cities and hills that belong to all manner of hobbits, wizards and man.  While the LEGO imprint is certainly felt on the world, with structures and shrubbery built from LEGO pieces, some of the landscapes are truly beautiful to observe.  Vistas and sparkling waters populate the earthy landscape, which took me aback on several occasions.  There’s always a destructible object right around the corner, but the effort put into recapturing the stunning look of the movie trilogy is pulled off quite nicely as you travel from the Shire to the Mines of Moria and beyond.

Unfortunately, the game has not only inherited the look of the films, but also their vocal tracks.  The majority of the dialogue is ripped straight from the film (except mostly when incidental conversations are needed in between cutscenes), and it is a bit strange to hear the voices of real actors emit from these LEGO figures.  Not that the brand has never seen voicework previously, but so much of the charm of the franchise is taking well-known stories and putting a comic, voiceless spin on them.

Cutscenes demonstrate the visuals quite nicely, but the actual vocal tracks lack the usual charm of LEGO titles.

I gave LEGO Batman 2 a pass for the vocals because it is meant to be an original story, but with one so familiar as the series, I would have liked to see the ingenuity of previous LEGO games worked into the cutscenes of this title.  It feels like an attempt to add a bit of weight to the proceedings, but with the LEGO series, a dramatic touch does not feel like the identity of these games.  It is not poorly implemented, but the game lacks as pervasive a humor that made older outings such a delight.

As mentioned before though, the game inherits the spirit of the property in countless ways, and the adventurous nature of the grand narrative has not been lost.  You’ll move from location to location, with story missions not only satiating an appetite for collecting but also bridging areas together.  A set of ghost studs leads you to each story marker, but there are still objectives to be completed in between.  Additional studs can be gathered, and the new questing and crafting system gives players something to do that few LEGO games offer.

Exploring the world of Middle Earth offers a host of questing, mission and crafting options. Oh, and way too many collectibles.

With a map of Middle-earth, players will discover new areas and can take on quests from tertiary characters stationed throughout the world.  These are normally not deep and involved quests, mind you; they are on the simplistic side of the trend, and the crafting system is similarly easy to grasp.  Players will earn schematics throughout their work in story levels and the world at large, and these blueprints will be used to build new items, which feed into the many characters’ special abilities.

And what a set of characters LEGO The Lord of the Rings contains.  With more than 80 denizens of Middle-earth to join in the adventure, the hobbits, wizards, soldiers and countless others have a wide range of abilities that allow for many smart ways of hiding collectible LEGO pieces.  From Legolas’ bow and arrow to Samwise’s skillet and green thumb to Gimli’s wall-demolishing axe, there are many ways characters can be useful throughout a level.  It’s a continued improvement of previous ability systems in games, and though it may require you to have an unwieldy number of characters in your party, it still keeps the action at a brisk enough clip.  It also ensured I was rarely at an impasse, as more often than not only one character in a story mission could move me past an obstacle.  I enjoyed the variation throughout the experience despite whatever ease came with such a list of powers from which to choose.

Adventuring can still be tough, even for the most handsome LEGO figures around.

With so many options put into the hands of players, LEGO The Lord of the Rings is one of the finer adventures in the LEGO gaming cannon.  Despite whatever fatigue may have set in with the series up to this point, the latest quest is certainly worth a look for those in need of a collecting fix.  For fans of the source material, the game provides a fully-realized but accessible enough universe to explore, visiting famous spots while hacking apart LEGO goblins or galloping on the back of a LEGO horse.

With the improvements made to the franchise, LEGO The Lord of the Rings brings the series into a more complete experience than the well-trodden nature of titles’ past.  If the quest for the one ring to rule them all has recaptured you yet again this holiday season, LEGO The Lord of the Rings is a more than worthwhile experience for the hobbit inside all of us.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Solid LEGO collecting mechanics are expanded with crafting and questing
+ With an open world and a varied group of characters, puzzles and exploring are rarely dull
+ A beautiful world you can actually roam around in outside of story missions
- The bombastic soundtrack works, but the lack of unvocalized humor is disappointing
– Though new systems are introduced, don’t expect complex iterations of them
– Though one of the most complete LEGO games, if you’ve played all of them fatigue may begin to settle in

 

8 and 8.5 represent a game that is a good experience overall. While there may be some issues that prevent it from being fantastic, these scores are for games that you feel would easily be worth a purchase.

LEGO The Lord of the Rings was developed by Traveler’s Tales and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment on the PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii.  It was released on November 13 for the MSRP of $49.99.  A copy was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.