Lego Lord of the Rings
“It’s absolutely stunning, and if you’re a fan of the films, then it really is an absolute must buy.”
Review of Lego Lord of the Rings Video Game.
I’ve been trying to crack on with Lego Lord of the Rings and it’s a difficult game to review indeed.
It’s at the same time one of the most beautifully realised games I’ve ever encountered, while being the most frustrating and irksome game ever.
The game is just the same as all the other Lego games. If you’ve played one before, you’ve played this one. Levels that you play through with set characters so you can get to the end, then you can trade in Lego “studs”to buy characters that allow more of that level to be unlocked on a replay in free play mode (where you pick the a range of characters to go into the level with you). Or you can play through the game and unlock different characters.
There are groups of “character skills”, and some puzzles require different character skills. So Gollum can climb fish bone walls nobody else can. Until you’ve unlocked Gollum, and areas that are beyond a fish bone wall are off limits. So you play back through the levels on free play with extra characters and skills to help you complete it 100%.
So far, so similar. The biggest difference is the “hub world”. Usually, between levels, you are placed in a hub world that lets you got and buy characters or unlocks, or pick levels to play through again, or assemble models you pick the bits up to, buy character costumes, etc, etc, etc. In Lego Lord of the Rings, the hub world is the entire of Middle Earth. So you can make your way right across the map without doing a level. Then there are additional missions and hidden areas to unlock in the world too, creating a fantastic, puzzle filled open world between levels.
It’s certainly an obsessive compulsive’s dream too. There’s so much to hunt down and collect. So much to find, discover and rows upon rows of items and characters to fill in. By picking up Mithrill blocks for instance (awarded for all kinds of deeds), you can go to a smithy to have them made into special items. To get all the items made, you need to find the plans for the items. So it’s a constant game of hunting for everything.
It’s not just an astounding scale for a Lego game, but it’s also a gorgeous and accurate portrayal of the world created in the three films. Everything is there and recognisable. It’s absolutely stunning, and if you’re a fan of the films, then it really is an absolute must buy.
The cut scenes too are the best yet in a Lego game. They’ve always been good, with very subtle and silly humour, but now they’ve taken voice samples from the film, so they’re completely authentic and they work so well.
With multiplayer (sadly, no network play, local only) the levels sometimes really come to life with split screen. You may have the player on the left battling the Balrog as Gandalf, while the right hand player lays out traps to catch Gollum. It’s a fantastic cinematic experience in the middle of the game – very clever stuff – but will probably cause arguments over who gets to do the fun stuff.
So far, so fantastic.
Then you get to the actual game mechanics and similar problems that have plagued the series since the very first, rear their heads here again.
The platform antics are imprecise. There’s not enough presentation of depth of field so you’ll often find yourself walking off the side of a cliff instead of onto a narrow plank. Or trying to jump across a pool that seems wide enough but just isn’t. You’ll find yourself swearing at unfair deaths quite regularly, which is a bind as you lose studs each time you die and there are benefits to getting a large number of studs during the level.
The further you get into the game, the tougher the platform sections and the more you’ll find yourself dying or leaping around like a headless frog. It’s always been a game breaker for me in previous titles and Lego Lord of the Rings only gets away with it because of how fantastic the rest of the content is.
There are other issues though. The map allows you to set a destination. You follow a trail of translucent studs to the destination. However, the trail will reset itself seemingly at random, it just doesn’t stick. So one moment you’re heading got Hobbiton to get a new character, the next you’re in Mordor as that’s where the next level is. You have to constantly pause the game, check it’s still got the right destination and carry on. It really disrupts the flow of the open world.
Quite often the path is also closed to you. Some characters don’t unlock [to buy] fully until you’ve completed a certain amount of the game. When you find a new character to buy, you set a destination to them and off you trot, meet them and buy them. The problem is, that some characters it says are available, but there’s no way to them without other characters you haven’t yet unlocked. You’ll traipse halfway across the world only to find that the new character is behind an un-scalable wall, or locked in a room you can’t open. Given how long it can take with the randomly reassigning quest locator constantly needing sorting, it’s a real annoyance. It would be much better if the game could dynamically calculate if you can get to the new character or not (I think maybe it should but it’s flawed).
I guess that the real issue is that you’re expected to play through all the story levels first and then do the open world – but why give the temptation of the open world initially if that’s what it expects?
For every time though that you want to throw the controller through the TV due to failing to leap onto a rope, or storm out of the room in anger at the fact you’ve just wasted 20 minutes walking back to where you started; there’s always a drag back to the game. You want to see how they’ve portrayed the battle with the cave troll in Moria, or what will a Lego Balrog look like? Helms Deep in Lego? It’s all a Lord of the Rings and Lego geek’s wildest dream right there in front of you. Yes, it’s going be painful and a difficult journey, but one does not simply walk into enjoyment.
I imagine that by the end of the story modes, I’ll feel like Frodo, only weighed down with the burden on the game. I’ll also want to cast the disk into the fires of Mount Doom, but like Isildur, I shall keep hold of it. I’ll battle my way once more through the entire game in search of every nook and cranny, every collectible and every secret until I finally defeat it. It’ll never be my precious; more a Merry or Pippin than a useful Samwise – but I’ll still be forced to love it, endure it and complete it.