Available on Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC, Wii, 3DS, PS Vita
Finally, someone has done a Lord of the Rings game right. Finally, someone has created a game that captures the epic sweep of Peter Jackson’s movies, the battles, the struggles, the fellowship, the adventure. Someone has created a game that takes on the great figures and huge events of Tolkien’s story, but that doesn’t abandon the little people or the details either.
Of course, it’s a bit unexpected that this most faithful of adaptations is constructed around chunky Lego minifigures and virtual plastic bricks, and that it’s one rolled out with a wink and a chuckle rather than hushed reverence and spellbound awe, but then that’s always been the Lego way. Lego Lord of the Rings does for Middle Earth what Lego Star Wars did for the whole Skywalker Saga, what Lego Harry Potter did for Harry and Hogwarts and what Lego Indiana Jones did for Raiders and its sequels. In fact, it does it even better.
The big surprise is how focused Lego Lord of the Rings is on the settings and the story. Where previous Lego games have presented us with hubs from which to go off and visit scenes from the different movies, Lego Lord of the Rings takes you on a trail through Middle Earth, following the events of the films from the prologue in Mordor through to Hobbiton, Moria, The Dead Marshes, Helms Deep, Isengard, Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith right through to the climax in Mount Doom. You’re actually free to roam along the trail, or even use a map to fast-travel to discovered statues, but Lego Lord of the Rings doesn't encourage a dip in and dip out approach - at least at first. It wants you to experience Lord of the Rings as performed by a cast of Lego minifigures.
This won’t be a struggle. The game ingeniously uses the original voices and the original music, juxtaposing both with the cute Lego characters and some very silly sight gags in a way that would make all but the dourest of Tolkien fanatics smile. If you don’t grow to love Gimli’s reframing as a teary-eyed softie or Boromir’s new scene of execution, then you really need to lighten up a little. It all looks gorgeous - technically this is TT Game’s most impressive outing yet - and it’s also the most inventive and refined variation of the Lego gameplay we’ve seen yet.
The basics are as usual. The main story sequences are effectively simple platform levels with a little combat, a lot of objects to break and studs to collect, and a few, fairly straightforward puzzles. Each Lego character has specific abilities, whether it’s Sam growing plants and lighting fires, Gimli smashing certain surfaces, Gandalf levitating objects or Legolas shooting arrows and walking tightropes. Most of the puzzles revolve around one character using their abilities to circumvent one barrier so that another character can have a chance to showcase theirs, and it all has this smart, enjoyable flow. The beauty of Lego Lord of the Rings, as was the case with this year’s Lego Batman 2, is that it’s never too hard for kids to play on their own but it’s also got enough challenge to keep adults from getting bored. You can’t die permanently - though dying temporarily will lose you precious studs - so it’s never what you might call frustrating.
Lego Lord of the Rings makes a few adjustments to the formula. In most recent Lego games you’ve had to pick up objects and use them, but this one is the first where you can carry more than one at a time, with a handy inventory wheel. Objects can also be combined, so a handle and a head becomes a hammer, while a rod, like and hook become a fishing rod. Lego Lord of the Rings also features crafting, where designs for different tools or objects can be discovered, then formed in the forge at Bree using whatever Mithril silver blocks you’ve managed to collect. These forged items will make life that bit easier, though you won’t get access to many through your initial run through the game.