The formula for Lego games should be familiar by now: take a pop culture universe, render its characters and world with the titular Danish building blocks, add in a healthy dose of slapstick humor and as many collectibles as you can stuff on a disc, and ship it. That recipe has worked so far with franchises like Star Wars, Batman, and Indiana Jones. In tackling their latest license with Lego: Lord of the Rings, Traveller’s Tales hasn’t veered too far from their normal standard of quality, and the result should be appealing to diehard fans of Tolkien’s universe, or anyone looking for a casual, kid-friendly co-op game.
As with the Lego games set in the Star Wars and Harry Potter universes, Lego: Lord of the Rings attempts to recreate the story of the entire LOTR trilogy, from the removal of the One Ring from Sauron’s hand to its ultimate destruction at Mount Doom (spoilers!). Given that the movies it’s based on are over nine hours long in total, the game itself is pleasantly lengthy, with a first playthrough clocking in at around 15 hours. The game doesn’t end with the defeat of Sauron, though; it’s actually possible to finish the main story while only clocking in a completion percentage of 30% or so. If you’re a collectibles junkie, you’ll have many dozens more hours of replaying missions and exploring the world to find pieces of mithril or hidden quests.
Check out a trailer for Lego The Lord of the Rings
Shepherding the Fellowship along the lengthy path from the Shire to Mordor is an enjoyable task, with each character bringing different abilities to bear on the hundreds of puzzles that bar your path. Samwise can dig up plants to varying effect, Gimli can smash particularly tough obstacles, while archery and jumping puzzles are in Legolas’ domain. (You’ll eventually be able to use mithril blocks to craft items that will let every character adapt the special abilities of other characters.) Almost every puzzle is easily solved at first glance, and the combat system consists of mashing the attack button and respawning instantaneously when a character is defeated, so the challenge level here is mild, to put it lightly. It’s more of a game of exploration than head-scratching barriers to your forward movement, and as with the last few Lego games, there’s a surprisingly expansive (if often sparsely decorated) overworld to wander around in. The bulk of your time, though, will be spent in the story missions that push the narrative forward.
That narrative is going to feel pretty familiar to anyone who’s seen the LOTR movies lately, as the dialogue from the cutscenes is lifted directly from the films. Aside from the natural humor that’s derived from seeing a Lego Gandalf attempt to take down a Lego Balrog, the cutscenes also include plenty of the series’ signature sight gags. The One Ring’s hidden text is discovered after it’s dropped into a cup of coffee instead of a fire, for example, and the defenders of Minas Tirith load their catapults with grand pianos and livestock. The laughs are aimed towards younger audiences, but the cutscenes are charming and insouciant about their source material enough to make any player smile, but that still doesn’t excuse the fact that they’re entirely unskippable when you first play a mission. If you’ve recently completed a rewatch of the Extended Edition in preparation for The Hobbit, or simply wish to get started with the next level, you’ll probably find the mandatory (and numerous) cinematics to be a bit tedious.
If you choose to play the game solo, you’ll find that the AI companions, while usually content to simply stand around and stare at the character you’re controlling, at least never feel like a hindrance. (It is somewhat annoying that the game continually blinks a “PRESS START” message at you from the second controller’s slot on the UI if you play by yourself, though.) When the AI does prod them into action, they perform their roles with minimal fuss, and you can easily switch between any member of your party (or any unlocked character at all in Free Play mode). As a Lego game, though, this is obviously intended to be played with a friend, and is best experienced that way, as you’ll be able to navigate the puzzles and combat more effectively and efficiently.
Despite a few bugs with the checkpoint system (we experienced a crash in the ending cutscene of a level and had to repeat the entire thing, for instance), Lego: Lord Of The Rings is an entirely pleasant experience, especially if you haven’t seen Peter Jackson’s films recently, or simply don’t mind sitting through an abbreviated version of them again. It’s probable that Tolkien fans are going to be inundated with games based on The Hobbit for the next few years, but if this is the last Lord of The Rings game to be published for a while, it serves as a fittingly fun capstone to the last decade of video game Ringsmania.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.