STAFF REVIEW of LEGO Lord of the Rings (Xbox 360)

Friday, December 7, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

LEGO Lord of the Rings Box art Who could have imagined that simply adding the charm of LEGO to some of our favorite franchises would have been so successful? It seems like yesterday that LEGO Star Wars was released and started developers Traveller’s Tales down a long bricked path towards success. Best known for their LEGO parodies of Batman, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Indiana Jones, the newest franchise to be added to the Legoverse is the beloved The Lord of the Rings franchise. Taking you through the complete trilogy, you’ll experience The Lord of the Rings with the classic LEGO gameplay mechanics that we’ve come to love over the years.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking; that if you’ve played one of the LEGO games, you’ve played the all. I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this too, as I’ve passed on the last few LEGO games as it seemed tiring and repetitive after the second or third LEGO Star Wars title. If you’re like me and haven’t played any of the LEGO games in a few titles or want to see how far Traveller’s Tales has come with refining their solid gameplay, LEGO The Lord of the Rings is the perfect excuse to give them another chance as it’s a very solid (and plastic) title.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure how a LEGO Lord of the Rings game would translate, being as it’s a much darker tone and quite a lengthy tale to tell compared to the other LEGO games. The past LEGO games have generally been parodies and spoofs given that much of the LEGO humor is goofy and slapstick; so I was wondering if this would translate very well into the dramatic story of Tolkien’s literature. Traveller’s Tales put my uncertainty to rest and the game seems to have hit the sweet spot of being true to the source material but also adding in just enough of the secret LEGO spice to make it charming and hilarious without taking anything away from the serious tone of the story. Middle-earth seems to be a fantastic fit to be created from LEGO blocks and all of the combat, collecting, puzzle solving, and exploration you’ve come to expect from a LEGO title is included here.

Based on the film trilogy, LEGO The Lord of the Rings will follow the storylines from The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King; LEGO-fied of course. Frodo was a simple Hobbit that was deemed worthy of taking on a dangerous task of destroying an ancient and magical ring that threatens all of Middle-earth. Frodo must destroy the ring, but to do so he must cast it into the fires of Mount Doom, though he will not take this burden alone; a fellowship is formed to help him on his quest and includes Gandalf the Wizard, Gimli the Dwarf, Legolas the Elf, Aragorn the Ranger, Frodo’s Hobbit friends Sam, Merry, and Pippin, among others. You’ll be surprised with how great the minifig versions of the characters reflect their likeness to the films.

Seeing how the movie trilogy is quite a lengthy undertaking to watch from beginning to end, I was wondering how stripped down the game would be to make a more streamlined telling of the movies, as there’s no way that the twelve plus hours of film would simply be copied into game form. Well, LEGO Lord of a Rings is a long game, quite lengthy in fact if you decide to do the side quests and collect all the hidden pieces. Even if you simply want to play through the story, you’ll easily get a dozen or so hours out of the game; you’ll also be pleasantly surprised as I was with how true to the films the game adapted itself.

Many scenes are created almost one-for-one, though some will have the quirky LEGO humor attached. For example, when the Kings are receiving their rings at the beginning, one actually drops it and tried to pick it up without noticing, or at the fellowship forming scene, Merry and Pippin are wearing mustache glasses to try and blend in. There’s so many small examples like this that really add the LEGO flavor to the Lord of the Rings without doing a disservice to the movies. I found all these LEGO-fied scenes actually quite entertaining and it probably helped that now for the second time in the LEGO games, the characters are fully voiced. Not expected though was that the dialogue and music is actually pulled directly from the movie, as I don’t think any set of voice actors would be able to hold a flame to the performances the actors portrayed in the films. As you finish each ‘movie’, credits will actually roll, fooling you into thinking that the game is only one of the movies at first before you continue on. Rest assured, the whole epic trilogy is included and fully playable all the way from the Shire to Mount Doom.

As you begin Frodo’s journey you’ll notice that Middle-earth is an open world for you to explore as you wish. As you progress through story chapters you’re able to venture further and further from the Shire in your quest to destroy the ring. As you get further in the game and unlock new sections of Middle-earth to explore, you can actually run all the way back to the Shire if you wanted to, adding a sense of awe to how big Middle-earth really is, even if it is made out of LEGO bricks. As you move forward in your quest and unlock more sections of Middle-earth, a glowing trail of ghost-like LEGO studs will subtly guide you towards the next story chapter, if you so desire to do so.

The standard drop-in, drop-out gameplay for a friend to join (or leave) on a whim is still included, as is the split screen free roaming dynamic camera. There are even a few sections in the game that has two events going on at the same time, and with the power of the Seeing-Stone, you can jump between either storyline or if a friend is playing with you, each of you doing their own section simultaneously. These sections are much more entertaining with a friend beside you, as communicating to them of what to do and when is much more fun than playing alone.

As you finish a story mission you’ll unlock its Free Play option, allowing you to not only replay it again, but it also allows you to play with any of the characters you’ve unlocked up to that point. This allows you to finally collect many of the secrets and collectibles hidden throughout each of the levels that you previously couldn’t access. You’ll collect studs and collectables, but you really want to be on the lookout for Mithril LEGO bricks, as these can be used to forge new and awesome items at the Blacksmith provided you’ve also found patterns for the Blacksmith to use. Yea it’s just another layer of collecting to endure, but the items you get from doing so will help you unlock and collect even more secrets throughout Middle-earth.

If you’ve played the LEGO series before, you’ll generally know what to expect from the level design as a whole. There’s a healthy mix of fighting and puzzling, never too heavy focused on one to bore you, but constantly switching it up so it feels engaging. You’ll experience all of the massive and iconic battles from the films (such and the Mines of Moria, Gandalfs battle with the Balrog, the battle for Helms Deep, and all the other notable scenes) but you’ll also have many puzzle sequences that while never too difficult, offers a variety of gameplay and changes the pacing, much like the movies.

With over 80 LEGO minifig characters included, you’ll be able to play a vast majority of the characters you come across during the game, but there’s also new abilities added specifically for this game as well (which include being able to throw Gimli at breakable objects). All of the playable characters each have at least one special ability that need to be used to collect many of the hidden secrets and collectables. Aragorn can track friends and enemies, Sam can start fires, grow flowers and vines to reach new areas, and also use his elven rope to explore, Legolas can tightrope walk with ease and use his bow to open new pathways for himself, Gimli can smash rocks with his axe, and Frodo can use his elven cloak to become camouflaged, use the Phial of Galadriel to light dark places, and more. Many of the characters will have some duplicated specials, but you’ll quickly find your favorites and learn to quickly swap between characters to figure out puzzles faster.

Handling a franchise as big and beloved as The Lord of the Rings has to be done cautiously; on the one hand you need to be true to the source material, but on the other you need to add the LEGO humor that the series is known for without going too overboard and changing the feel of the story. Sure some of the scenes have been slightly changed to have a little more of the LEGO feeling and comedy to it, but it’s never completely beyond the realm of believability if the story was to take place in the LEGO universe. This is most likely due to the fact that the films’ actual dialogue and music are used throughout the game which adds that much more believability to it; this was also the biggest and most pleasant surprise with the whole game, as it was very unexpected. I’m still waiting for online co-op though after all these years Traveller’s Tale.

Just because it’s a LEGO game, I implore you to not simply pass it over because of its kid friendly exterior, as you’ll be passing up a great and solid game with a huge amount of replayability and charm. Traveller’s Tales seems to constantly surprise me with how they handle big franchises and I’m more than happy to know that they did Lord of the Rings justice. So much so that this is without a doubt my favorite LEGO game to date and proof that attention to detail and proper care is a great mixture for game licensing when done with the right set of foundation (LEGO) bricks.

Online co-op. Seriously, we've been asking for this in the LEGO games for years now.

Overall: 9.2 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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