If you newly recessed after rescuing the helpless denizens of Bricksburg, then prepare yourselves, because TT Games has crafted yet another Legoverse for you to indulge in - this time in the realm of a brick-ridden Middle-earth. Lego The Hobbit adapts the first two films of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, but as you would come to expect, it carries all the familiar baggage that comes with the signature video game series. That being said, I'm afraid there is no groundbreaking, unexpected journey to be found here, but both Tolkein and Lego fans alike will find plenty of recreation to humor themselves with in this delightful portrayal. Well between the hills of Hobbiton and the caverns of Erebor lies a wealth of Tolkein's legendary fiction for you to unearth, one brick at a time.
Much to the faithfulness of the first two movies, you'll trek Middle-earth with Bilbo and friends and come face to face with some of the film's most dangerous foes. Surely, the developer took a few storytelling liberties by extracting from the original plot and injecting the narrative with some of the franchise's jocular whimsy. While that series-staple humor serves up a delightfully entertaining voyage, it's somewhat juxtaposed by the forcefulness of jamming it into the context of both movies. This is noticeably highlighted by the voice acting, which in the case of the campaign, is pulled directly from film sequences that the developer is trying to parallel. Sometimes this method works in favor of the caricature, but it can often provoke a flat and awkward mimicry that can be more distracting than it is charming.
It's also odd that TT Games chose to release the game prior to the release of Jackson's third and final film, but that's not to say that Lego The Hobbit is void of replay value. The main campaign covers six plus hours of questing that mostly stays true to the source material, but beyond that is a rich playground of additional content that brings Tolkein's universe to fruition. Much like the recent Lego entries, the game's open world is ample with things to do that will distract you from the story track. You can collect a scattered plethora of Mithril bricks or partake in a wide array of side quests. While these are fairly standard in execution - i.e. generic platforming trials or familiar fetch quests, just to name a few - there's enough variety to keep things from getting stale.
Lego The Hobbit does not break the mold by deviating from the franchise's gameplay formula. The combat is very much in tune with the latest Lego renditions and features simplified button mapping that keeps things fun and light. Albeit clumsy at moments, the fluidity of the combat is satisfyingly executed and never really disturbs the on-screen action. The game's local co-op is easily the high point of the experience and adds a separate layer of enjoyment to the journey. Seeing a friend plunge to their death or burst into studs after suffering a blow to their minifig can be cruelly amusing, especially in a Lego-fied context. Boss fights, however, are dully tied to QTE events and platforming sections can occasionally be problematic due to situationally fixed camera angles.
A few additions to the building and collecting elements of the franchise have been implemented, but to dub them as improvements would be justly questionable. Lego The Hobbit retains the mix-and-match crafting mini-game showcased in The Lego Movie Game, which is initiated by collecting a specific number of materials that you'll need in order to build a blueprinted object. These are often needed to move forward with the campaign and will grant you passage to the next section of the level. Loot like wood, ores, and consumables can be procured by smashing through the environment, but unless you're constantly rampaging through every breakable set piece, then chances are you'll be just short of meeting the material requirement. This does not happen frequently enough to ruin the pace of the game, but button mashing through bushes and boxes to find the necessary materials needed to solve puzzles loses its flavor late in the campaign.
The visuals, to my surprise, are impressively rich and gorgeous, even when stacked against some of the powerhouse PlayStation 4 titles. The developer's vision of Middle-earth is full of color and smooth textures, stretching from every stud to every stone, inserting cartoony Lego nuances into a semi-realistic surface. This could feel inharmonious at moments, but the consistency keeps the signature style intact. The character models are comically animated and flesh out the awe of Tolkein's fantasy with a unique personality, especially when in motion. With respect to character variation, however, Lego The Hobbit is arguably shallower than its preceding brethren. A bulk of the roster is enlisted with dwarven characters who are cosmetically difficult to differentiate, and their varying abilities and weapon choices are not enough to tide the confusion.
TT Games has unleashed a faithful companion to Jackson's films, although the absence of the storyline's finale may turn off Tolkein diehards from experiencing this voyage. Moreover, those seeking reinvention will be disappointed to find that little has been done to improve on the Lego formula, but thankfully there is a potential recipe for success that is growing between each iteration. Perhaps it was a tad too early to release this licensed tie-in, especially in such close proximity to the most recent Lego games and without the inclusion of Jackson's closing film. It is not to say that there is no fun to be had in this re-imagined Legoverse, because even with tired familiarities, Lego The Hobbit does plenty to satisfy you with its charm and whim, but the franchise needs a modest makeover if it wants to keep its youthful patrons engrossed.