One thing you can guarantee each time that Traveller’s Tales (TT) takes one of our beloved movie franchises and turns it into a brick-bashing videogame is that it will do it justice in terms of the way it presents these popular stories. The English software house has an impressive back-catalogue of LEGO games based of popular movies to prove that notion, including Harry Potter, Star Wars and Batman. TT takes the most popular scenes and scenarios from the movies that we know and love and pays tribute to them in the most creative of ways, injecting them with slapstick humour and creating the worlds that we see on big screen in a clever and imaginative way, from nothing more than colourful LEGO bricks. As fans of Lord Of The Rings, we’re pleased to say that: LEGO: Lord Of The Rings is our favourite LEGO game to date and represents the pinnacle of Traveller’s Tales’ achievements with its block-building videogame franchise thus far.
To get the most out of LEGO: LOTR it helps, of course, if you’re a fan of the subject matter; so if you’ve ever enjoyed J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels, or Peter Jackson’s films, we’re certain you won’t fail to be impressed with what TT has managed to achieve. LEGO: Lord Of The Rings feels much more like an adventure game than previous titles and the mature themes of the books and films come pouring through the LEGO cracks to deliver an experience that is darker, more action-orientated and more exciting than any of its predecessors.
The storyline follows the narratives from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Though it still features much of the same slap-stick humour that TT has injected into previous titles – such as Gandalf hitting his head on a series of light-bulbs on his way out of Bagend before getting annoyed and smashing the final one with his staff – the overall theme is quite mature, and the humour more subtle. Indeed, LEGO: LOTR pays tribute to the movies more genuinely than previous iterations, which is no mean feat considering the success of The Lord Of The Rings movies and the fact that the world is made entirely from LEGO bricks.
One factor that helps give LOTR such credibility is the audio experience. Among the impressive list of voice actors, Sir Ian McKellen voices the role of Gandalf while Aragorn is played by Viggo Mortensen from the movies. This is only the second LEGO game that features dialogue and proper lip-synching from the LEGO characters and it adds credibility to the whole game, providing genuine moments where you’re immersed in the cut-scenes and dialogue. The licensed musical score, which ramps up in tension during frenetic bouts of action and then softens during periods of exploration, also helps to create at atmospheric adventure. Cut-scenes represent the movies extremely well and we found ourselves intently listening to the likes of Gandalf’s speech to Frodo in the Mines of Moria, such was the quality of the voice-acting. Familiar scenarios, such as the wizard battle between Gandalf and Saruman, or The Fellowship’s attempt to cross the Misty Mountains in heavy snow, also capture the spirit of the big adventure and will appease fans of the film with the quality of the production.
Indeed, the overall production is a great tribute to the films and the level design and detail of some familiar locations impresses, particularly the beautifully-realised version of The Shire, which we’ve spent a long time exploring and picking up a variety of sub-quests, as well as smashing everything in sight into tiny LEGO pieces. The gameplay itself follows much the same blue-print as past LEGO games, with platforming elements, fetch quests and puzzle-solving being at the heart of the experience. However, the world is ripe for exploration with plenty of opportunity to stray off the beaten track, while the gameplay is packed with all-out action moments plucked straight from the films. The inclusion of some RPG elements also prove to showcase how TT has sought to evolve its LEGO experience and make it more in depth than ever before.
Follow the main path through the story and progression is linear as you switch in between characters using their various skills to work your way from one area to the next. Nothing much has changed here; you spend time surveying the environment and deciding which character to switch too to get you past whatever conundrum you face. While Sam can dig with his spade, grow plants and light fires, Frodo can use his glowing phial to light up dark areas and Gandalf can levitate objects. There’s a vast range of skills spread across the massive selection of 85 different characters, from Legolas who can fire arrows to trigger targets, to Pippin who can use his bucket to gather water, perfect for putting out fires. The variety is immense and the game throws in plenty of opportunity for you to make the most of those skills.
As usual, it’s all about working together with your LEGO allies and choosing the right character for the task ahead. It’s a familiar formula but one that works very well with the LOTR themes and environments. In one section, for example, you need to use a taller character to pick up a smaller one so they can wade through the deep snow, while using the ranger to trigger rock slides to carve a path through the environment and Gimli to use his axe to smash through stones blocking the way. There’s plenty of fetch quests too, where you need to smash everything in sight in order to find ‘X’ amount of items to bring to a certain spot so that you can progress. Though it’s apparent in some cases that TT has re-used ideas from previous games, it’s good fun working out how to get through an area and there’s some entertaining puzzle-based battles along the way. Having to work out, for example, how to take down a cave monster by switching between characters skills and using trigger points around the environment so you can ride on top of him and impale him with your sword proves to be quite an intense and exciting challenge.
Once again, studs are used as the in-game currency, acquired by smashing things to pieces. These give you the ability to get upgrades and extras as well as purchase new characters and access bonus levels. There’s a phenomenal amount of items to unlock and side quests to undertake and if you play directly through the main campaign it’s likely that you’ll only complete about 25 percent of what LOTR has to offer. You can wander around picking up additional quests from NPCs, often requiring you to search for an item and bring it back to them, and there’s Blacksmith designs to try and find which allow you to combine forge new items, such as boots which enable you to scale otherwise unreachable areas. Indeed, the addition of crafting and the more open world environment makes it feel like you’re part of a grand adventure and the light RPG elements showcase how the franchise has expanded above and beyond simple platforming.
Aside from collecting stuff, puzzle-solving and exploration, combat does feature quite regularly during the main missions. As it stands, much of the combat requires nothing more than a press of the square button to impale enemies with your sword. Consequently, it would have been nice if the mechanics for taking down the likes of Orcs and Bandits was a bit deeper. Nonetheless, the variety of enemies you face, from Wraiths on horseback to Gondorian Soldiers, keeps things feeling fresh and the lack of strategical depth to some of the combat is made up for with some exciting boss battles. The boss fights, which see you up against the likes of the stone troll, the witch king and worm-tongue, can be quite cinematic with sweeping camera angles and pounding audio helping to rack up the tension, while various strategies that combine the use of the environment with switching between the right characters for the job, makes them one of the highlights of the game. There’s often a few short QTE sequences to watch out for too which draw you right into the action.
The only real issues I have with LOTR is that the friendly A.I, your team-mates, aren’t the brightest bunch. Indeed, when you have a large group accompanying you – most noticeable with The Fellowship in tow – they’ll occasionally wander off, not be of much use in a fight and even fall off the end of cliffs while they’re trying to follow you. To that extent, it’s clear that this is a game that should be played co-operatively and when played with a friend LOTR offers an engaging and immensely fun experience via the seamless drop-in, drop-out co-op.
Taking everything into account, LEGO: Lord Of The Rings isn’t quite the perfect adventure, and like previous games annoying camera angles can make some of the platforming sections a little frustrating, especially when you misjudge a jump for the umpteenth time. However, it ticks so many boxes for a movie tie-in that its small imperfections are forgiveable. Traveller’s Tales once again does incredible justice to the movies it mimics with a great production comprising of impressive audio, strong level design, creative puzzles and exciting boss battles. LEGO: Lord Of The Rings is an outstanding tribute to the Lord Of The Rings franchise delivered with the creativity and skill we’ve come to take for granted by those clever folk at TT. This is our favourite LEGO game to date.