LEGO The Lord of the Rings Review (PS3)

Excited about The Hobbit releasing and distraught that there aren’t any good games to play alongside it (well, apart from Guardians of Middle-Earth)? Well good news, as per usual TT Games have you covered with a slice of geeky LEGO-based goodness. They recently made the superb LEGO Batman 2 and an open-world Gotham City to play in, now they’re looking to do the same for Middle-Earth. Now then, concerning hobbits…

The thing that TT Games specialise in with their LEGO range of games is wish fulfilment. These guys are basically a load of committed geeks making the games they want to play… out of digital LEGO bricks. A Star Wars or Indiana Jones game where you play through all the films as all the major characters? A Harry Potter game where you play through the films and explore all the fun locations, like Hogwarts or Diagon Alley? A Batman game with an open-world Gotham City, Danny Elfman soundtrack, many vehicles to choose from and be able to play as Superman (complete with John Williams theme tune)? Once the wet dream of fans, now a reality, and it’s time for The Lord of the Rings trilogy to get their treatment.

If you have to ask why Pippin’s wearing a false moustache then you probably won’t get the game’s humour. I feel bad for you.

Appropriately enough LEGO Middle-Earth is half open-world, half journey. It follows the events of the films quite tightly, starting with the Prologue on the slopes (and inside) of Mount Doom. This opening battle is really well recreated, as is the stunning fight against a 25-foot-high Sauron. After Isildur singularly fails to drop the One Ring into the fires and make this the shortest film trilogy (and game) of all time it’s off to Hobbiton as Frodo to explore and avoid Black Riders on the way back to Mordor itself at the close.

The familiar tropes of LEGO games are all present and correct here. You collect studs to buy characters. Between the free-roaming hub world are focused levels that require replays with different characters if you are to uncover all of their secrets. Certain characters have special skills that are required if you want to progress, or find secrets – for example Sam can dig, plant, and make a fire, Legolas is handy with a bow, and Gimli can smash through certain rocks. There are many unlockable characters, gold bricks (in this case, Mithril Bricks), and cheats to uncover. The camera is often dreadful. All things we’ve come to expect from a LEGO game.

However LEGO Lord of the Rings tweaks the formula in numerous compelling ways. There are now also unlockable Blacksmith Instructions that allow blacksmiths to forge useful (or fun) items out of your Mithril blocks. Most locations actually have characters who ask you to do side-quests by replaying levels (amusingly called “Fetch Quests”, usually a derogatory term). The long open world-esque design is pretty unique to this game, but using dialogue lifted directly from the movies is definitely unique. Some moments from the films are recreated perfectly and dramatically, whereas others twist the script to produce amusing situations. I like how Gimli will burst into tears at the drop of a hat, to the disgust of Legolas.

Note Agent Smith in the background. I love these guys.

I’m mostly astonished by the epic feel. The fight against the Balrog (which comes soon after a Cave Troll battle, solving puzzles while the Halls of Moria glow ominously, and the heart-in-mouth flight down the crumbling stairs), despite being very easy, is one of my favourite boss battles ever simply by how cool it is – Gandalf flying like Superman to grab his sword and repeatedly stab the flaming smoke-beast before crashing into the water below… then flipping to Frodo to make their escape from the Orc hordes. It’s amazing how well TT Games have managed to convert the action of the films into interactive entertainment, and still make it just as exciting despite being in LEGO and impossible to fail!

The trump card is their attention to detail. This ranges from subtle effects like leaves gently falling or snow drifting, animation detail like the movements of LEGO figures matching their characters (Legolas is swift and graceful whereas dwarves are surprisingly nimble and powerful), to big “how did they think of that” moments. My personal favourites were the water horses that wash away the Ringwraiths being LEGO horses, the Ring being bigger than Frodo’s hand and in it you can see a reflection of Mordor, and Agent Smith from The Matrix appearing briefly behind Elrond in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Any Lord of the Rings geeks will get a big kick out of everything TT Games has laid out to discover in this game. It’s also beautiful too, which really helps.

Furthermore, the game is pretty darn huge. Just a straight playthrough of the main levels could take up to 10 hours, and that’s without replays (you only really see half the level the first time around), side-quests, and tracking down all the various Mithril Bricks, Blacksmith Designs, Cheat Blocks and characters TT Games manage to pack in. Then there’s the co-op of course, which the games have been designed around since LEGO Star Wars and have never felt less than perfect whether playing on your own or with a partner. In short, this is a big package that’ll last any fan a long time.

The only flaws I can think of come with the territory: this is still a very similar game to that Star Wars Prequel Trilogy playthrough we adored back in 2005. If you’ve played a LEGO game demo you’ve got a pretty good idea about how all of them play. Since the first game of course the formula has been massively tweaked, expanded, tortured, mutilated, and now perfected. By expanding the hub into a full entertaining open world to explore, first in LEGO Batman 2 and now here in Middle-Earth, TT Games have managed to sidestep the sense of “oh not another one” that was beginning to set in and elevate their games into must-have titles. Yes in terms of levels they play identically to how they’ve always played, but they’re no longer the only part of the game – and even better, in LEGO Lord of the Rings TT Games have created some truly epic videogame recreations of all the best scenes in the movies.

Unfair fight? Too right, that’s GANDALF THE GREY MOTHERFLIPPER.

If I had one specific complaint about the game it would be the underutilisation of the One Ring itself. Whenever Frodo slips it on he goes in the Wraith World, a twisted, shadowy, ghostly, gorgeous alternate version of the real world… but he only does it a few times in the story, and only in key scenes. Why can’t it be his special ability? Why can’t you put on the Ring at any time to go to the ghost world and solve puzzles or move items to effect things in the real world? It wouldn’t just have to be him either, as Bilbo, Gollum, Isildur and Sauron could do the same with the Ring. A missed opportunity there I think, but maybe I’m being too harsh.

If you look at the LEGO games with disgust at how one company is trotting out kiddie game adaptations of movies with nigh-identical gameplay and a camera that’s barely improved in seven years, then LEGO Lord of the Rings isn’t for you. Truth be told, you’ve got a point. Fortunately TT Games are not content to rest on their laurels as they’ve managed to pack in an exciting, thrilling and funny adventure with lots to explore and hours of gameplay to make the whole package feel not only fresh but epic to boot. In terms of personal preference I believe LEGO Batman 2 is ever so slightly better, with a more borderless open-world in the form of Gotham City rather than the long flowing path that is Middle-Earth, but this is a still most definitely an essential purchase for Tolkien fans of all ages. Oh, and Tom Bombadil’s in it. Can’t say fairer than that, merry dol me hearties.

Top Game Moment: Hard to pick as there’s so many perfect interactive versions of scenes in the film (the battles are incredible), but I personally love Gandalf vs The Balrog.

Platform Played: PC