LEGO The Lord of the Rings Preview (Xbox360)

One has to ask the question – how long before this LEGO game formula starts to grow a little tired? The folks at Telltale Games have been cleverly building and expanding on a very basic formula for several years now with great success, but eventually that bubble has to burst, right?

That may be the case – but it looks like Warner Bros’ hugely successful partnership with the brick-building toy giant is going to continue to be successful for a while yet, based on how LEGO Lord of the Rings appears to be shaping up.

As the LEGO series has evolved subtle changes have crept in; Star Wars was a straight-up adventure game, Indiana Jones added more puzzles, and most recently LEGO Batman 2 embraced a semi open-world slant – one that’s continued in this new edition, based off Tolkein’s fantasy magnum opus and their hugely popular movie adaptations.

The world of Lord of the Rings inspired countless fantasy universes including many of those who’d dominate gaming in the form of the RPG genre – and so it’s only natural that Telltale take this opportunity to garnish some RPG elements atop the now rather familiar LEGO game ingredients, adding a pleasing amount of new depth to the still brilliantly simplistic game.

The cast, still represented in caricatured mini-figures, can now be equipped with a large variety of weapons, items and gear, powering themselves up and adjusting their abilities. This is a LEGO game with an inventory screen and loot – something I honestly thought I’d never see.

In a short demo it’s difficult to get a handle on exactly what these additions mean for the larger game, but even here the depth this could potentially add is clear.

Mythrill bricks are collected from around the game’s world and these can be traded with blacksmiths who will then create new gear for your characters – at last, a collectable in a LEGO game offers more to players than just satisfying that completionist itch.

The open world style from LEGO Batman has been retained, and we’re told that some of the loot and gear will help you to attain access to previously unreachable areas. Middle Earth has been lovingly recreated in shiny brick form, with exploration encouraged with plenty of hidden story tidbits and collectables off the beaten path both in levels and in the core hub world.

All of the major moments from the movies are present for you to play through, and interestingly the team haven’t rerecorded the voices. Instead, the voice over for the cast has been yanked directly from the original audio soundtrack of the movies, utilizing the direct relationship with Warner Bros, the rights holders, well.

The end result is both positive and negative; the quirky, cute humour and nods to in-jokes about the property the game is based off have disappeared, but these are as a result much more faithful and memory-evoking recreations of the scenes from the movie. The trailer has already made a big showcase of the classic ‘You shall not pass’ scene, and strangely it’s just as epic with a plastic-bearded Gandalf as it is with Sir Ian McKellen – especially with his voice still in place.

Lord of the Rings has a rich range of characters, and again the original novels helped to inspire many of the fantasy tropes we all know so well now. As such characters tend to slot into classes and roles we know well easily – making Telltale’s decision of what each character’s abilities should be likely much easier.

Jumping into gameplay all is familiar – there’s that usual mix of combat, puzzles and platforming, and the RPG mechanics and unique abilities of the Lord of the Rings cast fit in well.

All told, this is a formula that isn’t yet getting old, and the Lord of the Rings universe is a perfect fit for this gameplay style. The RPG elements twist the familiar in just the right way – so that LEGO formula is safe for a while yet.