LEGO Lord Of The Rings – Review
It’s 2003; I’m 14 years old and have watched The Fellowship of The Ring every single day after school since it was released on DVD. There isn’t a fact about the film that I don’t know, and if anyone really ever ventured to talk to me, all they would hear was about my love of Middle Earth. Yes, I was one of those nerds. So it’s no surprise that when I heard of the release of Lego Lord of The Rings, I awaited it with a mixture of sheer joy and genuine terror.
I know I’m not alone when I now express a certain sense of apathy with the release of Lego games; Lego Star Wars was a real trend-setter and blazed a trail for some great instalments, but eight years on and I was feeling that the genre has started to get a little stale. The newer titles weren’t really bringing much else to the table; it started to feel like I was playing the same game, just with different skins, and with money as tight as it is, I wasn’t willing to shell out all over again for something I probably wouldn’t even finish. But, it’s Lord of The Rings, so I couldn’t let this one pass without giving it a sniff. I played it very much with the opinion of “here’s your last chance, Travellers Tales. Wow me.”
The first key and noticeable difference that any fan of the Lego franchise will pick up on instantly is the use of dialogue. The developers have not only taken the score directly from the film and used it in the game, but also the dialogue – often editing the lines and chopping them down. I would like to say it worked in its favour, but I found it more detrimental than anything. Sure, you get to relive the bullet point version of the film, with lines being cropped and edited to shorten cut-scenes, but it really did mean that Lego LOTR lost a majority of why I kept coming back to the series: its charm.
There really is something to be said for these well-known characters mumbling and miming to each other in place of a script. It was a charm that made the series universal – you didn’t have to listen to what was being said, and more often than not got a good giggle from the actions of the characters in the cut-scene. Words were never necessary in a Lego game, but with the voices of the actors placed over cut-scenes where the characters were trying to retain the comic value of a traditional Lego scene – it just didn’t work. Either you had to focus on the gravity of what was being said (often a serious speech about the fate of Middle Earth) or you laughed at the characters dicking about on-screen. Once you get used to it, you can sort of acclimatise to it, and for someone who hasn’t played Lego games before it was a sort of a novelty. At points my mum (a gaming spectator through the years) was rolling on the floor laughing, and I’ll admit that the cut-scenes did add a sense of humour, but it just really jarred with me – it didn’t feel right at all.
Beyond this shaky start, I found myself really actually getting into the game. The first playthrough is, as tradition states, a real ballache. You can see things for characters you haven’t unlocked yet, and have to shamble your way through the level with the AI being about as helpful as a sock, and a fair amount of infuriation at not being able to figure out what to do next. I also found some of the levels to be particularly pointless other than to explain a major plot point later in the story – one of which felt like you were just walking through a cave collecting coins until you reached the boss at the end. These simplistic levels aside, the majority of the stages were challenging, on a certain level, and what you would expect from a series initially aimed at a younger audience.
It was when working through some AI-induced infuriation that another problem arose – gitching. Lego LOTR is far from polished when it comes to glitches; I counted more than ten occasions – playing between single player and co-op – where the game wouldn’t action a major part in order for me to continue. This ranged from the AI getting stuck in scenery when it took two players to pull a chain and open the door to the next level, to the next platform you need to jump to just not falling, despite you having done everything possible where you are.
This came to be such a problem when playing through the Return of The King levels that at one point I turned my Xbox off, swore profusely and vowed never to go back. I went from wanting to 100% complete the game to wanting my money back. After a quick consultation I found I wasn’t alone – this wasn’t a problem confined to my copy, but all the people I consulted urged me on. I was grateful to go back to it. Yes, it was infuriating as hell to complete a level and not have the game realise – especially on the really long levels, but I never encountered the same glitch twice.
By the time I’d reached the second playthrough I was finding LEGO LOTR to be far more enjoyable. The replay value in all of the Lego games is incredible – structuring levels so that they require unlocked characters that are only available later on is a bit of genius, and the sheer volume of collectables hidden throughout the levels has seen me playing through some of them three or four times. Collectables are not confined, however, to the levels alone. The world of Middle Earth is so well built and immersive that I often found myself spending more time walking between well known holiday destinations, either completing mini puzzles or finding fetch-quests than grinding my way through the stages. It’s easy to walk from one area to another, and the fast-travel map option really did come in handy when I decided I wanted to obliterate the inhabitants of Hobbiton on a whim.
Graphics-wise this game is impressive. There was no visual tearing, even when traversing the large expanse of well-designed landscape between locations, and even when reaching the edge of the map the horizon continues without any blocking or pixelating effects. Given the epic visual qualities of the films, I was surprised at how well they had transferred the landscapes and cityscapes into game quality; I really enjoyed being able to stand in Gondor and stare down Mordor on the horizon. Of course, the map has been scaled down to ensure quick travel times between destinations, but being able to clearly see a rival city on the horizon added an almost cheeky humour to the game.
Fetch-quests, again, give me another reason to go back over the main levels – unlocking red bricks that help to make the experience easier overall on later playthroughs. People wanting to 100% this instalment will need to obtain these red bricks as the stud achievement has grown again to a preposterous amount, which will see me playing for a long while yet to obtain it. But then, if they were all super easy to get, they wouldn’t be an achievement.
32 hours later and I am yet to find boredom in this title. Granted, a large portion of this time has been tied up button-mashing my way around Middle Earth, destroying everything in sight, but it’s still too much fun not to do. The only real gripes I have – other than those mentioned above – are problems that have transferred over from previous Lego releases that either haven’t yet been addressed, or just won’t be. First: depth perception. I came close to smashing my controller into the TV so many times thanks to issues of depth perception. Second: camera angles – especially in co-op mode. So many times the splitting of the screen worked against us, and actually ended up making me feel sea-sick. Even in single-player, I found the camera suddenly swinging around behind me or in front of me (usually when I was jumping along a series of small targets) meaning I would more often fall to my death than anything else.
Really though, these are just issues you grow to accept when playing the Lego series, and while a little frustrating, they don’t terribly affect the overall enjoyment of the game terribly. A few angry moments, and temper tantrums aside I’m still very much enjoying Lego Lord of the Rings and would certainly recommend it to others.Pros
- Fans of the film will enjoy playing along to this bullet-point version of the trilogy
- The large 'world between worlds' is as much fun to explore as the levels themselves
- Real replayability, with plenty of fetch quests, mini puzzles and absorbing levels to keep the game interesting
- Use of voice clips from the film has really effected the charm you’d come to expect from a Lego game
- Glitching and having to restart levels gets frustrating when it’s happened three levels in a row – and it isn’t confined to the AI in the single player
- Depth perception and over-eager camera angles may well cause a great deal of gamer rage
The utilisation of voice acting directly from the film trilogy is a somewhat surprising feature to Lego Lord of The Rings, however, this game hits all the marks that players have come to expect from a Lego game. With fetch quests, mini puzzles and depth perception issue galore, Lego Lord of The Rings is still a fun game with plenty to keep players returning for playthrough after playthrough.
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