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LEGO Lord of the Rings Review

- December 18th, 2012

While Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brought home some serious gold at the box office this weekend, I’ve been entrenched in a completely different, more interactive adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved lore with Lego Lord of the Rings.

Sure, this game is closer to Jackson’s work than Tolkien’s but as developer Traveller’s Tales Lego video game series was built on the blocks of successful film and pop culture franchises like Star Wars and Harry Potter, Jackson’s Academy-Award winning adaptation of Tolkien’s books is definitely deserving of the Lego treatment.

Thankfully, Lego LOTR isn’t a pile of broken blocks. This Balrog-sized adventure continues to honour the series’ clever-but-never-complicated platforming and puzzles with a new wealth of collectibles worth seeking out in every corner of Middle Earth.

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If you’ve seen the films (and if not, you REALLY should ask for them for Christmas), the story is easy to follow. The 18 stages of Lego LOTR will follow Frodo’s journey to destroy the One Ring of power under the eye of the dark lord Sauron while he wages war on the realms of men, dwarves and elves. The game allows you to break and build your way from Frodo’s first steps outside The Shire to the ashen wastelands of Mordor as if Middle Earth were one giant Lego set.

I was actually surprised by just how much of the trilogy Traveller’s Tales managed to make playable in Lego form. The epic battles with dozens of little warring Lego orcs at Helms Deep and Minas Tirith are all there and a blast to play. But so are the quieter moments from the films, like exploring Rivendell or when Sam and Frodo get lost before teaming up with Gollum. As opposed to a determined trudge through the trilogy’s action scenes, Traveller’s Tales pays attention to pacing the gameplay alongside LOTR’s massive story.

In typical Lego game fashion, every character from the trilogy is playable in the game and most of them have unique skills. Sam can dig and start campfires while Legolas is useful for jumping to great heights and firing arrows at targets. Like other Lego games, this requires you to switch characters or team up with a friend to pass puzzles. The game’s simple controls make it kid-friendly and easy to play.

The game’s cut-scenes flow from the imagery of the films but are chock-full of silly sight-gags. The most intense moments of the films are re-imagined with sly humour guaranteed to make fans burst out laughing. Remember how emotional it was when that Uruk’hai killed Boramir? What if it was a broom handle and a rubber chicken instead of arrows? Hilarious! There are major laughs to be had every time the story moves forward.

In addition to the excellent musical score from Jackson’s trilogy playing while you smash stone as Gimli or conjure blocks as Gandalf, Lego LOTR is the first of the Lego games to use the voices and acting from the films. Hearing Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood and more voice their Lego characters —with some remixed dialogue to add humour— kept me more interested in seeing the goofy Lego spin on Tolken’s story through to the end.

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But the end is never the end of a Lego game. Even after the credits roll on The Return of the King, you’ll need to revisit each and every stage of the game — now with the skills of the entire LOTR roster — to find every last secret and hidden Mithril block in Free Play. New costumes, items and collectibles are everywhere and most are only accessible the second time around.

The co-op gameplay is smarter this time around too. LOTR’s enormous cast of characters allowed Traveller’s Tales some freedom to design moments where both players could focus on completely different parts of the story. While player one is battling Saruman as Gandalf, player two is already busy guiding Frodo to Huckleberry Ferry as Merry. As soon as Saruman is put down, player one seamlessly switches to Frodo and the adventure continues. It’s a genius way to ensure the entire campaign is cooperative without cutting any single-character moments. There are quite a few sequences that work brilliantly this way, especially once (Spoilers!) the Fellowship of the Ring is broken.

Traveller’s Tales also deserves praise for not forsaking the miniature open-world style that made Hogwarts so fun to explore in Lego Harry Potter. While Lego Middle Earth is no Skyrim, the entire trail from the Shire through Rohan and Gondor to Mount Doom (navigated with Tolkien’s maps!) is open for exploration and rife with things to do and collect.

Cities like Rivendell and Edoras even have side missions. The Innkeeper at Bree is in desperate need of a Mithril shovel you can smith and later on, a dancing Orc will ask you to find the sword he lent to an irresponsible friend. While not essential at all, these goofy quests add extra fun and flavour to the Lego formula. Traveller’s Tales makes you feel like everything in Middle Earth is connected, making it indeed the mystical place we loved both on the page and in the movies.

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The Lord of the Rings is ideal source material for the Lego treatment, but the game suffers in some small aspects. The camera can be a real nuisance at times with objectives sometimes obscured or hidden from view. I also became enraged at a game-breaking bug while fighting off orcs at the end of Fellowship of the Ring and was forced to reset. Graphically, it’s the middle of the road for the franchise, failing to live up to parts of the recently released Lego Harry Potter and Lego Batman 2.

Even compared to other video games that have used the LOTR license, the visuals in LEGO LOTR are nothing to write home about. Some moments, like when Frodo first approaches Bree in the pouring rain, look pretty amazing but only serve to make me wish Traveller’s Tales wasn’t held back by the need to make everything look like it came out of a kid’s play set. Which is, I guess, kind of the point of Lego to begin with so it’s a mentionable nitpick at best.

Lego Lord of the Rings is adorably fun and definitely worth the purchase for fans of The Lord of the Rings and the Lego formula. If I could sum up my experience using the words of Tolkien himself: “The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”

LEGO Lord of the Rings
Xbox 360
Traveller’s Tales, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Rated ‘E’ for everyone
4 out of 5 stars

Matt Dykstra is a journalist at the Edmonton Sun with a seriously large stack of games to finish. Follow him on Twitter: @SunMattDykstra

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