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LEGO The Lord of the Rings

Score: 98%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Adventure


Graphics & Sound:

LEGO The Lord of the Rings is the latest in a long-running series of games that bring LEGO playsets to life. This time around, it follows the travels of Frodo Baggins and not only gives the player a ton of levels to play through, but also an easy to handle open-world that seems to have fixed more than a few issues some people had with LEGO Batman 2's open world experience.

Traveller's Tales Games' ability to recreate the actual LEGO playsets in digital form has been one of the reasons this line of games took off like it did. Sure, it was LEGO that created the sets and minifigs so that they looked like the licensed product that was being used, but TT has not only been able to recreate all of those same pieces, but add a personality to the characters to make them lovable. LEGO The Lord of the Rings continues that trend as everyone looks just right, and I'm talking about everyone from the lowest Hobbit to the complexly built Sauron shown in the game's opening sequence that follows the One Ring's history.

LEGO Batman 2 was the first of these games to use voiceovers. Previously, facial expressions and gestures were enough to convey the story being presented, provided you already knew the story because you had seen the movies or read the books that was the source material. In this case, LEGO The Lord of the Rings not only uses fully-voiced characters as seen in Batman 2, but it takes the audio straight from the Peter Jackson film trilogy.

I have to admit, it was a little awkward hearing the voices of Elijah Wood, Sean Bean, Christopher Lee and Ian McKellen come from LEGO figures, but you get used to it. Also, for those that think sticking to pre-recorded dialogue means the comedy that has always been present in the TT LEGO games is gone, think again. It's amazing how putting different actions to the same dialogue can drastically change the feel of a scene. Plus, I noticed some editing and rearranging of the dialogue on more than one occasion to help keep the comedic style alive.

That being said, I felt like dialogue clips were often cut just a little too short and words or sentences ended rather abruptly. Obviously, when dealing with pre-recorded audio, and especially when you might want to shuffle the dialogue around some, this is going to happen, so I don't really think it's worth making a fuss over. Besides, it was fine more times than not.


Gameplay:

As you might expect, LEGO The Lord of the Rings follows the film trilogy, and while it does throw some details in for fans of the book, for the most part, you are going to be playing through the movies. Thankfully, Peter Jackson stayed pretty faithful to the original text, so there are very few places where this game deviates from J.R.R. Tolkien's original work.

Unlike past LEGO games based off of movies, there isn't really a clear delineation between the three films. Instead, and much like the movies or books, the journey the characters take easily flows from the events in the Shire to the final battles and the One Ring's destruction.

One of the major changes introduced in LEGO The Lord of the Rings is how it handles the open world. Where LEGO Batman 2 and the LEGO Harry Potter games gave you a lot of freedom, and quite frankly, allowed you to get lost, LEGO LotR gives the player a path to follow. Granted, there are a few forks in that path, but you aren't really allowed to do much aimless wandering. In fact, if you were to dust off your LotR book and look at the map that showed the different characters' paths, you would find that this is the same direction across Middle-Earth that your characters will follow.

In order to help enforce even more structure, but still keep that open world feel, the path you walk narrows where major events in the story happens. These include early events like Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin sneaking through the woods and trying to stay out of sight from the Ringwraiths, to going into the Mines of Moria. At each of these points, you will enter a level and play through in a fashion that most TT Games fans should be familiar with.

Not only is it your goal to get through the level in once piece, but you also want to collect as much money as possible, and find the various hidden items found all around. Here is another place where LEGO LotR changes things up. Where past games had the levels more or less isolated from the hub or open world, The Lord of the Rings introduces quests. This is, after all, the origins of the RPG we are talking about.

As you go about your journey, you will run across a wide variety of NPCs that tell you they are looking for some item. Each of the locations where they tell you they lost something is a level you go through in the game. When you go back through the level in Free Play Mode, you should find the sought-after item and returning it to the NPC will grant you some reward. These typically come in the form of extras you can buy to do everything from multiply the number of studs you collect to keep you from dying. You know, the standard LEGO game extras.


Difficulty:

LEGO The Lord of the Rings is a relatively easy game if you are just trying to get through the story. Much like the other titles from TT Games, getting through the story is only about half of what the game has to offer.

That being said, the story itself is long, but that should be expected from anyone familiar with the books or movies, so while the game doesn't pose much of a challenge, you can still expect to spend a lot of time just trying to get Frodo from the Shire to Mount Doom.

Where LEGO LotR gets challenging is trying to compete the game 100%. Not only does each level have both the standard Story and Free Play mode, but with the addition of the quests and all of the activities you can do in the open world, the game presents quite a wide range of challenges for you to face.


Game Mechanics:

As I mentioned above, LEGO The Lord of the Rings really changes the open world feel from past LEGO games. Both LEGO Batman 2 and the LEGO Harry Potter games threw the player into vast areas, and while they did offer some direction for what to do next, neither really handled the problem in a satisfactory way. Harry Potter provided you a constant stream of "ghost studs" to guide you to the next part of your story, but you never really knew when you would end up in an actual level or some room where the game wanted you to do things. In Batman, you had all of Gotham to explore and the game gave the user a radar to help point them in the right direction. Unfortunately, too many things were on the radar and it was hard to truly know where you needed to go.

I think LEGO The Lord of the Rings finally hit the nail on the head. With the exception of the open field that holds places like Rohan, Isengard and Minas Tirith, the world is vast, but fairly constrained to paths. Of course, once the Fellowship is broken, that path splits in a couple of directions, where one follows Frodo and Sam, while the other has Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn chasing after the abducted Merry and Pippin. At that point, you can switch between the two parties and follow their particular stories, though the game does have ways of keeping the two stories from getting too far apart.

The other reason LEGO LotR's open world works is because it uses the Harry Potter ghost studs in an effective way. I had no problem with them in the earlier game, my problem was that the game felt very wishy-washy with what you were walking into, so it was good to see this feature come back as strongly as it did.

LEGO The Lord of the Rings also introduces an odd Adventure game mechanic, the ability to not only pick up objects, but sometimes combine them and use them in the world. LEGO LotR adds a backpack to your characters. This backpack not only holds the character's weapons, but also items like Sam's elven rope or Merry's fishing rod. This also allows the characters to pick up several objects and hold them at the same time. As an added level of puzzles, this means that you can combine items like putting together a warhammer or putting ingredients into a cooking pan.

The last real consequence to this added feature comes when you consider the quests and the fact that NPCs will ask you to find or forge items for them. Those items can be used by the player characters as well, and some of them allow that character to behave like another class. For instance, forging the Mithril rope can allow other characters besides Sam to grapple onto hooks, or making the Mithril climbing shoes means that Gollum isn't the only character that can scale walls.

LEGO The Lord of the Rings seems to have it all. It presents a lengthy story that is pretty faithful to the books and movies. It has a lot of extra gameplay after running through that story, and it introduces quite a few new features to the LEGO line. I highly recommend this game, and not just for fans of the subject matter. Anyone who enjoys the LEGO series from TT Games should check this title out.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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