LEGO The Lord of the Rings PS3 Review
The LEGO video games are a collection of titles that I never thought would be as fun or as popular as they ended up being. After the success of blending the charmingly cute building blocks with the Star Wars franchise, the series has represented Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and even Batman and his DC Comic friends. Traveller’s Tales seems to be hitting a point where fans wonder what the next title is going to be based on, so with The Hobbit hitting cinemas recently, what is a better series to gain the LEGO treatment than The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But is the LEGO formula still as enjoyable as ever or has the series begun to lose momentum and become tiresome? Let’s find out.
LEGO: LOTR features the famous story that spans across the three feature films, but tuned to feel like more of an abridged version. This means that you do not have to experience the lesser and slower sections of the huge trilogy, leaving players to jump into the exhilarating key points and set piece battles that cover enough of the plot to let the player understand what is happening during Frodo’s adventure to Mordor.
Traveller’s Tales has kept the idea of LEGO that can talk by keeping the voice acting that was first presented in LEGO Batman 2, although, unlike that game, LEGO: LOTR uses samples from the original films instead of calling in the actors to re-dub their voice work. The soundtrack is also borrowed from the films, so when it comes to authenticity, you are literally getting it straight from the source material. In a sense, this makes the cutscenes for memorable parts of the film funny, because the jokes are heavily based on actions and items to work around the seriousness of the soundtrack and the voice work. When blended with the typical LEGO tomfoolery that the series has become known for, you are presented with some very funny moments, such as the forever-dying Sean Bean as Boromir – who gets shot with an arrow, then a broom and then finally succumbing to death with a banana shot to the heart – or when Agent Smith (from The Matrix) can be seen behind a pillar when Lord Elrond is healing Frodo. The game has enough moments like these to make it a chuckle from beginning to end, although, compared to past LEGO games, the jokes seem to be more spaced apart and the cutscenes are much longer but highly polished.
The core gameplay remains simple, with platforming, LEGO building and one attack button – to wave your sword around aimlessly at enemies – returning. Due to the nature of the The Lord of the Rings’ story, the game always throws a group of heroes together in the stages, so naturally, and to keep things feeling fresh with the gameplay, the developers have implemented a few new features. One such feature allows you to quickly select a friendly hero by holding down a button to display a character wheel and pushing the analogue stick in the direction of who you want to take over as. This is very important because the characters in LEGO: LOTR have specific traits that are often used to find secrets or progress through some stages of the game. Sam can use a tinderbox to start a fire; Frodo can hide with the elven cloak; hobbits and other small characters can climb through tiny gaps; Legolas can jump higher than anyone else; and Gollum can walk on special LEGO walls. All these talents mean you are often switching between characters, which for me happens a little too often. I found that it makes playing LEGO: LOTR in cooperative play – which sadly remains two-player and offline-only – more fun than by yourself, due to the fact that your friend can also swap characters as well, relieving you of duty if you find it as overused as I did.
Cooperative play makes use of the dynamic splitting camera that seems like a good idea on paper, but in actual fact is a real pain in the arse sometimes. In the older games you were forced on the screen together with your cooperative friend, so to overcome this problem and allow players to run off without the need of their partner, this dynamic camera was made. It activates seamlessly, but the problem lies with the fact that it moves the split around, so the camera’s viewpoint is always moving on the TV. This can cause problems when you are trying to target something and the other player moves, making the camera cut off the targeted item, requiring the other player to go back or you yourself moving closer. The framerate also takes a hit when the split activates. I understand why it is there, but it could do with some work.
A fantastic use of the split camera is that it allows for the story scenes to feature some cool moments in the game where one person is in a completely different situation to the other player. One such example is when Player 1 is Gandalf as he fights Saruman, and Player 2 is playing Frodo with company of his hobbit friends as they escape from the Ringwraths. There are a few of these double-scene moments throughout the game and it is such a neat way to use the split-screen camera.
LEGO: LOTR features two types of levels. The first is the story missions, which are linear stages that follow closely to what happens in the films. You will be taking part in the Battle of Helm’s Deep, running away from Orcs in the Mines of Moria and taking arms in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, which includes those crazy giant roaming elephants. While these are the more notable parts of the game (they are famous parts of the films, after all), it is the open world map and the amount of content that is available to you once you finish the story portions, that keep you coming back for more – especially if you are a completionist.
An open world links the game’s levels together similar to LEGO: Batman 2, and is jam-packed with hidden collectables and newly-implemented, if bare, fetch quests that are given to the player by the world’s NPCs. You are free to walk around when you want to, but it’s best to save most of the side-quests for the end and then replay all the unlocked levels with newly-unlocked allies (I did not know there were so many LOTR characters!) to backtrack and access content you could not reach on the first playthrough. Also included are Mithril blocks that are rewarded for beating stages. These shiny silver LEGO pieces are used to create new items to be used by the heroes. There was a bit too much for me to finish 100%, as I slowly became bored with repetition. Not to knock the game – it is a lot of fun the first time around, but once you have seen what LEGO: LOTR offers it becomes less exciting to keep playing.
I also have some problems with some of the puzzles in the game. Sometimes you are left with no indication on what to do, so you will wander around an area for a few minutes speculating to yourself what in Gandalf’s white beard you are supposed find to progress. This is not helped by the very strict context-sensitive button process, where you have to precisely be in the right space to activate something. And let’s not forget Gandalf’s ability to float objects – trying to move them into position is awkward. I spent way too long trying to move a cog onto a bar. That’s slightly annoying. The puzzle part of the LEGO games could do with a revamp in the next title.
There is no doubt that this game is the best looking in the LEGO series. In fact, there is some nice texture work and sunlit vistas that most games would be happy to have displayed in their world. That’s great and all, but that also means that the game loses some of its LEGO vibe, as the LEGO are limited to models and some environmental objects, making it feel like these LEGO heroes have moved into the world of Middle-earth rather than Middle-earth being replicated in LEGO.
Fans should not worry about this latest LEGO entry if you are into the series’ gameplay. As far as LEGO games go, LOTR is one of the better titles. There is no denying it looks fantastic too, and is chock-a-blocked full of charisma, personality and content to last you for a very long while – if you can stomach the repetitiveness. The game brings these new features, but a lot of them feel unfinished and should be taken back to the drawing board. For me, the series is becoming a bit like the Guitar Hero franchise, in that I enjoy the next entry, but there is a part of me that wonders about the one after to see if it will ever change to re-ignite my love for it. LEGO: LOTR does enough to be interesting and is a recommended title for anyone who is in the process of a Middle-earth binge.