LEGO The Lord of the Rings Review
Let me start off by letting you know that I am a big fan of The Lord of the Rings and have read the books and watched the movies on more than one occasion, and that I'm generally a fan of the LEGO games. I mention this because if you're looking for one of those reviews that requires that every new game released push the boundaries of gaming innovation, this isn't it. No, this review will simply try to answer the question: You like LEGO games, you like The Lord of the Rings, will you have fun with LEGO The Lord of the Rings?
I mentioned the whole "pushing boundaries" thing partly because it annoys me that games that are fun to play are often unfairly criticized in the press for a lack of innovation, but primarily because while there are some new twists to LEGO Lord of the Rings it's primarily the same kind of LEGO game that we've all been playing for a few years now. Break apart everything made of LEGO to collect pips to spend to unlock new characters for free play, some light puzzle-solving - both in story-based missions and free-roam mode, cutscenes that lampoon the source material in a harmless and goofy way, ... you pretty much know what to expect from LEGO The Lord of the Rings and it, in turn, delivers all of that to you.
The game is tied into the movie license, so all of the characters bear a LEGO resemblance to the actors who played them in the film trilogy, you get a LEGO version of Peter Jackson's vision of Middle-earth, and the music is all drawn from the excellent soundtrack of the movie trilogy. So consider yourself forewarned - you're likely to want to watch the movies again after playing this game (I'm watching Fellowship of the Ring while writing this, as a matter of fact) and you'll probably be at The Hobbit on its opening weekend ... which are probably good signs that the game makes good use of its license. And in spite of the fact that the game will put a scare into you by rolling the credits after you've played your way through the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, all three parts of the trilogy are in fact included in the game's story mode missions. As for those story levels, the game does a good job of building them around the events in the films. I particularly liked the way the game handles the parallel storylines of The Two Towers, letting you choose which half of the broken Fellowship you'd like to control by simply switching to one of the characters in either party. The game also tones down the violence from the books and movies to make the game more kid-friendly than the movies. For example, the fall of Boromir comes as the result of a barrage of bananas and the Uruk-hai responsible manages to keep his limbs and head intact. The game has drop-in/drop-out co-op support for both the story levels and free roam modes, making the game an excellent choice for parents and kids who game together. If you're on your own, though, don't worry, there aren't any parts of the game that require two players to complete.
As in all LEGO games the story levels are filled with hidden bonus items to find that aren't necessary to complete the level, some of which will require the special skills of characters that aren't available on the first play through giving completionists motivation to replay the story levels and extending the life of the game.
Outside of the story levels the game gives you the freedom to explore all of Middle-earth, from Hobbiton to Rivendell to Minas Tirith. In a welcome nod to the books, you can even drop in on Tom Bombadil at home and unlock him as a playable character. Middle-earth is quite large, but the game makes it relatively easy to find your way around. A map marks the locations of story missions, side quests, and other points of interest, and you can set a waypoint to anything appearing on the map. When you set a waypoint the game gives you a breadcrumb trail of ghost pips that lead you to your destination. There are also special statues in each major zone of Middle-earth that act as fast travel points that can send you from one end of Middle-earth to the other in no time. If you're playing in co-op mode, you don't even have to stick together; the screen will automatically split if the party gets too far apart.
Middle-earth is covered with LEGO breakables so you can collect plenty of pips to add to your total, but there's more to do than simply smashing everything in sight. You'll encounter characters who give you side quests, which must often be accomplished by revisiting the game's story levels. You'll also find other activities such as puzzles and races to complete, most of which will reward you with a mithril LEGO brick.
The mithril bricks earned through completing story missions and activities in the open world can be used with plans discovered on your travels at the blacksmith shop in Bree in order to craft special items. These items allow you to interact with different objects in the world, such as mithril gloves that allow the character wearing them to pull orange handles. They can also allow characters to perform special actions usually reserved for a certain character, as is the case with the mithril trowel that will allow other characters to dig like Sam. You won't have access to your inventory of items on the first play through the story missions, though, you'll still need to play through them a second time to collect everything hidden in these levels. It's not anything that changes the LEGO gameplay experience, but it's nevertheless a fun addition to the game.
Overall, LEGO The Lord of the Rings is easily recommendable to anyone who's enjoyed LEGO games in the past or who has a love of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It does such a good job of creating a LEGO version of The Lord of the Rings, that I can only hope that a LEGO The Hobbit is in the works to accompany the new film trilogy.
Final Rating: 90%. LEGO fans shall not pass on the chance to play this game.