Review by sano_ichiro
"One does not simply, block build in Mordor."
I have been a fan of JRR Tolkiens books since I read "The Hobbit" in the second grade. I read the holy trilogy the following year and was hooked on fantasy. I've been playing with LEGOs as long as I can remember, and love those too. Since Travelers Tales came out with LEGO Star Wars during the last generation of consoles, we've been blessed/cursed with a plethora of blocky adaptations. From the very beginning, I asked myself "Why is there no LEGO Lord of the Rings?". Now that the game is out, I'm SO glad that it took so long, and let me tell you why. First, all of the LEGO games are dependent on your enjoyment of the franchises they interpret, so if you don't like LOTR, you're not going to like this game. That goes without saying. However, the games themselves are getting better and better. LEGO Star Wars, while fun, is very repetitive due to most puzzles being exactly the same, an over reliance on building object after object, and the fact that many tasks have little to do with your actual in game objective (I still love the games. I'm just being fair). LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean was a nice step forward with an interesting HUB, more clever puzzles, better character balance, and more movie based situations. LEGO Batman 2, upped the ante with a GTA style overworld, and mission system. My review is based on the curve set by both past LEGO games and past LOTR games.
Have you played a LEGO game? Have you seen LOTR? There you go. This game is very pretty. Middle Earth is replicated beautifully and very faithfully. The map is right from the books, and if there were no characters on screen, you wouldn't realize you were playing LEGO anything. You would definitely know you were in Middle Earth though. Every area is transposed lovingly, and the vistas, valleys, fields, and towns are complimented by the free camera that the game implements. The sound is obviously flawless. The score from the films is used in full force, whether it's the peaceful theme of the Shire, or the powerful brass filled battle themes. Voice acting is lifted straight from the movies as well, providing an audio experience identical to the films. The sound effects are excellent. By far the best in a LEGO game. Clings and clangs of swords are realistic and full. Mostly gone are the thumpy "You're beating up plastic toys" sounds I've heard before. Once again, if you blur your eyes, you'll forget it's a LEGO game. The scenes are a perfect blend of seriousness and humor. The jokes are great, but do not distract from the universe (with a couple exceptions). A lot of the comedy comes simply from the intense situations being acted out by LEGOs. This also allows the creators to skirt around some of the more violent parts of the movies (Isildors death for one).
This game really steps it up in the gameplay department. Combat is great. Each character has an inventory which includes character specific items, and slots for other useful tools. This means that Gandalf can switch between his staff and sword, and Legolas can be firing arrows one moment, and going knife crazy the next. Sam can start fires and harvest plants, while Mary can use his fishing rod to find all manner of goodies. Puzzles are interesting and original, and valid to the story line. Whether it's throwing rocks to distract the dark rider on the road on your trip to Brie, or building fires so you can light your torches and defeat the Nazgul on Weathertop. The overworld is fun to explore. Each area has a map stone that shows you where special items may be found. NPCs give you quests (fetch quests mostly), and many of them require you to find items in previous missions, giving the game replay value without monotony. Speaking of the missions- My favorite thing about the game is that the missions are well paced. Not too long, nor too short, meaning that you rarely get that "I'm getting sick of this" feeling. There is a blacksmith that can forge items for you, and a museum for your minikits. Co-op is excellent as always. Some missions actually give you separate tasks to do. I was playing Gandalf, trying to survive the battle with Saruman while my wife tried to escape the rider on the rode. She played Frodo, running from the Nazgul on Weathertop, pushing items invisible to me while I built my fires on Weathertop. It's pretty exciting trying to help your partner while dealing with your own crisis. Plenty of breakable objects for the LEGO collectors, but the emphasis feels scaled back from that. I think this is because the game has more substance so it's not counting on you spending 5 hours breaking tables and chairs.
I've played a lot of LEGO games. I've played a lot of LOTR games. As I stated, my review is based on that curve. If I were to put it up against Zelda, or Halo, the score would be much lower, but when you look at the potential of what a LEGO game can actually achieve, this is probably as close to perfect as we're going to get. If you are on the fence about this one at all, get it. The game structure coupled with the voice acting make it feel more like a story driven game and less like a game about running around and breaking things to collect blocks.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/16/12
Game Release: LEGO The Lord of the Rings (US, 11/13/12)
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