Take a LEGO adventure through Middle Earth

When LEGO started producing video games with LEGO Island in 1997, it was an exciting moment for video game fanatics everywhere. LEGO’s foray into gaming continued with mostly its own games (i.e., non-licensed material) for the next eight years. Then, in 2005, LEGO teamed up with the British TT Games to create the first of many in a series of movie-based LEGO games, LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game. Fast forward almost eight years, 10 LEGO-themed licensed games, and great strides in every aspect of the LEGO-based game worlds, and we have LEGO Lord of the Rings.

LEGO Lord of the Rings is unlike any of TT Games’ LEGO games released to date. In the first LEGO Star Wars, the player experiences the first three movies (Episodes 1 – 3) in an episodic manner: There is a central hub from which the player selects an “episode” within a movie and plays through it.

LEGO Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, features an almost entirely open world, in which one actually travels across a (slightly smaller) Middle Earth and plays sequentially through each of the three movies. At first, this change seems a bit annoying — more of a hindrance than an improvement. There doesn’t seem to be an easy way for fast travel, and the characters move just a bit too slowly to make backtracking, something that is emphasized in the TT Games’ LEGO games, a viable option.

After further exploration, however, it’s clear not only that there are ways to fast-travel between places, but also that the open world gives the game a bit of a Grand Theft Auto feel: Most of the objects in the world, including people, can be destroyed and will give the player money. The destructibility of the landscape has always been a feature in the LEGO games, but the open world gives a new perspective to it.

In addition to playing through the movies sequentially, TT Games has also managed to nab licensing to the original soundtrack and audio clips from the actual movies themselves. This feature will surely win over Lord of the Rings fans: Although certain scenes were omitted or changed to make the game more kid-friendly, seeing LEGO figurines quoting scenes line-for-line adds new depth to the game. There is nothing more rewarding than riding Shadowfax across the plains of Rohan as a LEGO Gandalf. The voice clips are clearly ripped straight from the movies themselves, so you can pick out certain movie sounds in the background if you try.

While LEGO Lord of the Rings continues the TT Games tradition of backtracking and replaying levels, it is not as repetitive as other games are, thanks to the ability to explore an open world (even though dastardly invisible walls get in the way now and again). There are also a handful of bugs that, if not handled carefully and correctly, result in having to quit the level and start again. The new inventory system could also use a bit of work, as could the awful platforming sections, and there are plenty of fetch-quests, but these are only slight annoyances overall. The game keeps up the usual slapstick comedy and even incorporates a few memes into the game. For example, there’s a wounded soldier who “took an arrow to the knee” in the battle of Helm’s Deep, and there’s an achievement for walking into Mordor.

Overall, LEGO Lord of the Rings is not as polished a game as it could be — though when TT Games is turning out more than one game a year, that may be expected. However, it is by far the most visually stunning and emotionally compelling LEGO-licensed game that exists to date, and it’s certainly worth picking up if you like LEGO or The Lord of the Rings. It’s not game-of-the-year material, but it is good fun, and that’s what a game is supposed to be.

7.5/10 bricks; will beat to completion.