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Ever since 2005's Lego Star Wars, Traveller's Tales has taken players across just about every blockbuster film franchise to date and as of 2012, Lego Lord of the Rings is the latest in its library of Lego coated licenses. Rather than just hammering out another cheap Lego title with superficial additions, Lego LOTR not only does justice to its source material, but to adding a new depth to Lego games in general. All in all, Lego's latest game is a refreshing take on both of its licensed properties that fans of either will enjoy.
Covering all three of Peter Jackson's original film epics, Lego LOTR takes you through a big and beautiful open-world of Middle-Earth to experience the events of Tolkein's fantasy epic across all the historic locales of his novels.
Following in the footsteps of Lego Batman 2, the game abandons past games' hub areas in favor of an open-world that beautifully captures the size and scope of the Tolkein universe. Rather than accessing levels through a dull lobby, all of Lego LOTR's story sequences are found in their locations from the story. In harmony with the book and film series of its inspiration, the world is laid out faithfully according to their place in the series lore, taking you from the Shire all the way to Mordor and back with a delightful amount of easter eggs familiar to series experts along the way. Fanatical Lego builders like me may still frown on the world's minimal use of actual Lego blocks, but it's entirely forgivable given the sheer impressiveness of the game's visual detail. The draw-distance is arguably the best in a Lego game yet, allowing incredible views of the stunning river valleys and ominous image of Mount Doom in the distance. It's disheartening that the world still has some abrupt cut-off points that limit your travel, but gazing at Hobbiton's rolling hills or the ominous presence of Mount Doom in the distance brought its oohs and ahs from me all the same.
Above all, Lego Lord of the Rings is designed for the Tolkein fan and delivers plenty of fan service as such. Classic moments such as the Battle of Pelennor Fields, Helm's Deep, and Return of the King's finale on Mount Doom are all included with the voice-acting from the Peter Jackson films and retain all of their epic flair you remember. However, the game's rigid adherence to the movies brings with it a smaller allowance for jokes and it's disappointing that Lego's trademark sense of humor is more subdued than previous Lego entries. That's not so say that there isn't without some sense of humor, though. Boromir's hilariously irreverent death scene is sure to please kids and adults alike and one of Aragorn's scenes with the Riders of Rohan is an equally good laugh.
Even after your plastic fellowship comes to an end, your time in Middle Earth is just beginning. Once the gaze of Sauron is lifted from the land, Middle-Earth's secrets truly open up to the player and provide the bulk of the game's replay value. While things like studs, minikits, red bricks familiar to Lego fans act the same as always in unlocking extra characters, miniature sets, and cheat codes, the new addition of Mithril bricks will have you forging shiny little "Mithril" items that'll get you some greatly helpful and even funny abilities. I loved the particularly more challenging task of locating each and every item in the game's sizeable overworld and even at about 50% I still have plenty of hours of hunting to look forward to.
As many aesthetic triumphs as Lego Lord of the Rings makes, the core of its gameplay retains much of the same formula. Character types still range between the tired old archetypes of strong brutes, agile jumpers, shooters, and small ones that fit into tight spaces. A few like Gollum and the Hobbits can fish for submerged trinkets though and Gimli the Dwarf can be amusingly picked up and thrown like a rocket at enemies, but aside from that, these are the same Lego minif-figs you're used to. Meanwhile formulaic boss battles merely take you through the motions of dodging this attack and hitting a dead obvious target spot.
Nevertheless, there are lots of action set pieces unique to Lego LOTR that breaks up that monotony. Particular level sequences will have you living out specific scenes of the films, whether they be charing your horse through scores of orcs besieging Helm's Deep or stomping around in the alpine feet of the Ents at Isengard. The battle scenes further play out with a thrilling amount of soldiers and destruction, but it's all the more disappointing that most of them are confined to the backround. As much as I loved the rush of plowing through crowds of helpless Uruk Hai numbskulls from the safety of my steed or tearing apart a fortress wall with my bear hands, I felt it was a missed opportunity not to include Lego Star Wars III's horde control system and get my hands on my soldiers instead of watching them from a distance.
Unfortunately, Lego Lord of the Rings is still not without bugs and glitches that seem to follow most Lego games. Players such as myself will no doubt find themselves combating dumb AI and occasional frame-rate slow-downs that Lego players have come to expect and it's not more probable than not that an item will take several interactions to unlock. Perhaps the weirdest glitches sent poor Sam Gamgee flailing off a springboard in Mordor into the smoky skies above forever. Annoyances like these aren't terrible frequent enough to deter most dedicated players from the experience, but it's sad that they're there for all the game could be without them.
Clearly, Lego games still have some areas to improve in technically as well as creatively, my time in blocky Middle-Earth was nothing but a joy to play. Whereas Lego Lord of the Rings could've easily been just as stale and repetitive as its predecessors, it's considerable additions make it into something truly significant for moving the Lego game series forward while retaining much of the kid-like charm its known for. It may not be the Lego game to rule them all, but for the die-hard Lego fan or the Tolkein buff, Lego's journey into Middle-Earth is very much worth the effort.
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