I dig Lego games. They're one of the few franchises that the wife and I play together, each with a controller. Normally she helps me figure games out - puzzles, where the heck was that guy with the potion, hey dummy use the new spell, that kind of stuff. But Lego games are great fun for us to each control a character and swap around. And they have a good sense of humor and are a welcome change of pace from some of our darker titles. It's hard for me to find fault with them, but with Lego LOTR I had a niggling issue or two. LOTR has nifty additions to the series, but these additions introduce a couple un-Lego-ish elements.

Game structure: I have a bunch of Lego games, but missed Batman DC Superheroes, so LOTR was my first Lego game with the more open world that Traveler's Tales is using recently. I am an exploration and loot junkie, so I found this aspect a welcome addition. As the GI review observes, that the story itself is merely the beginning gives the game excellent extended play value. However, niggle number one for me is story related. I am used to Lego characters being predominantly silent, only issuing Link-like exclamations and the occasional "Huh?". This imparted much of the series' charm, as the characters communicated without words. It was assumed that you were familiar with the stories upon which TT built the games, so little needed to be said. The migration of dialog, taken directly from the films themselves, kind of deflated that whimsy for me. The story seemed obliged to - generally, mind you - stick to a script, with a constraint forced on the game that previous titles seemed better able to circumvent, maintaining the spirit of the story while weaving in plenty of lighthearted humor. The humorous touches in LOTR felt more tacked on to a preexisting narrative than worked throughout the game development itself. Frodo says this, Gandalf replies thus, and oh yeah, we need something Lego here. Not a deal breaker, but noticeable.

A bigger issue is technical. We encountered a couple bugs in other Lego titles, but here there were more. We have the PS3 version. There is some tearing, which is annoying, but again not a huge problem. Also, I had one instance of the old "character falls through the background and off into the inky blackness of the electron-free void" gag. However, when playing this game, I had my first ever incident of console freeze. Total lock up happened three or four times. Didn't like it. That, and the load times are pretty significant and frequent. Admittedly, I didn't check into possibly installing the game on the hard drive, so I don't know if this would help, or if you even can, so take it with that grain of salt.

All that said, Lego LOTR is to be commended for expanding the Lego formula. If this was just a reskinned Harry Potter, I would have been disappointed. The open world encourages fun exploration, and LOTR also adds a fast travel system, which is great. We did a lot of backtracking in the Harry Potter games, which got kind of old.

Picking on a Lego game feels kind of like complaining that the super swell present you got for Christmas could have been blue instead of pink. So, while there is this and that, it's still a strong Lego game, and that's plenty of good fun.