Release Date: November 23 (Europe), November 13 (North America),
Platforms available on: Xbox 360, PC, PS3, PS Vita, Nintendo DS, 3DS, Wii
Developer: TT Games
Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive
Genre: Action Adventure
LEGO The Lord of the Rings is a case of, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it - just make it better'. Travellers Tales pretty much nailed this format all the way back with LEGO Star Wars in 2005, but the pleasing thing is that the studio has moved things on with each generation - through Endor, Hogwarts, Gotham and beyond. And the visit to Middle-earth is no different.
Tolkein's famous novel trilogy just fits so well with the LEGO universe. After all, it's a tale of little beings doing seriously big things.
The story follows events of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, as told through the hugely successful films directed by Peter Jackson. You get the usual LEGO humour, but the game also does a good job of staying faithful to these three sprawling films without resorting to the hatchet, or shoehorning in unneeded gameplay.
After the opening prologue involving an epic battle against the Dark Lord Sauron, you are cast into the open world of the Shire on Bilbo's birthday - when Frodo first gets the burden of the "One Ring". And as adventurous Hobbits, the whole of Middle-earth is there for you to explore, just cross the Brandywine river and go as far as you dare.
Over the lengthy campaign, it picks out all the major moments from the films and threads them into familiar LEGO gameplay. The narrative telling has been boosted by the smart decision to just lift dialogue direct from the movies and apply it to the characters. This really does add authenticity and familiarity, although a LEGO character with the voice of Sir Ian McKellen or Christopher Lee remains a bizarre concept.
Each stage brings a range of basic puzzles and light combat. Enemies such as orks and Uruk Hai will swarm in but they can be easily dispatched with a hammering of the action button. And even if you run out of hearts, you reappear almost instantly, ensuring the action is fluid and fast. You can switch between characters to access their respective abilities, such as Sam being able to light fires or Merry hook items with his fishing rod.
As with all LEGO games, there is a tonne of stuff to do outside of the main campaign. Getting 100% completion of the game will easily double campaign's length - and some of the challenges are truly testing. But possibly even more time will just be spent exploring the world. You can go all the way from Bag End to the Black Gate in Mordor if you so choose, either running or riding on horses.
Sure, this is not some LEGO recreation of Skyrim, but it certainly feels much bigger and more open than any previous title in the series. Trails of little see-through blue studs always give directions to the next mission, meaning you never get lost on your travels.
There are some new gameplay ideas in the LEGO The Lord of the Rings, including a greater focus on items. All characters can carry up to eight items and they also get a shared 'treasure trove' of up to 84 items that can be found, crafted or forged from. This includes weaponry and magical items, such as the Light of Earendil or the Elven rope.
Elsewhere, white mithril bricks are earned by beating levels or discovering them in the world, and they can be handed to the blacksmith in the village of Bree, who will then forge them into new items - as long as you have first secured the blueprints. You can also discover and unlock close to 100 playable characters, including all the major names, but also a few more random faces from Tolkein's universe.
In terms of the drawbacks, the same issues that have hit LEGO video games in the past are back again. Playing the levels alone does get rather repetitive after a while, and you soon grow tired of the particular schtick that TT employs in its gameplay design. The addition of drop in/drop out co-op play is what elevates the game, but the lack of online is once more a bugbear.
But playing locally with a friend is still a hugely enjoyable experience, particularly in the epic battles and boss fights. These set pieces quickly make you forget the slightly repetitive nature of the gameplay and puzzles, and instead just lose yourself in the ridiculous, bizarre yet brilliant concept of playing a literary and cinema classic with LEGO figures.
It's easy to feel a little jaded about yet another LEGO game, especially coming so soon after LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes. But that soon fades as you jump into LEGO The Lord of the Rings. This huge, open-world game simply never misses a beat and also breathes new life into the familiar property of The Lord of the Rings. The question is where will the series go next? LEGO James Bond anyone?
Copyright: Warner Bros. Interactive