Although I’ve only written about the first Lego Harry Potter game, I have thoroughly enjoyed nearly all the Lego games. All three Lego Star Wars are great, both Lego Indiana Jones are very enjoyable, the second Lego Harry Potter game is expansive (if not as ‘fun’ as the first, what with all the deaths and grimness), the first Lego Batman game is a delight, and even Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is an enjoyable diversion. TT Games has hit on the perfect formula for combining gaming and Lego and popular film franchises, and I can’t wait for the Lego Marvel Super Heroes (even if I have to buy a new system to play it).
The only one I haven’t enjoyed completely was Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes. This was because, despite all the awesome in it (All the DC heroes! Playing Superman! Hearing the Superman theme tune when he flies over Gotham! The scale of it!), I was frustrated by the experience of playing the game outside of the game, i.e. going around Gotham and getting the gold bricks and red bricks and buying characters. The city itself, when in the midst of the skyscrapers, is rather samey and not very well delineated, especially as you are searching it at night; the map is not very helpful and it doesn’t feel well integrated into the game or action; flying as Superman in Gotham is headache-inducing, with different mechanics to flying within the game sections, which makes getting around the city a pain (literally). But worst of all is loss of the organic split-screen when two players co-op around the city – while the game sections still maintain the great diagonal split-screen effect when two players roam around the same location, the Gotham section just splits the screen in fixed positions down the middle, with each character getting their own camera, completely defeating the point of the co-op nature of the Lego games that had been such a great part of their success (at least in this household). It meant that, for the first time, we haven’t been bothered to finish the game to 100% – we finished Lego Pirates of the Caribbean and that wasn’t nearly as much fun.
So it was with some trepidation that we purchased Lego The Lord of the Rings as our traditional Christmas game. YouTube clips showed that it had the same annoying fixed split-screen for the open exploring section, meaning that the majority of the game would suffer the same co-op problem as Lego Batman 2. Even though the Lego games have all been enjoyable to a degree, could TT Games make this work?
The short answer is ‘Yes’, but I’ll ramble on for a longer answer because this is a blog after all. The difference between Lego The Lord Of The Rings and Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is that LLOTR is more organic; despite being restricted to the events transcribed in the three films, it has a more natural feel to the game outside the story sections. This feels strange when it is based on a novel whereas the Batman game is an original creation, but the process by which you can visit different parts of Middle-earth to look for Mithril bricks and unlocked characters and go on quests makes a lot more sense and works more intuitively. This means that the majority of the game (i.e. outside the story sections) is more enjoyable and not a grind.
The story sections are based on the films but with typical Lego innovations; unlike the other film-related games, which used silent cut scenes to explain things (with a healthy dose of humour), LLOTR uses dialogue from the film to make it plain what is happening. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it makes sense when there is so much to condense into a fun gaming experience. The transition is done well: each character in the Fellowship has an important part to play in completing each level. Sam is very useful, with a trowel for digging and planting, a tinderbox to start fires, and Elven rope for pulling things. Merry has a fishing rod and Pippin has a bucket, while Frodo has the Light of Earendil to illuminate dark places. Aragorn can track things and gains the sword Narsil, which can destroy Morgul Lego objects. Legolas has his bow and arrow, which can be shot to create Arrow Poles to get to hard-to-reach areas (which only he can use), plus the ability to jump to high places, Gimli can enter small places (as can the Hobbits) and his axe can cut cracked Lego blocks, while Gandalf can levitate various objects and assemble Lego objects. This is standard procedure for a Lego game, but it just feels right for the Fellowship.
As usual, you can’t do everything within the story levels with just these characters, and you will need other characters to obtain all the minikits, treasure items and Blacksmith Designs (for Mithril objects you can get made at the smith in Bree) – I would advise getting the Berserker, who can explode Silver Lego objects and is strong enough to pull the orange lever on certain objects. Certain Mithril objects you can make can do some of the jobs (Mithril Boxing Gloves can pull orange levers, the Mithril Firework can explode Silver Lego objects), but these involve getting lots of Mithril bricks and getting the Blacksmith Designs, which require the special powers in the first place. However, the sense of humour in Lego games is displayed in these Mithril objects, so they are worth getting. My absolute favourite is the Mithril Disco Phial – it is used to illuminate dark places, but it does it with a disco effect and it plays a techno mash-up of dialogue from the film that is one of the greatest things ever (you will never hear some lines of the film in the same way again), especially when you move closer to other characters and it makes them dance uncontrollably.
The in-story gameplay is fun, in the usual Lego method: smash everything to collect Lego studs, beat up everyone, solve the puzzles, build things and enjoy yourself. Outside the story, you get to visit and explore all the locations on the map – even the map feels more natural and navigable, as you can magically teleport from one location to another via Map Stones, and you can set a trail of transparent Lego studs (like the ghost studs in Lego Harry Potter) to direct you to the destination of a Mithril brick or unlocked character or a new quest. This is a great little feature, especially because there are so many of these extracurricular activities to enjoy, which again feels more attuned to the RPG style of The Lord of the Rings milieu and makes it a delight to play (unlike the same process in Lego Batman 2). All in all, a very enjoyable game.