The Lego series is rapidly becoming the series that even gaming’s biggest cynics can’t put down. From Lego Star Wars through Lego Indiana Jones to Lego Pirates of the Caribbean and Lego Batman 2, it’s managed to push out one or even two games a year that evolve the scenery-bashing, brick-building, stud-collecting gameplay of Lego Star Wars, while doing justice to some of the biggest and most beloved licenses in entertainment. If you’re hoping for a slip-up with Lego The Lord of the Rings, then you should prepare for disappointment. This is a great Lego game and a great Lord of the Rings game. In fact, it’s arguably the best to bear either name.
We’ve seen Lego do epic before, but never quite this epic. Lego The Lord of the Rings takes practically every major sequence in the Peter Jackson film trilogy and transforms it into another sequence of silly Lego mayhem. If you’ve ever wanted to know what the battle of Helms Deep or the flight through Moria would look like recreated in Lego form, this is your chance. The game features all the characters of the fellowship in playable form, not to mention the likes of Faramir, Eowyn, Theoden and Gollum, with each having some useful ability in classic Lego style. The Hobbits, for example, have a range of useful fire-lighting, crawling and fishing skills, while Legolas has the sort of archery and acrobatic skills you might expect.
Led by glowing Lego studs across a cleverly miniaturised Middle Earth, you’re cleverly taken through the story of each film in a way that no previous Lego adaptation has managed before. The game even goes so far as to split the different heroes where appropriate, and cleverly uses the gaze of Sauron as a means of pushing you to do the next bit with Sam and Frodo or Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. Throw in the original score and the original dialogue, and you have a game that for all its madcap wreck-and-build action, feels like the most authentic adaptation yet - certainly more authentic than the brain-dead brawlers EA was putting out around the original film releases.
It’s almost needless to say that Lego The Lord of the Rings is funny. There was some grumbling when Lego Batman 2 appeared with spoken dialogue that the wit of the Lego games was in the speechless mugging, but Lego The Lord of the Rings uses the earnest dialogue and sweeping soundtrack as a foil for all kinds of silly japes, whether Gollum’s gleeful so long to Sam on the steps above Minas Morgul or the brilliantly orchestrated horsemanship when Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli meet the Riders of Rohan. If you know and love the films then you’ll love what’s been done with the material.
The gameplay isn’t a huge departure from previous Lego adaptations, with each level basically a series of obstacles that you can only get around by combining the abilities of your heroes. For example, climbing the steps of Minas Morgul might involve Frodo using his elven light to light dark spaces so that Gollum can climb up a wall and push down some Lego rocks, which shatter so that Sam can build a ladder so that he and Frodo can make it up to the next ledge.
By the time you’ve hit the events of The Two Towers the game has hit its stride, and there are sequences featuring Legolas and Gimli – in this game, almost everyone can toss a dwarf – that will have you scratching your head before you chuckle and work out the solution. There are satisfying, massive-scale Lego scraps at Helms Deep and Pellinor Fields, some brilliant cross-cutting sequences that flit between different heroes caught up in different situations, and it’s hard to think of a great moment from the movies that isn’t covered.
Lego The Lord of the Rings is always fun to play and a fan’s delight. It’s best enjoyed in the two-player, drop-in, drop-out split screen, and anyone who’s played a Lego game with kids will tell you that this is one of the best family games around, but it’s still just as engaging if you’re left playing it on your own for an hour or two. We could grumble that the camera view can make some jumps difficult, or that a handful of boss battles see you running out of bricks too fast, but these are really minor faults. You’ll be complaining about the elves at Helm’s Deep next…
Simply working your way through the plot of all three movies will take you a good eight to 10 hours or so, but as in any Lego game completing the levels once is only the start. Lego The Lord of the Rings goes even further than Lego Pirates of the Caribbean or Lego Batman 2 in collectibles and secret areas, introducing characters who will actually ask you to undertake side-quests, and a whole new system of forging where you can collect designs, gather Mithril bricks, and ask the blacksmith to forge you new costume items, arms and gadgets. The whole Middle Earth map is fully explorable, and while this is no Zelda or Skyrim, there’s more than enough to see and do to keep you busy for a good few weeks.
As always, the key thing is revisiting the story missions in freeplay mode with different characters and new equipment, as only with a certain sword or with the fabled Mithril boxing gloves will you be able to shatter Morgul blocks or pull the glowing handles dotted around the levels. The only thing we would say is that, while previous Lego games have been happy for you to mix freeplay and the story missions as you wish, Lego The Lord of the Rings seems to work better if you focus on the story first, collect all the characters and items you’ll unlock there, and then begin your assault on full completion. Without reaching the later chapters of Return of the King, you won’t have what you need to get some of the other content done.
Not everyone likes the Lego games. Some think them childish, believe that a lack of meaningful death means a lack of meaningful challenge, or find the gameplay formulaic and unexciting. Well, if they want to miss out, just let them. Lego The Lord of the Rings shows the series at its most intelligent, inventive and majestic, giving anyone who loves the films a chance to explore them in a whole new way, and anyone who loves the Lego games the best one yet.
It’s hard to imagine a Lego game doing justice to the Peter Jackson trilogy, but Lego The Lord of the Rings does just that. With the original score and original dialogue to work with, it manages to capture the power and grandeur of the movies, yet always find some way to poke a little fun on the side.
This is also an even smarter and deeper game than Lego Batman 2, with the new quests and forging features adding to the things you can do after the main story mode has been conquered. If you like Lego and love The Lord of the Rings, there really isn’t anything more you need to know. This is one great Lego game to rule them all.