It began with the forging of a plastic building block, and it only gets better from there. LEGO Lord of the Rings was a game I approached with skepticism, but it turned out to be one of the better LEGO games Traveler’s Tales has ever made. LEGO Star Wars III has been my favorite LEGO game since it released but LEGO Lord of the Rings was a pretty close contender for first by the time I finished it. LEGO has really hit and missed with its licensed games in the past and this time around they definitely have a hit on their hands. This is one of the biggest games they have made and also one of the most original. While it is a unique LEGO game experience, it does still follow the trends you expect it to. The game will play through its interpretation of all of the movies and you will travel through levels that are designed around key scenes of the films; you collect studs and build with bricks and solve puzzles, and this has been consistent since the first LEGO Star Wars. For everything that it does the same this game also has so many things that it just does better.
So LEGO Lord of the Rings was the first LEGO game announced to use voice acting, but it's the second to actually come out behind LEGO Batman 2. At this point, it’s safe to say that voice acting in the LEGO games wasn’t the destroying factor a lot of people thought it would be- as it was really good in LEGO Batman 2 and continues to be great here as well. All of the dialogue in the game is pulled from the movies (with the exception of some quest givers) but this does cause some awkward mood swings for the game. The Lord of the Rings movies are all super serious and the LEGO games are whimsical and goofy. It can seem odd to have serious characters speaking while ridiculous things are happening on screen, but this game commits to it 100% and actually pulls it off. There is a lot of humor here and I actually found myself laughing out loud at some of the gags in this game. These are clearly made for kids and I realize I am not the target audience but it doesn’t matter to me because I enjoy them anyway.
The first thing to point out is the changed HUB world, which is one of the best ideas about this game. With LEGO Batman 2 we saw the first introduction for what these games would do with an open world, but LEGO Lord of the Rings takes it so much further. You are presented with almost the entirety of Middle-Earth to roam, from Hobbiton to Mordor. You visit all of the key locations from the film, and the game follows the exact same path as the Fellowship's road trip. It’s really amazing compared to what they have done in the past. As you travel through these lands you also encounter bonus things you can do from side missions you get from the locals (which are basically fetch quests), to solving challenges to collect more Mythril bricks, which you can use in the game's new forging mechanic. The fetch quests are now how you unlock your extras and cheats that have become so prominent in LEGO games, and it makes unlocking them a lot more interesting and does a lot to make the world feel lively. You also earn Mythril bricks for some of these to use for forging, where you can make stronger or better items to use along your quest or for trade. This game is just plain huge and even after finishing all of the levels I was only 40% done with everything. The only thing that is really missing is online co-op, as this game still just brings back the couch co-op mode.
The interpretation of Lord of the Rings in LEGO form is the best idea they have had since Star Wars. All of the characters look and feel well-realized, and they all come with their own specially-tailored abilities. Gandalf can lift objects with magic, Frodo can go in dark areas, and Sam can dig and . . . plant stuff. Naturally, there are plenty of exaggerations in this game and they are all, for the most part, hilarious. The best part is how great all of the characters control. The combat feels really good and the hit detection is solid. I never found myself swinging my sword wildly around missing everything like I have in some other LEGO games or even the Vita version of this one. One thing that is kind of disappointing is the game doesn’t make great use of the crowd battles like LEGO Star Wars III did, and it feels sorely missed here. However, when there are a lot of guys onscreen the scenes really stand out and end up being some of the best levels in the game. On top of this game just being all kinds of fun, it looks great. This game features some of the best lighting seen in any LEGO game. The first mission, where you are hiding from a Nazgul as you sneak through the woods, really stands out with the moonlight shining through the trees. The tone and feel of Lord of the Rings just pours out of this game and onto the screen, and everything just looks and feels like Middle-Earth. The open world, however, does look a little bland, but it's mostly there for side quests and fast-travel between the game’s stages. Even so, what is there, while not much, still looks really well-realized.
LEGO Lord of the Rings is easily one of my favorite LEGO games. I’m not sure if it’s just the source material or the fact that the game is actually really fun and evolves the LEGO franchise in significant ways, but this is definitely worth playing for any fan of the previous LEGO games or Lord of the Rings films. I can only hope that after all three Hobbit movies are out that we get a LEGO Lord of the Rings 2 based on those films because I don’t want this to be my last visit to LEGO Middle-Earth.