Aaron Jean On April 25, 2014 at 10:59 am

Lego_Hobbit__FOBI had a great moment of dissonance while playing Lego Lord of the Rings. Playing as Frodo and Samwise, I took a nice stroll through the Shire, taking in its prestine beauty as I approached old Bilbo Baggins’ house, the largest and most impressive house in the Shire. I paused a moment, thought to myself, “Wow. Bilbo has such a beautiful garden,” And promptly began to destroy his Lego flowers. After chuckling to myself at the irony of this, I realized there is an important criticism here, both of this game and, to a lesser degree, the Lego games in general.

TT Games’ artists have crafted this beautiful, breathtaking rendition of Middle Earth, while its gameplay designers are still thrashing about in the kiddie pool, trying to find ways to make smashing things more engaging. While they are running out of ideas, the story they need to fit their formulaic gameplay into is more self serious and tragic than ever.

Lord of the Rings, as far as licensed film properties go, is different from the others licensed to Lego. The Hobbit films are as much a story about greed, power, and forgiveness as they are about setting on a perilous adventure. But while the art, sound, and music all support the themes of the films, the mechanics of play are focused on destruction.

Of course, while you beat up hundreds of Orcs with your friends, you won’t care about ludonarrative dissonance. You’ll care whether it’s a good co-op experience. Unfortunately, this is a bit of mixed bag. It’s tough to properly evaluate “good” co-op, since having fun with friends has a way of glossing over a game’s flaws. Still, this is the most unnecessarily complex Lego game yet, and even co-op suffers for it.

Forcing in The Hobbit’s large cast of 13 dwarves, a hobbit, and a human doesn’t lend itself to interesting gameplay. Effort was made to differentiate each dwarf, but depending on your familiarity with each’s arsenal, you’ll be stuck figuring out which one of your party carries the necessary bow, or which has the power to smash large rocks, etc. To add another layer of complication, each character has an inventory, and if you forget which is carrying the bow, you need to cycle through until you find your needed item. Ham-fisting unique abilities into the gameplay just artificially blocks progress and doesn’t allow for smooth gameplay.

At least the game’s open-ended Middle Earth is there to keep things fresh. Its vistas are incredible, and the knowledge that you can literally walk to any location on the map of Middle Earth is intoxicating. Sadly, though, you can’t use any characters other than the ones in Thorin’s company until you finish the entirety of the story missions. The world offers you hundreds of opportunities, but you won’t be able to access all of them until you’ve slogged through the annoyingly padded story missions.

If this review is reading negatively of the gameplay, that’s intended. But the presentation is truly stunning. The faithfulness Middle-Earth’s depiction, the soundtracks, and the character designs are all breathtaking. The cutscenes commit to taking bits of dialogue from the movie, and this is hit-or-miss at best. It works at the movie’s most lighthearted moments, like dinner with the dwarves, but conflicts with the tragic themes in the history of the dwarves’ ancestors.

Of course, this is targeted toward younger players, but there are so many thematic inconsistencies and gameplay flow issues that a discerning solo player will likely be bothered by it. In co-op, though, you’ll probably be so busy laughing and enjoying yourself that it’s not going to matter. What might matter is that the content only reaches the end of the second movie, with rumours of a paid DLC final third of the story.

A hard 6, then. One half of this game is badly designed structured play, and the other is wonderfully straightforward unstructured play. If you can work through the mediocre to get to the good, you might enjoy yourself.


It’s the classic Lego gameplay with extra unwieldy character management. The open world is excellent and the free missions are nicely bite-sized.


A beautifully rendered Lego Middle-Earth, but framerate is always a little below 30. The dynamic lighting is particularly atmospheric.


The voice clips are largely from the movies, but their unironic delivery is dissonant with the visual gags in the cutscenes.


Lego Middle-Earth is amazing, but the work needed to let it reach its full potential is long and boring when completed solo. Co-op is a must.

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