LEGO games are notoriously hard to hate, and have a way of bringing adventures to life in a brick-smashing, stud harvesting, character collecting plethora of fun. I’ve already converted my dad; he scoffed at my purchase of LEGO The Lord of the Rings, citing the age rating and raising an eyebrow. Skip to an hour later, and he’s determined to start a LEGO games collection. With such a relaxed and funny co-op experience and gameplay that is recognisable but not overused, Traveller’s Tales are winners with this franchise. LEGO The Hobbit may not be for those desiring something new, but it is for those that love what’s already been done.
• Developer: Traveller’s Tales
• Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
• Reviewed on: Xbox 360
• Also Available On: PS3 / PS4 / Xbox One / Wii U / Vita / 3DS / PC / Mac
• Release Date: Available Now
The game follows the plot of the first two films of The Hobbit trilogy, the tale of Thorin Oakenshield and Company reclaiming their homeland of Erebor, snatched from them by the fire and fury of Smaug the dragon – only, they haven’t got that far. The upside to this is that with the promise of the final film, we can too look forward to future DLC; and after playing LEGO The Hobbit, you’ll want it, despite its slightly abrupt ending.
LEGO The Lord of the Rings was the first LEGO game to include original audio from the films, and The Hobbit continues this very effectively – when you’re often switching between a group of thirteen dwarves, their dialogue and voices help identify who’s who. The characters also have new idle animations that sets them apart; it’s amusing to spot Dwalin sneakily doing some press-ups or flexing his arms. Despite these neat, humorous additions, it may take a while to be comfortable with switching quickly between characters, seeking out the dwarf wielding the slingshot, flail or warhammer. As a result, it’s less likely you’ll discover your favourite character in this troop, as they don’t feel hugely distinctive; at least not at first.
The controls used in LEGO Lord of the Rings, basic as they were, have been further simplified in LEGO The Hobbit. Instead of two separate wheels to show switchable characters and your inventory, you have one wheel for both, which is easier (if you can get easier in such a simple to navigate game) and can save a smidge of time. One of the more interesting additions is the mining ability, primarily done by Bofur, which adds a new element to brick-breaking. If you’re a completionist that must achieve the Master Burglar stage of every single level by obsessively collecting studs then perhaps it’s not too exciting, but otherwise it does add more of a draw to smashing everything in your path – shiny items to add to your collection! Along with mining gems we can collect other resources, such as rope, wood and meat, all stored in your ‘Resources’ part of the ‘Y’ wheel. These new items can come in handy in completing mini-quests, trading with NPC’s, and in building certain structures necessary in the story.
Thanks to this, LEGO The Hobbit holds true to its claim as ‘the most expansive LEGO game to date’. Exploration in-between story levels feels opened up to include underground, aboveground and mountainside puzzles and treasures to seek out ; there might be boats to hop into and row towards new areas, or caves to discover and mine in, be they hidden under paths or along a mountain trail. This adds tons of potential discoveries within a game that promises a rich bundle of extra quests and content.
During the story, whether it be throwing plates in Bag End or fighting your way through Goblin Town, there are plenty of LEGO builds to create thanks to these new collectable resources. Unfortunately, this isn’t as fun as it sounds; after throwing all your mining ingredients into a pot, you’ll start a mini-game of piecing your blocks together by choosing the right LEGO piece needed on a wheel, and then watching the structure take shape. Whilst there is a chance to grab some extra studs depending on how fast you are, there’s little reward for this new interaction – it doesn’t add extra enjoyment, despite the fact it’s LEGO building in a LEGO game. Perhaps because it involves a pause in the traditional gameplay; the fun comes out of playing characters you love and solving puzzles in hilarious ways, and the input of unchallenging and unnecessary material is simply not needed.
Of course, there are plenty of positives. Tolkien’s world provides many impressive environments, and you are dropped into a world of bubbling vividness. The textures aren’t half bad either – in The Shire there’s an abundance of greenery, wooded fences and rolling hills. It only gets better from there – Beorn’s homestead and Mirkwood Forest follow suit in their lushness and atmosphere, thanks to clever lighting and graphics that are noticeably attractive even on Xbox 360. From the outset, when a young Thorin and his father Thrain are introduced the breadth of the surroundings are shown off through the camera’s distance, making areas like Erebor appear just as vast as we imagine, thus really bringing The Hobbit films into the game. There are plenty of sweeping shots establishing iconic settings, interesting point-of-view’s (Radagast flying through Greenwood on his rabbit-drawn sledge is particularly memorable) that help create dynamic levels that flow well.
Unfortunately during gameplay, the camera can feel temperamental at times. Certain levels involve a fixed camera and a platform-style of play; this doesn’t mean less fun, as the ‘Over Hill Under Hill’ level soon proves. However at other points, mostly when exploring open areas such as Rivendell, the camera can feel quite awkward when wandering through small rooms, narrow pathways and tight spots – not ideal for a game that largely involves seeking out hidden items. Thankfully, these minor irritations that crop up aren’t enough to completely distract you from the comedic antics of characters that are definitely best appreciated through co-operative play.
If you play LEGO The Hobbit, you will feel as though Martin Freeman was made to be a LEGO character. You will have many laughs; but also some small grievances over less-than-necessary additions to the typical LEGO gameplay. The level designs are brilliant, memorable and diverse, the dialogue and soundtrack working as the absolute jewels of yet another successful LEGO adaptation of a famed story. Whilst it partly feels that the hilarity and randomness of LEGO games isn’t as abundant in this title as previous ones, for any fans of fun storytelling, puzzle-game adventuring, and of course Middle-Earth frequenters, here’s a LEGO game that will happily dominate and promise hours of content and laughs.