The LEGO videogames have become something of a breed of their own in the industry. While gamers will continually berate franchises for becoming stale, rehashing old mechanics and offering little to progress their chosen genre, they will buy each new title in TT Games’ LEGO series without a second thought. Maybe it’s because they can always be relied on to deliver a familiar-yet-enjoyable experience, or that they’re pick-up-and-play nature makes them suitable for audiences of any age. Or maybe it’s because once in a blue moon TT Games make enough changes to see the franchise reinvigorated: refreshed and renewed all at once and pushing back against the notion that little has changed in the past decade.
Based on the movie trilogy as opposed to the original literature, LEGO The Lord of the Rings retells the story in typical LEGO videogame fashion. The opening sequence begins fairly seriously, telling a tale of woe and ruin in a mature fashion (despite the familiar visual quality) before lightening-up over a few quick bursts of gameplay before becoming and out-and-out comedy presentation. It’s a familiar pacing and structure due to the now rather common presentation of the LEGO videogames, but of course this repetition has allowed TT Games to perfect their art.
Such fine tuning can be seen in many places throughout the videogame, but is most obvious in the very first instance: Mordor. The armies of man and elf have made their way to the gates and are facing off with unimaginable numbers of orcs, and the player is in the middle. Protected by a ring of friendly troops the player learns the basics as a war rages around them. Never before have videogame consoles seen such impress scale with even the likes of Dynasty Warriors and Kingdom Under Fire – titles known for such achievement – failing to claim greater amounts of characters in action. You could just say that it’s essentially video on loop, that there’s no need to program hundreds of AI routines for characters simply moving from one side of the screen to the other, and while this may be true it’s visual design is no less impressive.
Now of course, much of the LEGO formula is present and correct here in LEGO The Lord of the Rings. If you’ve played every single videogame TT Games has yet produced with the LEGO licence you’re unlikely to feel that much has changed – aside from the setting and characters, of course – but those who have missed a few instalments will likely be shocked by just haw far things have come. Players will still wander through mostly linear levels collecting studs, hunting hidden objects and unlocking new characters to do it all again with. However, the biggest changes lay within those levels.
The most notable advancement would be in that of the variety: players are no longer simply trudging through levels facing occasional platform challenges and vehicle/animal riding (though this does of course remain the core foundation of the gameplay) with stealth missions, sprints and other welcome changes of pace. Another is that of the remarkably expansive hub world’s side missions, offering players the opportunity to earn special bricks, unlockables and plenty of studs outside of the main levels.
LEGO The Lord of the Rings features two-player drop-in/drop-out co-operative gameplay throughout, as has always been an important selling point for the franchise, however it remains questionable as to why TT Games hasn’t yet taken the appropriate steps to include online multiplayer capabilities. The tech behind LEGO The Lord of the Rings is clearly advanced enough to cater for it and the gameplay is undeniably well suited. One might suggest that there’s not enough demand, that it’s an unnecessary waste of resources, and yet the same could be said in many multiplayer modes in other titles that still continue to deliver them. Regardless of this quandary, the fact remains that including the option would add yet another string to the LEGO franchise’s already impressive bow, another selling point in a world where most videogames live-and-die on their marketers bullet-points.
The visual quality of LEGO The Lord of the Rings is charming, with the usual LEGO humour evident throughout and the same kind of attention to detail that the series has become famous for and that many lesser titles shy away from all too quickly. The amount of character drawn from the simple 3D shapes is never less than amazing and the locations deliver the finest level of fidelity the series has ever presented. The sound quality is also of a high standard throughout, using samples from the motion-picture upon which it’s based as well as the original score.
The constant push for bigger-and-better is an ethos that runs throughout the videogame industry, in everything from its hardware manufacturing processes to the delivery of content to the public. Electronic Theatre does welcome the idea of annual iteration more than most – when it’s met with reason enough to do so, of course – and despite the many iterations of the LEGO franchise there’s more than enough evidence here in LEGO The Lord of the Rings to demonstrate why such commitment can yield the best results. There may be many LEGO titles adorning retail shelves these days, but without question LEGO The Lord of the Rings is the one design to rule them all.