Review by Ben Griffin
Lego Lord of the Rings is an emphatic reminder of just how many iconic moments there are in Peter Jackson's fantasy epics. Recreated in blocky form – as simple puzzles, short platforming sections and quaint cutscenes – and lifting the trilogy's score and dialogue wholesale, the Helm's Deep siege, Balrog showdown, and, er, bit where Gandalf bangs his head on Bilbo's lamp all make the cut.
The journey begins, as in the films, on the slopes of Mount Doom rendered in toy bricks. As Isildur, you'll chop down orcs using repetitive prods, then defeat Sauron with three slashes while he's dazed. It's simple stuff, and unrevised from the previous fellowship of Lego games. Traveller's Tales' formulaic Lego design is feeling a little tired now, but this outing is elevated by detail, ranging from the massive (thousands of individual warriors battle in the background) to the blink-and-you'll-miss-it (Isildur faithfully wields the Narsil blade).
Middle-earth is a vast and fanciful open world, uncovered region by region until you can roam from Hobbiton to Bree to Helm's Deep to Isengard without a single load.
It's a shame you're given little reason to wander immediately, seeing as most puzzles are unsolvable until you unlock a specific character – of which there are dozens. And, like in past games, your movement is so slow that it seems a ploy by devs who want to artificially extend the longevity. At least mounts make the hikes a little smoother or, if you're on goat-back, a little bumpier.
The quests you're given in smaller hubs are better. Early on in Bree, a gardener asks for a Mithril trowel – an effective task because you can tackle it right away, and it introduces weapon crafting. Each character (you can have up to eight on screen) has an inventory, and provided you have enough Mithril bricks, certain items can be shaped by blacksmiths into all manner of mythical swords, daggers and... rope.
Ironically, it's more than a little Minecraft, a game after Lego's own heart. Similarly, you won't always craft weapons – as three hungry Hobbits camping on Weathertop, you'll also forage sausages, tomatoes and nice, crispy bacon to knock up a mean fried breakfast.
The meat of the game lies in tag-teaming differently skilled characters. Gandalf conjures shields, Hobbits dig holes and light fires, and Gimli, to his dismay, can be tossed as no dwarf should. It's incredibly faithful: on the Misty Mountains, for instance, you'll find the fellowship trudging through deep snow as Legolas daintily treads on top, all as Saruman's voice echoes on the wind in efforts to “bring down the mountain!” In fact, you're almost discouraged from going solo. 'Press any button to start' is constantly flashing in the top corner like a coin-op at the end of a pier, and it can't be disabled. This just makes the lack of online co-op, or even four-player splitscreen, all the more egregious, especially on PC.
Three films' worth of standout scenes are made playable with such a deft touch that the game's tired design can almost be forgiven. Fleeing Ringwraiths en route to Buckleberry Ferry is a mad into-the-camera dash; the dust-up between Gandalf and Saruman incorporates a spot of first-person staff duelling; and when Frodo puts on the ring he enters some cloudy alternate reality.
It doesn't stray far enough from the tried-and-tested Lego mould to be an unequivocal recommendation, but Lego Lord of the Rings is an authentic, classy and perfectly paced homage. Precious, indeed.
Expect to pay: $57 / £35
Release: Out now
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment
Traveller’s Tales have stuck to their formula, but luckily the source material is so iconic, and the tribute so thorough, it barely matters.