Stack of Christmas video games begging to be played!Just got LEGO Lord of the Rings for Christmas, and I have already played through the “Fellowship” storyline.  (Disturbingly, however, it tells me I have only finished 12.9% of the total gameplay.)  I have played LEGO Star Wars and Harry Potter previously, so I am not new to the series, and I found this to be a really enjoyable addition to the LEGO game line.  And great timing, given that The Hobbit is still in theaters.

The story follows the LOTR movies (including voice clips), a fact which can actually be helpful if you ever get stuck on one of the puzzles and don’t know what it wants you to do next.  Just think about what happens next in the movie and what you can do to approximate that!  I found this game less frustrating in that respect than the first Harry Potter one, where I got stuck on puzzles a lot.

The gameplay is very similar to the other LEGO games.  Different characters have different abilities and items that are needed in different places, and it’s usually pretty clear who needs to do what.  Sam and Legolas are undoubtedly the most useful characters so far.  Sam can plant and dig with his spade, cook with his frying pan, start fires with his tinderbox, climb through tiny hobbit holes, and pull things with his Elvish rope.  (And I love Sam, so I play as him all the time.)  As an elf, Legolas can jump and swing really well, and he fires arrows with his bow.  Frodo is totally useless (and Ring mode is annoying), and frankly so are Pippin, Aragorn, and Boromir, and even Gandalf mostly so far.  Merry can at least fish.

I’ve only hit one real glitch so far.  On Amon Hen, Aragorn and Boromir are fighting an Uruk-hai.  After you attack him while his shield is stuck, you have to let him run away.  If you keep attacking him, it apparently glitches and then the Uruk-hai just stands there, not attacking and not taking damage.  Luckily, there’s a save point there, so it wasn’t too frustrating to have to go back and replay it if it does mess up.

The game is fun with 1 or 2 players.  Combat and coin collection are a little easier with 2 players, but the split screen has not improved from the previous games and I find it a little annoying as the screen splits too easily and can be distracting.    Also, sometimes they have each player as a character in a different location, working on a totally different task, like Gandalf fighting Saruman while Frodo and the hobbits escape the Riders.  This can be really frustrating because when one player makes a move that continues the story, it pulls up a full screen cut-scene, so the other player gets interrupted in what he was doing.  To avoid this, you can sometimes switch characters to be back in the same party again, for example Gandalf changing to be one of the other hobbits, by holding down Y and selecting Sam, etc.

Where this game really shines is the world and environment.  There are lots of free areas that you can just roam around, collecting studs and finding hidden “mithril bricks.”  The scenery is actually really beautiful, and with the music (also from the movies), it really puts you in the Middle Earth mood.

The game is also full of wonderful little details:

  • Tom Bombadil is an unlockable playable character.  He is a “strong” character, and he sings to grow plants!!
  • If you play Weathertop twice, you get an acheivement called “What about second breakfast?” because you made the food twice.
  • When you wear the Mithril Music Boots (which you can craft), it plays the LOTR movie music theme as you walk around.
  • To hit cracked LEGO blocks on the side of walls, one of the taller characters must pick up Gimli and throw him.  So much for “Nobody tosses a dwarf.”  (You can pick up the hobbits, too.)
  • Typical LEGO humor in the cut scenes: Merry and Pippin infiltrate the Rivendell council by wearing fake moustaches, and Celeborn has to go sweep Lothlorien while Galadriel stands around being awesome.

All in all, a big thumbs up from me so far, especially for kids, families, and non-hardcore gamers.  I like it better than Harry Potter, but not as much as Star Wars (but that’s true of the original source material as well as the games, so it makes sense).

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