Lego: The Hobbit

Year: 2014
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Traveler's Tales
Genre: Action/Adventure
Review Date: 11/5/14
Rating: ****

Following in the footsteps of "Lego: The Lord Of The Rings" (2012), this game recounts the events in Peter Jackson's first two Hobbit movies ("An Unexpected Journey" and "The Desolation Of Smaug"). At first it seems like a money grabbing cop-out to not include "The Battle Of The Five Armies," but after playing through the game it makes sense to stop where it does. Unlike the first "Lego Star Wars" (2005), there's no attempt to include spoilers for the third film or add some vague closure that may or may not be related to the series. But if there's money to be made, they may still release another Hobbit game, but there's not much ground to cover with "The Battle Of The Five Armies" and it would probably be pretty dull.

Like every other Lego game, the main play modes are Story and Free Play. Story mode recreates the events in the movies using audio performances from the original source material. This works much better than it did in "Lego: LOTR" because the source is cleaner and crisper, which makes the characters much easier to understand. Unfortunately, listening to the inhabitants of Middle Earth becomes annoying after a while, and I wished the overly chatty and repetitive blacksmith and his bearded wife could be muted. For the most part, Story mode is a lot of fun and actually made me want to watch the original movies again. Free Play allows you to revisit the Story levels with different characters in an attempt to find all of the various treasures, designs, and mini-kits. In addition to these modes, the vast majority of the game involves a number of quests spread across the great expanse of Middle Earth. These are a lot of fun, but they can become tedious after a while. Thankfully, the game provides numerous shortcuts for traveling from place to place, but it's also quite rewarding to just walk everywhere and take in the sights. The map of Middle Earth is huge and almost completely seamless. There are a couple of areas that you simply cannot get to without flying, and it's easy to get turned around and confused, but for the most part you can walk wherever you want to get to.

Middle Earth itself is gorgeous. While some of the locations are recycled from "Lego: LOTR", the new locations are just fabulous. Murkwood Forest, Lake Town, Dale, and the Pine Forest are especially breathtaking. The music is nice and subtle, and adds a delightful emotional texture to the experience. You can also unlock a retro sounding 8-bit soundtrack as well as a Hobbit Rave song, which is extremely amusing. It also turns Middle Earth into a psychedelic night club, with colored spotlights and dancing mini-figures. Nearly all of the characters in the game are male, with the exception of Tauriel, Galadriel, and the random NPC hobbits, humans, dwarves, elves, goblins, and orcs that you encounter along the way. As a result, I played as Tauriel for about 90% of the game, and only switched to another character when I needed a special skill. Most of the skills can be wielded by any character once you've found all of the treasures and forged all of the Mithril items, but that does expose some bugs. For instance, there are some hooks that can only be latched on to with a native flail user, rather than just anyone equipped with a flail.

Stability has always been an issue with the Lego games, but I'm happy to say that "Lego: The Hobbit" is one of the least buggy games in the series. There were still a handful of times where the game crashed, or my character got stuck in the scenery which forced me to reboot. I also ran into a couple of instances where a quest wouldn't register as being complete, and the map would often get confused about what quests were available and how to get to specific areas. The building mini-games from "The LEGO Movie Videogame" are also in used in this game, and they continue to be annoying. Thankfully, the game only features a handful of chase sequences, but unlike previous games, they require no user interaction at all. Your character runs all by himself and you can optionally choose to move side-to-side or occasionally jump if you want to collect studs or treasures. These sections seem rather pointless and only serve as story links. One new shortcut feature that I really like is the ability to jump into sub-chapters in the story levels, so if there's a particular treasure that you're trying to get at the very end of a level, you can just skip to the end of the level rather than slogging through the entire thing over and over. This made the final treasure run-through much more pleasant.

Overall, if you enjoyed the other Lego games, you're going to enjoy this one. The minor tweaks to the formula help streamline the process, but also force you to try things you may have skipped in previous games. Like the pointless character customizer, for instance. In this game, you're required to use it to meet certain objectives. Despite my minor complaints, I thoroughly enjoyed the game and it's probably one of the strongest entries in the series. Hopefully, future Lego games will continue the trend.