Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC
Publisher: Warner Brothers
Developer: Traveler's Tales
Review Date: 2/20/13
Traveler's Tales continues to tweak and refine their popular Lego game formula with "The Lord Of The Rings," resulting in their most epic game yet. The stunning recreation of Middle Earth is enormous and full of detail and charm. Like previous Lego games, you take your cute Lego characters through the events of Peter Jackson's "The Lord Of The Rings" movie trilogy, collecting treasures and unlocking additional quests and content. The biggest difference is that this game uses the actual dialog from the films, which gives the presentation a much more serious and dramatic tone. The game attempts to inject humor, but the material doesn't lend itself well to parody. After completing Story mode, Free Play becomes available which allows you to start collecting treasures. A large part of the game revolves around open world exploration in Middle Earth, tracking down red bricks, silver (Mithril) bricks, unlockable characters, and performing fetch quests for various people that you run across. These are fun diversions that allow you to explore every nook and cranny of the lovingly recreated realm, from The Shire all the way to Mt. Doom.
The game gets high marks for its presentation, and using the original voices gives it a sense of authority and authenticity. An early trailer for the game used different voices, and it sounded awful. In particular, Boromir pronounced "troll" as "trawl," which really irritates me. It must have irritated other people, too. The only complaint I have is that Aragorn's mumbling is really hard to understand at times. Thankfully, you can turn on subtitles if you really need to know what's going on. The music is also from the original movie scores, and the various themes loop well and blend nicely across the different locations. Load times have been dramatically reduced, and you can seamlessly explore all of Middle Earth on foot without any interruptions. The game has a world map similar to "Lego Batman 2" which allows you to instantly travel to any part of Middle Earth. While it still doesn't address the orientation issues that were a problem with that game, it does allow you to set a destination path of ghost studs to follow, so you can at least start heading in the right direction. It's definitely an improvement, but it still doesn't solve the original problem.
Unfortunately, in keeping with the trend, this is also the buggiest Lego game to date. While I never experienced any crashing bugs, there were numerous show stopping issues that forced a reboot, along with an ever increasing list of gameplay problems that ultimately spoiled my complete enjoyment of the game. The first time I visited the blacksmith, I was locked inside and couldn't leave, which forced a reboot. Later, I had to destroy five spider webs, but one of them was indestructible, forcing me to replay the level. Problems become more apparent in Free Play, and boss encounters frequently become unplayable if you deviate from the Story mode scripted actions. Characters often get stuck in the environment, and while swapping to the secondary character often solves the problem, sometimes you have to reboot. Changing characters is more problematic than in previous games, and sometimes you have to play tricks in order to get it to work properly. For example, in order to climb the tower in Isengard, you need an elf. When you get halfway up the tower, you need to switch to a Hobbit or a Dwarf, but if your secondary character is already a Hobbit or a Dwarf, it will send you all the way back to the bottom. This can be very frustrating, especially given the sloppy controls. Speaking of control issues, jumping puzzles in this game are needlessly infuriating, and even hopping across a simple pond can be maddening. Inventory selection is odd and unintuitive, and every time you pick something up, you have to assign it to an available slot. It's an extra button press that's completely unnecessary, and even after playing for thirty hours, I still never got the hang of it. You should be able to just pick up an item and go, and I'm surprised no one questioned this design decision. And just like in "Lego Batman 2," the save points are completely broken. Seriously, was this feature even tested at all? I've never gotten one of these to work. It's unfortunate that all of these nuisances add up to a less than stellar experience, but it's still quite enjoyable if you have the patience and forgiveness for making such concessions.