Yes, this is a review, not an advanced preview for a game which (with any sense) wouldn’t see a release until December when the final Hobbit movie hits cinemas. Instead, this Lego title encompasses the first two films with the third to be added as DLC later this year.
It would take the most upbeat of optimists to suggest that WB will do the right thing and release the add-on (the rest of the game) for free, but my cynical nature tells me to expect something around £15.99 –an oddly specific guess I admit. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see this game re-released complete with the remaining content in December for the same price it is today. So, I guess the only real question left, is how many Lego games do you need in your life? With Lego Marvel and the Lego Movie tie-in released just five and two months ago respectively, you have to wonder why WB didn’t wait.
But here we are, back in Middle Earth for another action-platformer collect em’ up. As with the Lego Lord of the Rings game, there are lines of dialogue and music from the movie giving the game an authentic air. In the Lego LOTR titles, I found this to be an odd match as the straight-faced dialogue was at odds with the characters messing about in the background. But The Hobbit movies have turned out to be lighter affairs and the seriousness and comedy seems to gel together better than I expected. Or maybe it’s because I loved the LOTR movies have been bitterly disappointed with the drawn-out Hobbit ones.
As you’d expect, the game closely follows the events of the movies. Many of the set pieces feel surprisingly dull though, especially the first half of the barrel-riding scene where you’re only allowed to occasionally bash some QTE buttons. There’s no denying Lego Smaug looks a bit rubbish too.
In the interest of not wasting all our time, yes much of the gameplay is the same as any Lego game with a mix of platforming, melee combat and destroying scenery to collect coins or discover pieces that you then use by holding the Circle button to do the Lego boogie and build something to help you pass an obstacle.
But how about the newer stuff? There’s a minor loot element to the game now, mainly in the form of salvageable materials like precious stones, rope, stone, wood and so on. These are then used at crafting stations to build larger mechanisms. A new minigame automatically builds most of the model, but occasionally you’re allowed to put a piece in for yourself. The loot is also used in the endgame to build some very expensive items. Precious stones need to be mined by a character with a pickaxe and there’s a brief minigame involving stopping a swinging arm in the sweet spot for a bonus reward. Every time you see a shiny pile of rubble, you won’t be able to resist bouncing over to mine some shiny shiz.
For all the promise of new combos in the fighting side of the game, I couldn’t find them. Unless they mean the odd QTE that slows down some one-on-one fights. There are buddy-up moves that tie two characters together for a spinning move or a strong vertical stomp, but you’ll spend more time bashing Circle trying to initiate the clunky linkup.
The dwarves have their own skills, but they’re spread thinly, requiring a tedious amount of swapping to get what you need, it doesn’t help that many characters look so similar. Also, multiple annoyances like having two different types of target for arrows and slingshots really drag the game’s pace down all too often.
The skills are recoats of familiar ones from Marvel and other games in the Lego series. There’s a hook on a chain for swinging or pulling objects (hello Spiderman), arrows, elves can wall-jump or swing on horizontal poles, Gollum adds the sexy, Radagast heals animals, Bilbo can go invisible with the Ring and so on. Sadly, there are no flying characters, which you’ll really miss as some of the platforming is atrocious thanks to some awkward physics that see characters slide off the edges of platforms or just not jump at all.
More than any Lego game yet, don’t bother trying to find the hidden items first time through the story as you’re rarely given the characters needed for them until you go back in freeplay mode. Even then, half the side-missions or hidden items feel like trying to find the chicken before the egg.
From a technical standpoint, there are more bugs than usual. I had to reset a few times during story missions as characters got stuck in walls and when playing through the open world hub missions in co-op the game would frequently require rebooting when characters got stuck in a loop when switching. This last issue started happening every ten minutes or so during one of our longer sessions. The hint icons for new mechanics only appearing after you’ve already done few in a previous stage is a bit embarrassing from a design point too.
Speaking of co-op, it’s 2014 and there are still no online options for a Lego game, which just isn’t good enough. I’ve nothing against local split-screen play, but the vertical split is a ridiculous design choice as it severely limits your field of view compared to a horizontal divide. The dynamic screen merging is a great idea, but again it’s poorly implemented, giving odd proportions of a split to a player or randomly flipping over for no reason. Despite the issues, playing co-op is the only sane way to get through the endgame missions or replay story levels to find all the minikits and extra items. You’ll die of boredom otherwise as the unskippable dialogue of quest givers is unbelievably poor.
The initial story mode playthrough can be done in about six hours, but there are tonnes of collectibles and extra missions available afterwards. I’ve put in about 15 hours now and am little over the 50% mark. Despite the camera annoyances, I’d still advise playing with a friend. You don’t even have to play in the same area as you’re free to travel to any part of the Northern Middle Earth hub lands to take on the extra tasks, making the hunt for that Platinum Trophy all the easier. Don’t bank on having much ‘fun’ though.
- Official dialogue and music works this time
- So much to find
- More enjoyable in co-op
- Where’s the rest of it?
- No online co-op or horizontal option for split-screen
- So many bugs
The Short Version: You’ll need to be a massive Lego game fan to get the most out of this latest tie-in, as it’s one of TT’s most by the numbers efforts yet. Riddled with technical glitches, samey combat and surprisingly dull replications of the movies’ set pieces it’s a harder sell than it should be, more so because it’s missing the final third until December. As ever though, you may keep coming back to it, as the collectibles are as moreish as ever, despite the increasingly roundabout way of finding everything. Still, I’d rather play this than watch the movies again.
Platform: PS4 (reviewed) | PS3 | Vita | X360 | XO | Wii U |3DS
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive