The Lego Lord of the Rings is a great game to play with a loved one. That sentence could sum up all of the Lego branded games, which is probably the only reason they keep on getting made. The Lord of the Rings films were all released around December of years past, and combined with the Christian themes and millions of readers, made seeing the films into family events. And it is the “family event,” the co-op mode, of the video game that is by far the best part about this game. Even though I liked the LOTR movie series, I would have gotten through this game alone. The creators and developers must know that, since they have optimized the main storyline for a co-op experience.
It is weird to play The Lego Lord of the Rings at this point in my life and think about what type of person would actually enjoy this game. It is a little too intense for the younger kids that would actually enjoy playing with Legos, though the same could be said about the films. On the flipside, it may not have enough substance for older kids already playing “M” rated games. For the first time in a while, my wife and I actually enjoyed playing a video game (that wasn’t kinect based) together. This is a huge deal. I love playing video games, and my wife gets upset when I wake up on a Saturday or Sunday (or on the “occasional” weekday) and fire up a console to start playing a game. I talked to people about their experience with Lego video games, and it seems like something the non-gamer in the relationship actually suggests playing. We both liked The Lord of the Rings movies, and we both like puzzles, so this game is a better fit for us than Lego Batman.
Getting through the game’s main storyline takes about as long as watching the trilogy, but after I was finished, I had no desire to go back and do all of the side missions and replay main missions to unlock any extra content. Any characters that I did buy, I only came across by accident. Most of the characters are redundant, and the “specialist” characters (that can fish or climb certain areas, for example) become useless. Some of the side missions are silly and playful, such as helping orcs find lost cooking utensils. The game is billed as open-world, which it is, though thankfully not to scale.
The trouble with playing co-op is that it is less likely for both people to want to go and do the side quests and to keep focused on those side quests. I didn’t have the urge to go back and do side quests by myself. With increasing age there has been a decreasing interest in doing all the side missions in most of the games I play.
Even though it is Lego branded, the game still feels epic. The scale is impressively huge during action sequences, though the last Lego game I played was the first Lego Star Wars game on PS2 (Episodes I-III, before the “original” trilogy came out). There is also the built in advantage of the property being based on The Lord of the Rings. A great choice was having side-by-side arcs during some parts of the story that make each player contribute in similar amounts. This prevents one player from dominating all the gameplay, though sometimes we would switch controllers. This is obviously a game that is best played in co-op mode, and I wish there were more games that tailored to such co-op experiences.
However, in co-op mode, there is a dynamic split screen effect set up by default. Ideally the dynamic split screen would add precious screen space for each player. While I like the idea, this makes it more difficult to track your location in the level and leads to confusion during some of the larger battles. This mode can be switched off and doing so makes gameplay more enjoyable.
The platforming while crossing through the dead marshes was the most frustrating aspect of gameplay, as we kept getting pushed back to the beginning of the section. The fact that you can’t really die in the game is a plus, as the controls are not the most sensitive and it is easy fall of ledges, though that could be due to the stiffness of the Lego characters legs (they really only have a hip joint).
The big action pieces themselves are especially fun, though there are some scenes that were added or altered for co-op gameplay. At least according to the game, there was a battle scene that happened between Aragon pulling out his sword and the dead armies agreeing to fight for him that was cut from the movie. I haven’t read the books, but the game is supposed to be based on the films, so it is surprising when something that didn’t happen in the movie occurs in the game. Most of the time, the additions do make the game more fun, such as this battle between Aragon and the leader of the Army of the Dead.
A semi-plus is the inclusion of dialogue, which include sound bites taken from the films. Though these bites are sometimes awkwardly cut and pasted into the game, they still add to the authenticity of the experience. There will probably be nobody that plays this game that hasn’t seen the films, so splicing in dialog straight from the movie helps to remind us of our location in the larger story. There was some charm in having the characters mime in early Lego games, but there is a reason that showings of The Artist weren’t selling out. We (general consumers) want high definition graphics, we want large-scale action pieces, and we want dialogue.
Of course, the Lego series of video games are simultaneously movie and toy tie-ins. The timing of the The Lego Lord of the Rings release date caused it to basically coincide with the release of The Hobbit. Thus, this game also serves as an actively consumed refresher foe less hardcore fans. It also might be faster to get through, depending on which versions of the movies you watch.
Playing the Lego tie-in to The Lord of the Rings is actually preferable to playing a standard tie-in, and it is easy to see all movie tie-in games being replaced with these more enjoyable Lego experiences. Even without replay value, the game delivers a great co-op experience alongside its popular source material. The Lego series of games delivers again, as Lego The Lord of the Rings does not waste that material.