I have a very love/hate relationship with LEGO: Lord of the Rings. When everything is going well, I have a great time. But that’s always the catch, isn’t it? — when everything is going well.
My first experience with the game was being thrown headlong into the Battle of Mount Doom, orcs charging at me from every which way, and it was here, mere seconds into the game, I discovered my first pet peeve — the controls.
Who thought this was a good idea
The game is designed to be playable by two people on the one keyboard. This means that, even if you are playing by your lonesome like I was, you’ll still be squished into one half of the keyboard. Movement is WASD as normal, while your right hand will be hovering over the H, J, K, and U keys. ‘H’ is for hitting, ‘J’ is for jumping, ‘K’ is for special uses (like Special K!) and ‘U’ is for… um… selecting ‘Uther Characters’! Yes, that’ll do.
They do make a certain amount of sense once you get used to them, but until that time, they are confusing and unfamiliar. I thought I’d be terribly clever and rebind them, but in the end that just made things worse. Go with the flow. You’ll get used to it, and it’s not that bad. A little crampy though, I must admit.
What you won’t get used to though, is ‘K’ being used for just about everything. LEGO: LotR suffers from a similar problem to games like Mass Effect 3, where the developers thought it’d be a great idea to map everything unusual to the one key. It’s far worse than Mass Effect 3 though: more than once you’ll find yourself standing exactly where you need to be in order to say, build something out of LEGO pieces, only to find yourself opening your inventory repeatedly instead. It doesn’t sound like a huge problem, and let’s face it, it isn’t really. It’s just the frequency with which that and other annoying ‘K’-related issues come up. Because it is a lot.
It’s not all bad, though. If nothing else, LEGO: LotR is a thoroughly beautiful game. While characters and destructible items are made out of LEGO, the background and settings are gorgeously rendered — and on full video settings, is absolutely jaw-dropping.
Secrets and slapstick
While it’s been a long while since I’ve played a LEGO game on my PC (I think it was the original LEGO: Star Wars?) the developers continue to demonstrate their ability come up with fun and engaging puzzles that use all your party members, as well as adding some silly slapstick to otherwise all-too-serious cutscenes. This is not a game for serious, hardcore gamers. If you can’t giggle at the sight of Helm’s Deep’s fortress gate being barred up with a pig, or Boromir being shot with a banana, this probably isn’t the game for you.
And so, when things are working well, I had a blast. It is silly, addictive fun running around thwacking at anything made of LEGO, causing millions of studs worth of property damage, as well as searching around for the endless bloody secrets.
Speaking of finding all the secrets, there’s another thing that may irk: in previous LEGO offerings, you were never able to find all the secrets in a single level the first time through, requiring you to come back in freeplay mode with access to all the characters in order to uncover them. You could always find maybe half, which usually resulted in me deciding not to bother with the free-play mode.
Perhaps that sort of attitude is what made them decide that it should be nearly impossible, now, to find secrets outside of freeplay mode. The treasure chests in particular are problematic. There’s something like ten in each level now, and I think the most I ever found by myself was about four or five. This probably won’t trouble you if you don’t have OCD though, because there are all sorts of collectibles for you to find.
Which segues nicely into one of the new features of the game, too…
Craft only what you need
…there is now a blacksmith in the game. Possibly many blacksmiths, but I’ve only come across one. In each level you can find (or not) a new design that he’ll make for you — if you have enough mithril, that is, which you earn by performing particular tasks in levels, such collecting all the collectibles, winning goat races, and so on.
These items the blacksmith will create for you will allow you access to parts of the game you wouldn’t normally be able to get to, at least outside of free-play mode. For example, maybe you’re playing a Gimili/Legolas/Aragorn section, and you see a wall that only Gollum/Smeagol can climb. Well, if you forge and wear these handy-dandy mithril boots, even Gimli can climb random walls like Gollum! How handy is that? Very.
There are some other great new features to this game as well, such as full voice acting! That’s right, this LEGO game actually has characters who speak. The audio is ripped straight from the movies of course, but given some of the awful voice actors out there, that’s okay with me.
In previous LEGO games, the levels centred around a sort of hub area, Dexter’s Diner in the original LEGO: Star Wars for example, or Hogwarts in LEGO: Harry Potter. LEGO: LotR has done away with that format and introduced a whole sort of meta-world instead. You travel along roads to your next level, explore entire areas like Hobbiton or Rivendell, and there are even more puzzles to solve out here.
This took me quite by surprise at first, as I thought I’d just gone on to the next level as per usual, and had spent at least 20 minutes taking out Frodo’s anger issues on unsuspecting bushes before I realised that — wait a second, this area is huge. What’s going on?
Some bad decisions
Unfortunately, with open worlds come quests. The worst kind of quests, too: fetch quests. I don’t think I did a single one, since they were all so out of the way and uninteresting. I even had an Uruk-Hai come up and me, saying “‘Sup, I lost my sword, maybe you could go find it for me?” I told him I would, then backed away slowly. They do give you rewards though (presumably mithril).
Finally, let’s talk about my two biggest pet peeves. Sure, LEGO LotR has a few bugs and things but they tended not to annoy me too badly. Some of them were downright laughable, like when Treebeard would occasionally rocket off the screen into space and float gently back down a few seconds later.
No, the two biggest problems I have with these games are entirely deliberate, making them the worst sort of sins.
First up: the camera. My Great Aunt Bessie, what were they thinking! When it comes down to it, LEGO games are primarily 3D platformers. And they are platformers that frequently punish you with death if you don’t make the leap, so… why did they think it would be a good idea to have a camera angle so awful that you can barely ever see where you’re jumping? After the fifth or sixth time not making a leap and losing half of your life-savings each time, you will be screaming at your monitor. Screaming.
My other pet peeve is easily avoidable, but could be seriously annoying if you like to play on your own. The second player can jump in any time, and it appears that you can switch your second player on but not… off. So let’s say your little brother comes along and wants to play with you before he has to go to bed. You switch on the second player and have a good time for a while, but then it’s bedtime and little Timmy has to leave. Now you’re stuck in split-screen mode forever. There doesn’t appear to be any way to stop being in co-op mode, without quitting the game.
I say ‘appear’ because I’m sure there must be a way, but if there is, they sure don’t tell you. Not even in the key bindings. Not in the booklet. I couldn’t even find it on Google. Maybe you’re smarter than I am, but I could not turn it off.
LEGO: Lord of the Rings is a lot of fun. It really is. If you’re a fan of the LEGO setting, this is definitely a good one for you to pick up, but the game has its fair share of frustrations, and big ones at that. It is the most beautiful game you’ll ever want to throw out your window. If you’re a bit iffy, I would definitely hit up the demo first (and hey, you can download it from our file mirror!)
- Fun, engaging puzzles
- Delightful humour
- Gratuitous property destruction
- New open world, quests, item forging
- Very pretty
- Camera angles are awful
- Controls are squished up and kind of confusing
- Treebeard will occasionally achieve low-earth orbit
- Accidentally activating co-op is SUPER frustrating