Cute is not something I look for in games. Sure, there are a lot of characters in games that I think are totally cute—Tali’Zorah comes readily to mind—but on the whole, I prefer my games to have a certain aesthetic. However, due to the gaming habits of my friend’s son, I was intrigued by the LEGO gaming franchise. The boy in question mainlines games like no tomorrow and is very good at them. I have watched him play several LEGO games so far and they looked fun and cute. LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Harry Potter seemed interesting and both used the same game mechanics, so that spoke well of the overall design. So, despite my reservations with the fact that it was cute, things looked interesting enough for me. I thought why not give it a shot?
I think by now people are aware that I am a huge Tolkien geek, especially after my comments on LOTRO, so the fact that I got LEGO LOTR should not surprise anyone. Knowing that the LEGO games were a bit silly and that the design of everything being bricks made it undeniably cute was a worry, since the story and movies were rarely either of those. Granted, Elijah Wood fit that look the same as Sean Astin and the other hobbits, so that helped some. When I loaded the game I was immediately tickled by the fact that it was the Howard Shore score. I got to see Orthanc in all its orcish glory in a scene plucked right from the movies where Saruman’s treachery was in full play, too. At that point, I knew I would be in for a ride—one that I very much might enjoy.
Starting the game, I was not sure what to expect, though I had a feeling there would be some nice movie moments thanks to the opening footage. However, I wasn’t expecting to hear Galadriel speaking the opening lines of the movie, nor was I expecting to fight against Sauron. It was both terrifying and adorable, which I had to admit felt odd. LEGO figures in armor fighting the good fight, breaking into pieces when they died—all of that was more than I had hoped or was prepared for. Actually playing through bits of the opening was so cool and not what I expected. This game held me in rapture.
Hearing the voices of the various characters plucked right out of the movies was dizzying and I loved it. The acting that had been done in the movies was excellent and to hear the emotional moments in the same manner helped me connect to the game even more, underscoring the need for great voice acting. The cutscenes were amazing not necessarily for the animation, but rather for those odd little LEGO silliness touches to the Nazgûl, as well as other things that made even tense moments really fun to watch. The game includes the best parts of the movies with some dialogue juggled around to fit the way TT Games put things together. The overall effect these touches gave to the game was really neat and drove me to play more and more, which I can imagine was the point.
Now, before you all think I have nothing but praise for the game, there were some issues. Bashing bushes and trees in order to get blocks seems quite antithetical to the ideas of Professor Tolkien. The notion of injuring nature in that manner would have appalled him. Such wanton destruction of nature is more in-line with the action of orcs than hobbits and elves, yet there I was required to destroy things. In spite of that thematic issue, I played as Samwise Gamgee beating bushes and flowers apart with a trowel all in the search of more shiny things. Even the need to set fire to things in order to proceed struck me as a bit jarring when compared with Tolkien’s worldview.
Another thing that confused and frustrated me in the game is that there was no play tutorial. You are thrown into the game with the assumption that you know what you are doing. As I had never played these games before, I was completely lost. I had to stop play in order to look up the controls multiple times so I could actually accomplish things. This made gameplay awkward, as I had no idea what to do and no idea what keys were needed to do a thing like jump or what have you. There were a few instances where the game told you what key to press, but it felt like there was no rhyme or reason to it. Also, not having an easy save option made me feel like I was back playing Final Fantasy VII where you only had a few places scattered here and there to save your progress. If you didn’t save early, often you fell back quite a ways so it drove you to save every chance you got. That was definitely an aspect of the game that I was not a fan of.
Overall, what did I think of the game? It was wonderful despite my issues. As I learn more about the quirks of the LEGO gaming format, the easier everything will become and the smoother gameplay will go. Certain moments from the movies that I was concerned with due to the cute factor and somewhat silly design scheme were done well, such as the battle between Gandalf and the Balrog. The introduction of Galadriel and Celeborn almost had me spitting out my water it was so lovely, despite being severely goofy.
Despite its jocularity, the game still had a decent respect for the characters and the story, which made me enjoy play for all my problems. If you are a fan of either the LEGO gaming franchise or The Lord of the Rings, I highly suggest you play this one. It was easy to get through Steam, if that is your preferred gaming option, and I am sure there are several places you can buy it for console play. Yes, I would love things to be more in-line with what Tolkien had written, but I can live with the minor conflict thanks to the pleasure of it. Play it. You won’t regret it.