It would seem that LEGO has never met a license it didn't want to turn into a videogame full of adorable little pieces and parts. But how does LEGO Lord of the Rings fare in the pantheon of LEGO games? I'm slightly biased as I love the LEGO games in general, but LotR is their most ambitious title to date, and I'm happy to say that it doesn't fall flat on its face and bodes well for future projects!
They've condensed the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy down into the one game (oddly, there is a break for game credits at the halfway-ish point as well as the end... not sure what that's all about) and used actual dialogue clips from the films to aid in telling the epic tale. So yes, you've got another LEGO game using voice acting, but since that's where things are going now, you're just going to have to get used to it. And it doesn't stop them from undercutting some of the drama in the dialogue with the typical LEGO visual gags.
Like LEGO Batman 2's open-world Gotham City, LEGO LotR contains an explorable Middle Earth replete with not only secrets to discover, but sidequests to take on. It almost starts to feel like a LEGO RPG at points. It doesn't really threaten to overwhelm the story, though, as they're very easily missable playing through story mode. They're also essentially fetch quests, which are never particularly that interesting although they're still better than escort missions. There is also mythril to collect, both within the game world and as rewards for achieving "True Adventurer" on a level. These mythril blocks can be brought to a blacksmith that will let you forge items (after finding the plans for them) that will either be used to unlock secrets or complete a fetch quest.
The graphics continue to be terrific, with everything looking like shiny little pieces of plastic, but they merge well with the more natural looking effects like lava or water. The sound comes straight from the movies, with familiar musical themes and voices (although obviously additional characters are voiced by new actors). There's really not much more to say about either of those. At this point, it's exactly the kind of polish you expect from a LEGO title.
Gameplay is also the same, with each character from the tale wielding different abilities that are required to both progress through story mode and unlock secrets. Naturally, you're only going to be able to unlock a few (if any) secrets in Story Mode with the limited characters you're given in each level, forcing you to go back in Free Play to get the rest. And complete all the sidequests, too, if you're so inclined. Luckily, you can locate statues that will mark your world map with icons denoting the various secrets, which is helpful, as it's a big world. Also, you can fast travel via the map!
The only issues are the usual ones for a LEGO game. Occasionally the AI of your scene partners is awful enough to get them stuck somewhere earlier in the level, forcing you to swap to them and catch up. And once in a while, it's a little difficult to line up the controls just right so they'll do what you want. But overall, I had fewer problems with LEGO LotR than other titles.
At this point, Traveller's Tales has the LEGO games down to a science, so there isn't much more to say than "Yeah, this is another good one." But I appreciate that they're expanding their scope, turning LEGO Lord of the Rings into almost an RPG. It's a big world, with a lot to do, and it bodes well for the upcoming LEGO City Undercover on the Wii U. If you're a LEGO games fan or a Lord of the Rings fan, definitely make sure you play this one!
A copy of LEGO Lord of the Rings for the Xbox 360 was provided by Warner Bros. for the purposes of this review. Story mode was completed with a few sidequests along the way...