When will these Lego games end? Never, apparently, but why would we want them to? The Lego games, despite being quite similar in execution, have been a constant force in casual block smashing, stud collecting, franchise cashing-in fun. There's not one I've played that I haven't enjoyed, and Lego The Lord Of The Rings is no exception.
The game, obviously, follows the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, with the fairly well established six story levels per film. The game does a pretty good job of covering most of the main events during the trilogy, covering both the epic battle scenes and the quieter sneaky bits, such as the hobbits escaping the black riders near the beginning, or creeping around with Gollum later on. There are even levels where you can switch between two sets of characters doing different things, which may eventually join up once progress is made and puzzles are solved. Each level is a fair length, and while some are more drawn out than others, it never feels boring. As with the other Lego games, everything you smash and build along the way unleashes a cascade of Lego studs that can be used as currency, and it never gets boring smashing up everything in sight.
Of course, in the true Lego game spirit, even once the story has been played through, you're not even half done. Each level has a Free Play mode, in which you can go back and uncover secrets that you couldn't get the first time round due to the limitations of the given characters. With over 80 characters that you can unlock, it's fair to say that there's a sizeable selection, and Lego The Lord Of The Rings has a new character selection mode that lets you choose from any character at any time in order to solve different puzzles or use different items. Perhaps one of the best new features is the introduction of an inventory. This lets you hold several items that you may be collecting for a puzzle at once, but also lets you access the treasure trove, a chest containing items you have forged that bestow the abilities once reserved for a single character onto anyone who holds it. This sometimes makes solving puzzles a lot simpler than having to change between rows of characters.
Exploration is the name of the game, especially with the expansive open world that you can explore even after the main levels are done. You can wander around the entirety of the journey you went through during the story, visiting places like The Shire, Isengard and Mount Doom. There are plenty of collectible objects hidden around the place, such as extra characters you can buy, blacksmith designs that let you build new inventory items, and mithril Lego bricks that provide the currency to build said items. Each item normally required solving an item based puzzle, using a character's special skill, or simply defeating a certain number of enemies in a time limit, and the challenges are varied enough to spur you on to collect everything. Red bricks make an appearance again, allowing you access to "cheat codes" that can pinpoint hidden objects, multiply your stud count or simply put some funny faces on your characters.
It's fair to say that Lego The Lord Of The Rings is the most expansive Lego game yet, with some great new features and a whole lot of stuff to unlock. But with these new features come a few problems. When sorting shapes with Gandalf's staff, for example, it's often difficult to accurately target the blocks you want to put them into position. The main problem I found, however, was with the new character selection system. In the previous games, you could change between the two on-screen characters with a press of the Y button, while the LB and RB buttons let you switch between any other character from the roster. With the implementation of the new character system, you must hold down Y and then select the character from the entirety of the board. But quite a few times my button press was registered as just a tap, instantly transporting me to the other character on screen, who was more often than not at the very bottom of the precarious path I had just climbed with my initial character. Rage ensued. In the same way, you can access your inventory by holding down B, but tapping B also drops the item you're holding, and you can also place items with the same button. This led to several occasions where I dropped items when I didn't want to, and at some points caused glitches where items disappeared and I could no longer complete the level. Having all these commands assigned to a single button seems a lot more trouble than it's worth, and is certainly something that should be worked on in later instalments.
Still, despite the control niggles, Lego The Lord Of The Rings is an excellent game. It follows the story of the trilogy pretty religiously, complete with the music and snippets of lines from the movies. It's an exercise in exploration, puzzle solving, and most of all smashing, with plenty of stuff to unlock. If you're a fan of the previous Lego games (why wouldn't you be?) this is definitely one of the best.
My rating: 4/5