You have to wonder if there’s a group of robots churning out Lego games in Knutsford, England, home of developer Traveller’s Tales. Lego: The Hobbit isn’t just the 15 licensed game from the studio in nine years, it’s the third in the past seven months, following the Marvel superheroes release in October and the Lego movie tie-in in February. If so, the machines deserve credit because they’re somehow managing to crank out high-quality, funny and enjoyable games on a brain-breaking timetable.
The formula for Lego games is well-worn by now and really should be in danger of getting tired, yet somehow TT still manages to charm and inspire addictiveness. It’s almost inexplicable, but may be rooted in the studio’s obvious love for its source material, both in terms of the licensed properties it gets to work with and with Lego. The games succeed when they’re full of fan service, with a healthy dose of cuteness and parody.
Lego: The Hobbit doesn’t cut any corners either. The game features a full main campaign based on the first two Peter Jackson-directed movies, as well as perhaps the largest open-world hub in a TT release yet, save last year’s Lego City Undercover. The world also has more side missions and collectables than perhaps any previous release, making Middle Earth an almost daunting place for players who simply must get to 100-per-cent completion.
While it would have been nice for TT to hold off on this game until the film trilogy is complete – Warner Bros. says the third movie will be added as downloadable content at some point in the future – it doesn’t feel skimpy by any stretch.
The main levels follow the plot of the films, with Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, Thorin Oakenshield and the rest of their merry band journeying across Middle Earth to reclaim the lost dwarven kingdom of Erebor from the evil dragon Smaug.
The gang adventures through many of the films’ big moments and settings, from their first meeting in Bilbo’s Hobbiton home to the big escape from the goblin king’s underground kingdom to the eventual showdown with Smaug in the dwarven forges. Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman and the rest of the cast lend their voices in the form of audio clips from the movie, which help to propel the story along.
Of course, it’s all Lego-fied, so there’s much building-with-plastic blocks to be done. As in previous games, each character has different abilities that they use in tandem to solve puzzles. Bilbo, for example, can turn invisible when he puts on his ring, at which point he can interact with translucent wraith blocks. Gandalf, meanwhile, can destroy blue-glowing obstacles while Legolas, encountered later on, can shoot switches with his bow.
One new ability is dwarf stacking, which sounds more controversial than it really is. Characters carrying polearm weapons can jump on each others’ shoulders and effectively create a long pole for Bilbo or someone else to climb. It’s the only way to get to some otherwise inaccessible heights.
Dwarves and hobbits can also “buddy up” to smash walls. It’s one of the funniest things in the game, where one character throws his buddy into the wall head first in an effort to soften it up before cracking it open with his own axe.
TT has also finally corrected one big, long-standing niggle. Platforming in previous games was often murderous because of an inability to tell where your character was jumping to. This has been solved with glowing circles underneath the characters that make it much easier to judge distances.
The item crafting system introduced in Lego: The Lord of the Rings (2012) is back, but it’s deeper with different components needed to make various mithril items. Characters who are able to mine must break open blocks to find silver, gold and gems, which are then used to build armor, hats and other goodies sought by the denizens of Middle Earth. In exchange, they supply you with the all-important red bricks, which are necessary to find all the hidden minikits and to accumulate enough studs to buy the many characters in the game.
Figuring out how to find these various items, components and characters, hidden both in the hub world and in the main campaign levels, is the crux of the game. Lego: The Hobbit is a surprisingly complex and expansive title that is sure to entertain for many hours as a result. For anyone who’s into puzzle-filled treasure hunting, The Lord of the Rings and Lego in general, it is indeed the one game to rule them all.