So, I recently finished the story of Lego Lord of the Rings on PS Vita and thought I would share my mixed feelings on the game.
I've been with the Lego series of games since the beginning, falling in love with Lego: Starwars for the PS2 because of its perfectly timed comedy, fun level design and ability to appeal to both casual gamers, with its basic game mechanics, and more long term "hardcore" ones, with the addition of hours of extra-play thanks to free play, "True Jedi", collectible "mini kits" and a vast array of unlockable characters. I'm somewhat of an achievement whore and personally love returning to levels to hunt down that one last collectable. I relived these simple joys with the sequels of The Original Trilogy and Complete Saga which not only saw the return of mini kits, true Jedi and unlockables but also red bricks which add extras such as fast build, making them more than "just another collectible".
After this I bought, played and loved Lego Indiana Jones, Lego batman and Lego Harry Potter (years 1-4) although none of them really built on the formula since The Original Trilogy they all had the same simple charm that I fell in love with the series because; all offering a vast cast of playable characters and collectibles. You know what they say about things that aint broke, right?
I while back I won a PS Vita and recently I downloaded a few games for it; Little Big Planet, Mortal Kombat and Lego: Lord of the Rings. Since the download I have been playing Lego:LotR near religiously and earlier this week I hit the end of the story mode.
It's by far the weakest of the Lego games series. Although it still has some of the basic slapstick elements guaranteed to make you giggle it still lacks the raw humour of the older games simply because the characters now have voices. The reason for this is many fans had issues with Lego Batman because it was hard to follow the story without any form of speech so since Lego Batman 2, it would seem all of the Lego series is doomed to be dubbed. This is understandable, Lord of the Rings has a complex story in parts so would arguably be hard to follow though body action alone.
However, I still had issues telling exactly what was going on at points and there was no clear divide for where one book ends and the next began, before I realised it I had "simply walked into Mordor." If anything I found the older games easier to understand, maybe my better knowledge of the Star Wars and Harry Potter narratives helped there but honestly I just feel the story telling was clear before because they tried so much harder to convey the story through voiceless actions instead of vauge, often meaningless snippets of dialogue; the majority of which are just Gandalf scolding Pippin for falling down a well. In an attempt to tell the story better, they not only lost the trademark humour the games are known for but also failed to tell the story as well as previous titles did.
It is also arguably much easier than the other titles and, although I praise the games for being universally friendly to gamers of all skill levels that should only apply to the base gameplay. Getting "True X" used to be harder, hell I never managed to get it on all levels of the first Lego Star Wars and getting it on the later games was a hell of a task but one I was happy to do. But on LotR it's too easy, most of the levels I managed to get True Adventure on first time round without breaking a sweat, sure there was one or two levels where I didn’t quite make it but for the most part it wasn’t even a close call. Also, previous titles had True X on both Story Mode and Free Play separately effectively doubling the play time of each level, LotRs however, lacks this, which was a disappointment to say the least. Although getting a Free Play "True X" was never the difficult part it's still better to have both instead of just one.
Personally I spent ages backtracking through levels and hitting everything I could see with my lightsaber in the hope of just one more stud and being overjoyed when I found it, a thrill that, I'm sad to say, is missing from LEGO:LotR. On top of this, instead of having 10 mini kits per level we only have to collect 1-3 character tokens and 1-3 "loot" items. Although the mini kits have been missing from many of the previous titles it is still a minus in my books to be without them.
The unlockable characters outside of those from the fellowship and a couple of the villains are pretty much useless and bland. They've simply added random characters from The Shire such as Rosie Cotton and Fatty Bolger (whoever they may be) as unlockable to up the numbers so they can brag impressive "X unlockable characters" but they're all basically the same and offer nothing better than Frodo, Pippin, Merry and Sam do.
Boss battles are another issue I have because they are, in short, rather lame feeling more like "mini bosses" the whole way through. Nearly all of them have what is basically a standard enemy with a larger life bar; there are two or three you have to kill in a "special way" using the environment instead of just your sword, bow and axe but even they are nothing special. In older games you'd use game mechanics against them; using the force to redirect Jango Fett's missiles back at him or using switches to drop Mad Hatter in to toxic chemicals, they usually forced you to use different tactics or more creative methods for taking down bosses using certain character skills, something that isn’t seen very much in LEGO: LotR. On the rare occasion of coming up against a environment or skill based it is unexpected and throws you off; two examples spring to mind. The first is Shelob, the giant spider. Basically what you do is hit it around with your sword until it gets lower health and, after a prompt, use your item to blind it allowing you to hit it about a bit easier. However, the prompt can be confusing, implying that you can blind Shelob at any time, which isn’t the case.
The second fight is against Gollum, where he grabs on to Frodo and rides him like a bull. Now this could be my own stupidity talking here, but I must have spent a good ten minutes trying to shake him off, scrape him against the rock walls and even jumping in to lava in an attempt to get him where my sword can bash his face in. Turns out I had to make Sam dig a little hole and throw a thing at him.
So end game happened, I was back at the Shire and got to have a little chat with Bilbo. There were no credits or big "IT'S OVER" like I was expecting so I felt pretty unsure about the anticlimactic ending to me, you know, SAVING THE WORLD. But anyway, I was home and ran about as an orc trying to kill hobbits, like a good protagonist. Also, it's much harder to go back to past levels in LotR over past games, because while others offered a single location from where all levels could be accessed; Batcave/Arkham, Hogwarts, Mos Eisley cantina, LotRs has many more and from each only two or three levels can be reached directly. You can travel to past areas with the map, but it's a bit of a hassle when trying to hunt down that one True Adventure or character token you missed.
The final thing I have to say against this game is the character creation. All the LEGO series allow you to make your own playable character to use in levels, which is always fun. However, unlike in teh Starwars series it is borderline useless in LotR. In Starwars my character has a red lightsaber, dark side force, bounty hunter helmet, jetpack and rockets; this meant I could get in to basically every area in the game, other than for droid or clone locked rooms, as well as fly. In LotR however, you don’t get to do that. Instead you can chose the skill set that your character has from: man, hobbit, elf, dwarf. wizard, orc and Uruk-hai as well as import straight from a character, so no doubled up abilities there.
Now, you could say I'm nit-picking (which I probably am) and I just didn’t like the game; that isn’t true, so here are some good points. The gameplay still feels fresh and enjoyable and despite my dislike of the removal of mini kits the treasure items that need to be delivered to certain characters adds a nice new charm to the game and although it lacks some of the trademark slapstick humour of the past games, what remains is still pure gold.
One thing I did prefer over the older games is the new combat. Previously it was basically a choice between lightsaber/punches or a gun/batterrang, even the Harry Potter games with their host of spells didn't really change combat up all that much. LotR however, with its many classes, does. Hobbits have small swords that can only perform basic combos; others have a sword and shield, allowing them to block, as well as a horn that creates a enemy stunning shockwave. Larger swords can have charged attacks that can stun and knock back enemies as well as a jump and smash shockwave attack and wizards can create shockwaves, shoot projectiles and use a sword. The game is also the first to offer the ability to knock your enemy off balance on to the floor which can be done by most characters though either by using push button or through class or character specific skills such as the dwarfs' powerful charge. This change up of gameplay offers a fresh new feel and works well, seeing as LotR is very combat heavy anyway.
Also, even though I didn’t like the voices when it comes to a story telling side of things, I did like the small snippets of speech in level, which really helped with getting a good feel for the characters; during war levels Gimli and Legolas will shout out to each other when you've killed a number of enemies with a one. It was also a great touch that, after taking out the mumakil as Legolas, Gimli shouts "that still only counts as one".
On a more minor point, the visuals are pretty crisp and it's a very good looking game, even if everything is made out of Lego. Plus, despite being nothing more than animated plastic the characters have pretty darn expressive faces (see Frodo in the last two clips during Journey's End) as well as having a wonderful soundtrack.
Over all as games go this was pretty good, it should offer a good few hours even for non-completionists as it took me 3 or so days to get to the end of just the story without replaying anything. It's a fun game that should sit well with casual and more hardcore gamers alike, especially if you just have a few hours to kill and works really well on the Vita because it's so easy to just pick up, play and the put down again without any long loading or start up time. Although it lacks some of the charm of the previous games it isn’t entirely lost and is still highly enjoyable both for the elements it kept and the ones it added.