The Road To Mordor Is Paved With Plastic Bricks
I’ve always loved the Lord of the Rings. What I haven’t loved so much is the way Tolkien’s beloved masterpiece gets treated in video game form. Sure, there are a few Lord of the Rings games that are truly exceptional, but for the most part, they don’t generally rise above the curse of the licensed game.
So you can understand my hesitation as I approached the LEGO The Lord of the Rings demo at the Warner Bros. booth during E3 last month. I mean, the LEGO games have their own sorted history, with some truly amazing titles as well as some mediocre “me too” entries.
But, from what I saw at E3, LEGO The Lord of the Rings seems to be doing quite well for itself. You see, it’s actually revamping a lot of the stuff that we grumpy game reviewers have been accusing of being stale and formulaic, though it’s still keeping all of that LEGO charm we expect from TT Games.
LEGO The Lord of the Rings is presenting itself as what the booth rep explained to me as “RPG-Lite.” It’s still simple enough as to not confuse the little tykes who love the series, but it’s absorbing a lot of RPG elements to make it a somewhat complex game under the hood. For example, there will be tons of “miniquests” you’ll be able to take on during your journey. Also, you’ll have a backpack-based inventory, which allows you to collect and equip various types of armor and weapons. There’s even a crafting element involved here, which is also tied to your backpack.
Perhaps coolest of all is that the team at TT Games is stepping away from the hubworld level formula that the LEGO games have become known for. Instead, players will be able to travel seamlessly across Middle-earth, with story events weaved in. This is designed to make this feel like an immersive world rather than a series of Lord of the Rings-themed levels or mini-events.
Now, one question that only the nerdiest of LotR purists will ask is whether this game will be based on Tolkien’s beloved books or the more recent Peter Jackson films. Being the über Tolkien geek that I am, I asked this question with a straight face. The booth rep assured me that LEGO The Lord of the Rings is based off the films rather than the books, and the Tolkien fanboy in me made a sad face. But I guess it makes a lot of sense here, considering TT Games has the Warner Bros. license to play with.
One of the things that this license gives TT Games is access to the audio from the movies. And this isn’t limited to the soundtrack. The LEGO figurines will actually speak with the voices of the actors from the Peter Jackson films, which mostly seem to be audio clips stolen from the movies. I have to admit, though, that when I saw Pippin fall down the well in Balin’s Tomb (the Chamber of Mazarbul to the superfans) and heard Gandalf say, “Fool of a Took!” I may have giggled audibly. And I assure you, I don’t giggle easily.
The booth rep showed me around the Balin’s Tomb portion of the game (as I already mentioned), but for some reason he didn’t actually let me play. Still, the gameplay looked solid. One thing that caught my attention was that all nine members of the Fellowship were present for this battle. Yes, where most LEGO games limit you to two simultaneous characters, LEGO The Lord of the Rings allows for all nine Fellowshippers to be present at once. While this could potentially make switching back and forth between characters confusing, the booth rep seemed to have no trouble keeping up with the action. Then again, he’s a pro at this.
I also noticed a few tinier details that brought a smile to my face. For example, Frodo’s sword would glow blue whenever orcs were near. Yes, this is indeed Sting (the sword that once belonged to Bilbo, not that British chap who makes music.) Also, enemy HP is displayed dynamically, meaning that instead of seeing a health bar floating over an orc’s head, you’ll knock off pieces of its armor to show how much damage you’ve dealt. It’s a clever way to implement a health system that doesn’t clutter up the UI or confuse younger players.
Now, I’ll admit to having a little bit of LEGO game fatigue at this point, but LEGO The Lord of the Rings looks like an incredible change of pace for the series that takes advantage of a license I’m truly passionate about. All things considered, I’m pretty sure I’ll be picking up my own copy when the game launches this fall.