It seems we’ve gotten more than our share of LEGO games as of late. The plastic bricks even hit the big screen this year, followed by the prerequisite video game tie-in. One would think all of this exposure would burn out gamers on the franchise, and yet the games still provide enough enjoyment to make us dive into each and every entry. The latest title, LEGO The Hobbit, is no exception, as it provides the same fun gameplay as previous titles, with a couple of tweaks and one of the most coherent narratives of the series. The narrative hews very closely to its source material, that being the first two Hobbit films from director Peter Jackson, An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug. The third film, There and Back Again, which releases in December of this year, will reportedly be added on through DLC.
The fact that LEGO The Hobbit does stick close to its source material is one of its greatest strengths. It all flows nicely, beginning with the unexpected party at the home of Bilbo Baggins and ending with the confrontation with the dragon Smaug in Erebor. The voice acting is quite good, sounding very close to the characters from the movies despite not using any of the actors from the films. Visually, this is one of the best looking LEGO games to date, with excellent recreations of the locales from the films against more realistic scenery. The environments do immerse you well, from Bilbo’s house to Rivendell to the murky forest of Mirkwood to the gold filled caverns of Erebor. All are faithfully rendered and instantly recognizable from the movies, with the occasional touches of humor that the series is known for.
The game does stretch beyond the movies with its many sidequests, some of which you can choose to undertake as you play through the main story and others that are best left to the Free Play mode. Characters are unlocked as you proceed through the game’s 16 levels, and can be purchased afterward as you encounter them in your travels for use in Free Play. While there are a fair amount of characters to unlock, it doesn’t approach the number found in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. But it does give each character their own unique set of skills, which you’ll need to solve puzzles and make your way through the levels. One problem that does crop up is you often have a lot of characters on screen at the same time, which can make it difficult to switch to the proper character you may need for a given situation. The lighting effects and camera, while on one hand making things look great, can also be a detriment in knowing where the character your currently controlling is. This is especially noticeable in the more chaotic battle scenes, of which there are several.
The game generally controls nicely, but as in past titles the camera can be problematic in spots, and controls sometimes don’t respond as they should. I did have the game freeze on me once, necessitating a restart of my PS3, and even had the game quit out of itself at one point. It’s a shame these issues are still prevalent, and one would think that Traveler’s Tales should have the technical aspects of these games down pat by now. There’s nothing game breaking, but it still makes for some frustrating moments. Puzzles generally make sense, though there can be spots where it’s not always readily apparent as to what you should do next. There’s nothing that should stump you for long, though.
The building minigame returns from The LEGO Movie: The Videogame, but in a twist- you need to collect materials to craft the items. These materials are naturally found by smashing everything in sight, so you can collect the items you need along with the normal gathering of silver, gold, and blue studs. In addition to crafting materials, there are plenty of other collectibles to find, from minikits to schematics fro building other items. There are also places where you can trade materials with NPCs for other materials, and with some a special reward could be granted if you have the right stuff to trade. NPCs also give sidequests, which can range from escort missions to your standard fetch quests. The main story line will take you anywhere from 6-9 hours to complete, depending on how much you explore during the chapters. Your play time can be nicely extended by undertaking all of the sidequests and searching for all of the collectibles. Finishing the story left me under 25% complete for the game, so there’s plenty to do here to get your money’s worth. Plus, you can play co-op, as always, though the camera may make you wish you’d play solo.
All in all, LEGO The Hobbit is another solid entry in the series. It may not be the best or biggest, but it does have the most cohesive narrative for the games to date and it does justice to its source material. The trademark humor is there, along with some thrilling set pieces straight out of the films. The environments are both a joy to look at and explore, and the gameplay is generally more fun than frustrating. It is a shame those same problems remain- the occasionally bad camera, long loading times, controls that may fail you in spots, and game freezes- and one can only hope that Traveler’s Tales will get a handle on this for future installments. How big a fan of the LEGO games will determine if this is a purchase at full price, or just a rental for now. The ending does leave you hanging, since the third film is yet to be released. DLC will reportedly add that third game in, but you may want to wait for the complete version to be issued down the road. Despite the flaws, LEGO The Hobbit is still a journey worth taking, even if it is a bit too familiar.
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