LEGO branded video games from Warner Bros and TT Games consistently manage to disprove two truths about gaming: that movie tie-ins invariably suck and that finding a winning formula and simply tweaking it time and time again will alienate your audience. The release of LEGO The Hobbit – spanning the story of the first two Peter Jackson Hobbit movies: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, may be the third title that bears the LEGO name released since late last year but it proves to be yet another entertaining interpretation of a much-loved tale. Combining the trademark puzzling and collecting mechanics we’re now well accustomed to with this series of games, it somehow manages to feel fresh and fun, and far more than just a simple facelift.
The campaign itself is spread over 16 levels, lasts around six hours and takes all the best scenes from these first two films. As ever, even completion leaves you with a staggering amount of exploration and collecting to do; the freeplay levels and characters that unlock will absorb many more hours of your time.
There’s the usual humour, which combines well with the rudimentary puzzles and nugget collecting, as well as the occasional bit of QTE thrown in for good measure. Beyond the fairly lengthy campaign – there are plenty of side missions and objectives to complete too, as well as a smattering of mini games. None of the conundrums will have you racking your brains for the solution but some are suitably tricky to get you thinking, so it’s ideal for the younger audience.
The game closely follows key scenes from the film, adding LEGO’s inimitable charm to the proceedings. In fact, after playing for a while, I’d occasionally pause and watch some of the film to compare the scenes… right from the impressive dragon attack at the start, it’s clear that Travellers Tales’ version had been lovingly recreated block by coloured block.
Although only a few companions set off on their epic journey, the character roster quickly grows as you progress, with over 90 crammed into the game. Each has their own set of skills and abilities to help you in your quest. Some wield huge hammers to shift boulders, others have spades to discover treasures or sling shots for range attacks and to activate otherwise hard-to-reach buttons.
Having a band of dwarves at your side is quite handy too – by “buddying up” they can combine to smash otherwise immovable obstacles, defeat larger enemies or you can stack the little fellows on top of one another and shimmy up them to out-of-reach areas.
Although it’s easy to switch between the many controllable characters using the pop up radial dial, it can be tricky to differentiate between them and know who has the skill you require. Unlike the recent Marvel game, which featured the likes of Hulk, Captain and America – all very recognisable figures – it can be tough to distinguish between the Hobbit’s many characters who look largely the same.
Collecting objects dotted about the levels takes on a new meaning this time round, thanks to the ability to craft new items. Making collecting a more important facet of the game is a nice idea but it can occasionally be frustrating. To forge some objects you need a certain amount of loot – come up short and you won’t be able to proceed. What this means in practice is that you may have to traipse around looking for the final few collectibles, which can be a little annoying.
Anyways, find the required number of items objects and a mini-game pops up. You then watch as a number of LEGO blocks fall down the screen to build the item, occasionally pausing to highlight the next brick that’s needed. Simply find the matching block before the timer ticks down and you’ll complete the task, earning yourself some extra nuggets for your efforts. There’s not much to it – but it does feel like you’re actually building something – and children will enjoy it.
Signposting is great and it’s easy to navigate the vast fantasy world. A mini map in the bottom left of the screen shows your objectives and route, while a trail of light blue coins steers you in the right direction too. There were some slight niggles with the camera angles that can occasionally be a little obstructive but it’s certainly nothing major.
Visually, it looks superb. The many locations are perfectly replicated in building block form too, from Moriaand Erebor all the way to the Lonely Mountain. Hobbiton, for example, is lush and green, with plenty of hustle and bustle around the village and loads to see and do. Many of the dwellings can be accessed and explored, hiding numerous challenges and tasks for the opportune adventurer. I spent ages exploring the rolling hills and trying to track down some stray goats who had wondered from their pen, for example.
The voice acting and narration is equally polished, making it instantly accessible to those familiar or new to Tolkien’s epic. This tale of Trolls and Orcs is fantastically well-scripted and the set pieces and scenes are faithful to the films. As if roaming Middle-earth to find those elusive blocks and treasures wasn’t enough to keep you coming back for more indefinitely, there should also be extra content released to coincide with the third and final film, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, at some point in the future.
This is a true family-friendly title and accessible to all ages, especially with its local co-op gameplay. As a grizzled aging gamer, I certainly enjoyed playing a part in a story I’ve read many times over the years, whereas my children loved exploring, coin collecting and the many construction-set mini games. It’s not a patch on the recent Marvel game but a decent addition to your collection nonetheless.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One.