Veteran developer Traveller’s Tales has been making LEGO games for nearly a decade, giving the brick treatment to a wide variety of movie and comic book brands, including Lord of the Rings. Therefore, it’s not a huge surprise to see the studio tackle The Hobbit. The big question, though, is whether this latest addition to its long list of block-based games has stuck to the studio’s tested formula, or tried something new and gone on a gameplay adventure?
Following Thorin Oakenshield’s company of Dwarves on their quest to reach their ruined stronghold of Erebor and reclaim the Arkenstone, each of the levels that make up the ten hours or so of story are based on key scenes from the movies. Throughout, you’ll take control of a variety of characters such as Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf, with all of the parts of the films that you’d expect making an appearance. Long before the story’s done, you’ll have stolen the ‘one ring’ from Gollum, ridden barrels down a river, and been chased by Smaug the fire breathing dragon.
Even if you haven’t seen the films, the game does a great job of telling the story – well, two-thirds of it at least – with extensive use of audio lifted directly from the flicks, giving the proceedings an added air of authenticity. It’s great to hear the voices of the cast coming from their respective LEGO figures, and the developer has even got Saruman himself (actor Christopher Lee) to provide additional narration over the loading screens to fill in any gaps that have crept into the story.
As with other LEGO games, there are plenty of comedic flourishes bringing the usual layer of charm to the story, and this adds some unexpected entertainment for those with more than a passing familiarity with the source material. It’s just a shame that releasing it now has left the title short of a conclusion, ending on the same cliff hanger as their celluloid counterparts, and no concrete information as to how you’ll be able to experience the conclusion to the story when the final film’s eventually released. Will it be as downloadable content or as a full price release – who knows?
If you’ve sampled any of the other LEGO games, then you’ll be pretty familiar with how LEGO The Hobbit plays. The standard LEGO play loop remains intact, and you’ll smash up anything and everything on your way through each level in order to collect the games main currency – studs – which are sucked up with the usual satisfyingly metallic clink. Sometimes you’ll need to battle enemies or perform some basic platforming while undertaking your destructive antics, but these rarely prove to be too much of a challenge, with the loss of some of your studs being the only price for having your character smashed into pieces.
You’ll also come across barriers and obstacles in your travels, which require the special abilities of certain members of your group to pass. Fortunately, your diminutive crew can perform a wide variety of feats, which include smashing through walls, joining forces to do buddy attacks, and even eating so much food that their stomach can be used as a trampoline. This interchanging of characters can be quite fun, but a problem comes in how similar a number of the Dwarven heroes are in appearance. This similarity can make it a little frustrating at times – especially when you have the full company at your disposal – to remember just which one has the specific ability that you need to progress. Switching on the fly also becomes problematic when a scrum of figures are all on the screen at once, forcing you to head to the character select menu in order to make sure that you’re in control of the right one.
The major new addition to the game is the need to gather resources for the title’s crafting system. You’ll constantly need to be on the hunt for these items – some of which can only be mined by a certain character – as at various points you’ll need to construct a LEGO kit in order to progress. Whether it’s a table for Bilbo to serve dinner on or a catapult to knock down a wall, you’ll need a certain amount of the required ingredients to complete your construction. Even though this only takes place at certain pre-determined crafting stations, it’s the closest that a LEGO title has come to you actually making a model in the game. During these builds, you’ll be asked at various points to select the correct part that’s required next, and the quicker that you do this will result in bonus studs being added to your stockpile. While it’s great that Traveller’s Tales has attempted to add something new to the mix, the minimal player input into the process does diminish the impact, with the resources only really adding more trinkets to the already superfluous roster of collectibles in the game.
All of the story levels are linked together by a decent sized open world that stretches across a section of Middle Earth, running from the green fields of Hobbiton to the snow-capped peak of The Lonely Mountain. As you progress through the story, a number of ‘world events’ are unlocked, which are scattered across the map. Acting as the game’s side-quests, these can be completed to gain more of the game’s collectibles, such as Mithril LEGO blocks or schematics for crafting new weapons or items. You can tackle any of these tasks at any time once they’re unlocked by dropping back out of the story missions and heading to the markers on the map that helpfully show where these quests can be picked up.
While these events are quite numerous, most are just fetch quests which go along the lines of: Hobbit X wants Item Y, but to get Item Y you need Schematic Z. As a result, they serve merely as time sinks for players with loads of time on their hands, who want to see everything in the game. On the upside, at least you’re spared the tedium of wandering the sandbox looking for quest items, as a highlighted trail guides you in the right direction, and a fast travel system lets you hitch a ride on an eagle to get there.
Other staples of the LEGO games are also present, with the ability to play through the entirety of the game in co-op still proving that everything is more fun when enjoyed with a friend. Unfortunately, less desirable aspects also return for another outing, such as the wonky camera with fixed angles that’ll cause you to fall to your death a few too many times, and occasionally unresponsive controls that make certain parts of the game a bit of a chore to play. Ten years in, shouldn’t these problems have been fixed by now?
In the pantheon of LEGO games, LEGO The Hobbit isn’t the worst by a long shot – but the formula’s certainly getting tired. While the decision to release the game with only two-thirds of the story complete is an odd one, there’s still more than enough content to keep you occupied for a good while, and the presentation is still as charming as ever. Yes, the same old issues from previous games are still in full effect, and the new additions fail to make any meaningful changes – even in some cases hurting the experience – but if you’re up for more of what the LEGO games have been selling, then these issues probably won’t block your way.