LEGO Lord of the Rings video game rewards perseverance [Review]

The latest LEGO video game from TT Games, LEGO Lord of the Rings, was released on November 13. There’s a reason you’re reading this review nearly three weeks later: Unlike most reviewers who played a handful of levels and declared the game awesome, I wanted to review the game after experiencing it the way most of you out there are likely to play it — trying to reach 100% in the game and unlock all the achievements (on Xbox) or trophies (on PS3).

I hit 100% earlier today, and I’m just two small achievements short of having all 1,000 gamerscore points unlocked on the Xbox, so now seems as good a time as any for a review.

Having played most of the LEGO video game since the original LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game back in 2005, the LEGO game franchise was starting to feel more than a little repetitive (which is why I’ve skipped the second incarnations of LEGO Indiana Jones, the LEGO Star Wars re-releases, and so on).

Every game until now has had several things in common:

  • Watch minifigs mime funny versions of familiar scenes.
  • Break stuff in the game to release studs (points) and to build other things.
  • Collect parts of miniature LEGO kits.
  • Unlock extra characters with the studs you’ve earned.
  • Unlock extra abilities (like score multipliers and invincibility) with red bricks.
  • Access previously played levels from a central “hub” area.
  • Explore levels again in freeplay mode to use the abilities of characters you didn’t have with you in story mode, thus finding treasures and even more studs you couldn’t get to before.

No, TT Games hasn’t really revamped the basic formula in LEGO Lord of the Rings, but there are a few important differences.

Voice acting in cut scenes

First, and most obviously, the game uses the actual voice acting from Peter Jackson’s movies in the cut scenes — Sir Ian McKellan as Gandalf, Elijah Wood as Frodo, Orlando Bloom as Legolas, and so on. When combined with TT Games’ signature sense of humor (humour, I suppose), there are some really hilarious moments, which I won’t spoil for you by listing here.

But for a Tolkien geek like me who takes both the source material and the movies fairly seriously, the humor has the obvious effect of undercutting some of the most emotionally affecting scenes in the story. Perhaps this makes the PG-13 movie source material palatable in an E 10+ game, but adult gamers may find the juxtaposition somewhat jarring.

Gameplay differences

Second, there is no central hub area in the game. Instead, you have all of Middle Earth to explore, both between levels and after completing the main storyline. It’s certainly a compressed version of Middle Earth (Minas Tirith and Edoras are within sight of each other), but it’ll take you a good ten or fifteen minutes to walk from the Shire to Mount Doom. In other words, Middle Earth is orders of magnitude larger than previous hubs like the Mos Eisley cantina, Wayne Manor, or even Hogwarts. Regions in Middle Earth like Bree, Rivendell, and Rohan each have puzzles of their own that you have to solve to find unlockable characters and extra studs, as well as three other major gameplay additions — mithril bricks, blacksmith designs, and side quests from NPCs.

All three of these differences from other LEGO games are interrelated. You can find blacksmith designs both within story levels and in Middle Earth. These designs enable you to make items for yourself and in response to requests from NPCs. Many items give you abilities that you might not have yet, like Strength (limited to the Sauron character). But before you can have the blacksmith in Bree craft an item for you, you have to find enough material for him. That material takes the form of silver-white mithril bricks, which you earn by completing aspects of the story, solving puzzles around Middle Earth, and giving crafted items to NPCs who request them in side quests called “fetch quests” (you keep a copy to use yourself, of course).

One final difference from previous LEGO games is the addition of treasures you have to find within story levels. Some are just fun ways to customize your characters, but many are items you’ll need to find in response to fetch quests. Completing most fetch quests earns you mithril bricks, but some also unlock the all-important red bricks.

If you’re thinking that all of this sounds a bit like a classic RPG, you wouldn’t be wrong. You won’t find any character classes or leveling up (beyond abilities you unlock from characters and crafted items), but the new RPG elements in LEGO Lord of the Rings do add significant depth and replay value to the traditional action/platformer genre that LEGO games have been a part of since the first LEGO Star Wars.

Stability & quality

Good quality should be invisible. Unfortunately, “Stability and quality” gets its own section for LEGO Lord of the Rings. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this may be the buggiest, least stable game I’ve played in years (and with a Xbox gamerscore above 20,000, I hope you’ll trust that I play my fair share of games).

For example, I’ve encountered multiple persistent bugs in the “Taming Gollum” level alone, ranging from minor rendering issues when throwing a bomb to a failure to save the level’s completion status until the fourth time through story mode (including a full restart between the 2nd and 3rd attempts). Since this prevented any further progress in the game, and I couldn’t skip cut scenes the “first” time through, I spent two hours playing this level over and over.

Characters with new modes of locomotion are also problematic. Gollum can climb up and down walls, but he jumps off unpredictably and inconsistently, making you despise his LEGO version as much as his loathsome literary or cinematic counterpart. Combined with camera issues common to many games, finding mithril bricks that require Gollum can be maddening! Imagine falling off Mount Doom over and over again not because you aren’t pressing the buttons well enough but because Gollum slides or flies off the mountain just as you’re reaching a particularly difficult section. Improving your gaming skill through repetition in order to achieve an in-game goal is one thing; fighting unstable software is another.

There’s no excuse for these types of issues. If TT Games invested resources in developing for fewer platforms (LEGO Lord of the Rings is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Windows PC, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, and PlayStation Vita), perhaps they would have the money to spend on proper testing and bug fixing. I bring this up because I routinely see more bugs in multi-platform games than in platform-exclusives, but this degree of instability is a new low.

If this were a game from another publisher, I’d recommend waiting until they’d had time to release some patches. But I’ve played three-year-old LEGO games from TT Games full of (lesser) bugs, with no update via the console. I can’t promise the game will be less buggy or more stable a year from now.

Full disclosure: I worked at Nintendo during the GameCube / Game Boy Advance era, and (among other duties) I coordinated communication between the development team in Japan and the test team in the U.S. for games like Pikmin and Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. My bar for game quality is thus very high, so I may be harder on TT Games in this regard than other reviewers. I suspect my frustration may reflect a certain amount of professional bias…

In-game models

The model designers at TT Games (alongside LEGO set designers when TT Games used a set design instead) have done an excellent job of rendering iconic aspects of the movies in LEGO form. The Balrog with its flaming whip is spectacular, and it’s a joy to watch the beautifully designed minikits come together as you find all their parts within levels.

LEGO Lord of the Rings Balrog

Following the standard convention in LEGO games, anything built from bricks is breakable, so much of the background in levels and in Middle Earth must therefore be rendered realistically. With so much landscape and so few structures in the source material, this means most of the game doesn’t look like LEGO. That’s okay, because an entirely plastic landscape would be a bit of an eyesore, and it makes the model design team’s interesting creations stand out all the more.


Depending on how thoroughly you explore during story mode, expect to finish all sixteen levels in 6-9 hours or so. If you quit there, that’s not great value for a $50-60 video game (the main story alone in Assassin’s Creed 3 took me 40+ hours, plus multiplayer that I’m not particularly interested in), but the real value is in freeplay mode. Reaching 100% and earning all or even most of the achievements/trophies will probably take you another 20-30 hours. Frustratingly, though, some of that time may be spent fighting camera quirks, working around bugs, or replaying after a crash.

LEGO Lord of the Rings is certainly no Skyrim, but there’s solid value if you continue playing the game after finishing the first run through the story.

I can heartily recommend the game to LEGO Lord of the Rings fans at full price; others might want to wait until the inevitable price drop in a few months.


My rant about lack of proper quality assurance notwithstanding, LEGO Lord of the Rings is a good game — and my favorite of TT Games’ LEGO franchise since LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. I love the new world exploration and RPG elements, which add far deeper value than previous LEGO games, and on the whole the shift to voice acting works well.

Placing this on a scale for comparison to other video game reviews, LEGO Lord of the Rings gets 75/100 from me — with improved quality, my score would be closer to reviews from other sites. I’m interested to hear what other LEGO fans and gamers think (for example, am I being too hard on TT Games for quality?), so let the discussion in the comments begin.

LEGO Lord of the Rings is out now on multiple platforms.

6 comments on “LEGO Lord of the Rings video game rewards perseverance [Review]

  1. Sjaacko

    Good review! All things said are true and I must agree. I play on Wii and have just finished The Dead Marshes, though without encountering any bugs so far. Taming Gollum for example took me no replay nor did the game crash. The Dead Marshes level was too long. When I had to follow Gollum for the 10th time or so, putting out fire and hiding for the Nazgul was fun but a bit too much.
    The way you have to go through the puzzles is linear and a bit too easy for adult players, but I think younger players will have loads of fun. The LEGO models in the game are absolutely great. I’d like to see a set come out featuring the Balrog!
    I like the way you have to use special abilities and tools that certain characters have to complete a level. There are some great concepts too like dwarf tossing and playing in the shadow world when Frodo puts on the ring.
    All in all a good game and if you are a LEGO or LOTR fan or both, it seems worth it to finish the whole game once you played the story.

  2. dave_lartigue

    I agree with your take on the game, including the observation that the lack of polish is absurd. My wife and I have been playing this co-op and generally having a good time, but there are just absurd bugs that are constantly popping up. In fact, there are two mithril bricks we can’t get because the things that are supposed to happen to activate them won’t happen. The fetch quests are an integral part of the game, yet the main map lies about what quests you can complete and the pathfinding system on the map will reset unexpectedly. Most telling, we have gotten achievements on co-op that are clearly labeled “single player only”.

    It’s pretty clear this game was not finished and was rushed out to make the two deadlines of Christmas and the release of The Hobbit. The game’s a lot of fun, but there’s a level of maddening frustration that simply should not be there.

  3. Lyichir

    Yeah, I played the demo for 3DS and was hugely disappointed with the voice acting. It worked in Lego Batman 2, since the lines were original and thus could be infused with the classic Lego humor that has characterized the TT Lego games. But in the demo I played of this game, the only humor was in silent background events that clashed with the serious dialogue of the movies. And without the humor, the traditional gameplay used in most of the Lego licensed games goes from tried-and-true to tired and dull.

    I’ll pass on this one. What I’m looking forward to is Lego City: Undercover. TT Games’ first game based on Lego’s largest non-licensed theme? That looks like a kid-friendly Grand Theft Auto? With shoutouts galore to both classic crime drama and classic video games? And it’s being developed separately for 3DS and Wii U, meaning both games will both be high quality and unique? Sign me up.

  4. purplemur

    My wife and I just finished the Dead Marshes and are doing a little Free Play and we really love this game. We have had a few game freezes, which have been frustrating (one froze just as we finished the last task for a chapter in Story Mode…we lost about an hour on that one). Other than that, though, we haven’t seen any real bugs yet, other than a few view glitches that didn’t affect the game.

    One note, Tom Bombadil also has strength! I’m not sure why…but I’m glad he does, since Sauron won’t be with us for a while. :)

    And I’m with Lyichir with looking forward to Lego City: Undercover. Lots of great potential with an open theme like that.

  5. SirPalinDrome

    My biggest complaint is that when you try and switch characters in free play it randomly desides that you also want to change to the other active character. Very, very annoying when you are trying to make it to the top of Helm’s Deep and you are 2/3 the way up.

  6. Ginnymarney

    Interesting that both 3DS versions of this game we’ve had (original one the day it came out in the UK) and today’s swap freeze during the fight at the top of the tower in the Taming Gollum section. Very disheartening for a 6 year old who is beating his mother at this game. Will see if I can download a patch but really worried that it won’t work… Wherever have we put the USB cable as I can’t get the wireless connection to work – or perhaps need to stop being frustrated at the software error message. Did contact Nintendo in case they had any suggestions but they want us to send the console back to them for a check over… but costs more than a full price game and from comments above may not be worth it.
    Lots of other niggles but am not as game savvy as many who post.

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