Based on two-thirds of a major motion picture trilogy!
Building a franchiseQuite how the Lego series has not burnt itself out is beyond me. The minifigs have been entertaining us ever since Lego Star Wars back in 2005, with a subsequent 20 titles emerging from the now surely exhausted Traveller’s Tale. By comparison, the likes of Tony Hawks and Guitar Hero had long since crumbled, yet by attaching itself to other well-known franchises it has kept itself fresh whilst still offering an accessible mix of platforming, puzzles and adventure.
Although it’s held to this consistent formula, over the years it has gradually evolved with hub worlds becoming steadily larger and characters given an ever-expanding repertoire of talents. Lego Hobbit continues this trend offering a fully open-world to explore and a vast array of skilled dwarves, but in doing so it teeters on the brink of losing the simplicity that made it such a hit.
The basic premise remains the same as ever. Peter Jackson’s drawn-out films have been rebuilt in the blocky world and handed a bunch of recognisable characters you must jump and smash your way through it, grabbing as many studs as you can as you go. Throughout you’ll call upon your characters’ special powers. Bilbo, for instance, can summon the power of the ring, whilst elves can leap high and dwarves are happy crawling through small, dark nooks. All are used as usual to pull down keys or to reveal secret passages but the extra complexity comes with the realisation that individual now have multiple talents. Maybe the dwarf has an axe for smashing cracked walls and a slingshot for hitting targets, or another has a spade to dig and a hammer to shunt boulders out the way, and at that point the simple Lego game gets fractionally less appealing.
Early on, before you’re familiar with your charges, this minor addition introduced a certain amount of friction. Previously you’d flit through your roster until you found the Storm Trooper with the laser gun or you’d selected Indy with his whip. Now not only do you have to select each of you party in turn but also bring up their own personal inventory to examine their tools. Thankfully if they’re close enough to the problem they’ll automatically pull out the appropriate item but it’s a level of indirection that seems at odds with the franchise’s legacy of accessibility.
This bugbear is countered by a couple of interesting additions, however, not least the ability to have dwarves buddy up. Stand two of the bearded fighters next to each other and with a tap of a button they’ll link arms or jump on one another’s shoulders to perform some devastating attacks. It’s fun to see them whirl each other around and scatter the enemy and a must for taking down some of the larger bosses.
The other is the introduction of intricate builds. The minifigs have often built staircases and vehicles, their hands a blur of activity as bricks whirl about them, but these builds require resources harvested from the world and a little more finesse than simply holding down B. Rather than dropping purely studs when smashed, most objects now also drop wood, metal, or gems, and at the right points these can be forged into far more useful items. For instance, in the opening levels you’ll deposit your scavenged goods and watch piece by piece as a detailed dining table gets built in Bilbo’s home, pausing on occasion to ask you to select the next brick in the build. Get it right and you could win 20,000 studs. Get it wrong and watch your total drop dramatically. It’s a fun inclusion – not least to watch how TT’s craft their scenery - that can be surprisingly stressful as you seek out the correct brick, fully aware of ticking clock and diminishing prize.
The game of the film of the bookOpinions on the quality of the films aside, what An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug provide is the finest source material ever conceived for a Lego game. As a pair of films they offer vast quantities of running, jumping, boating, fighting, more running, and of course barrels. What more could you ask for? The escape from Goblin Town was as a good a videogame set piece as you could ask for, and the incessant running from and fighting with orcs provides great fodder for level after level. From collapsing bridges to wading through waves of enemies they capture the hectic nature of the films, interweaving it with their usual skill-related puzzles to control the pace.
Though Traveller’s Tales have done more than just capitalised on the action, they have wrung the most from every notable scene. Both Bilbo’s meeting with Gollum and his initial introduction to the dwarves are surprising successes. I was expecting a long cutscene as I let in each of the thirteen in turn but there I was building tables and finding food for my surprise guests, though thankfully there was no drawn-out sing-along. These more considered moments are actually some of the best realised, too. om freeing Thorin’s company from the trolls to sneaking past Smaug in search of the Arkenstone, every time the thoughtfulness of the design is clear as they blend game and film. Tight environments and objectives funnel you through the story, select samples of the film’s dialogue bring the characters to life, all whilst never losing that core Lego appeal.
Amusingly, the main campaign takes roughly the same amount of times to smash through as it does to watch the extended editions of both films, but as the credits roll there’s still a whole world to discover. The whole of Middle Earth is open for you to explore and has dozens of side- and fetch-quests that its denizens are eager to thrust upon you. Many of these are simply an extension of the in-level collectibles, seeking out certain hidden items in specific scenes for a needy minifig. As is traditional these can be found when replaying levels in free play with all the extra characters you’ve unlocked. Having Sauron wandering round Bilbo’s house looking for a novelty drinking hat is amusing in itself, but often they unlock huge new areas you weren’t aware of first time round.
Whilst extracting every drop from the levels can give you reason to return, the better side-quests are those that take place solely in the open world. Assault courses are placed by the agile elves, dwarves are forever getting lost in caves, and, keeping in theme with the book, riddles are dotted across the land. There’s a huge amount of variety that they’ve stuffed into these distractions and the only thing that begins to grate are the repeated voice samples you’ll probably hear as you skip past your umpteenth female dwarf.
The biggest of Lego Hobbit’s triumphs however is still its hugely unrestrictive co-op experience. Within levels the camera still splits and slides, granting both players as much freedom as possible, whilst out in the open nothing tethers you together at all bar your want of adventure. Traveller’s Tales have worked wonders in allowing one player to happily ride goats around The Shire whilst the other is off in Lake Town collecting fish. It may not quite be “co-op” at that point but be it a married couple or a pair of siblings, the strength of this quality shouldn’t be underestimated as it allows players to share in an experience without feeling duty bound to stick together all the time.
You’ll need to split up at times too as despite its replayability what hampers the end-game slightly is the excessive resource collection. Many of the later goals require specific materials and unlike studs there’s no reliable way of harvesting what you need. When asked for 20 copper bars it’s a case of saddling up and roaming the countryside looking for a specific vein, mining it, and then waiting for it to respawn. It’s an unnecessary grind and one I hope that was only thrown in because of the dwarfish connection.
- Quality and variety of levels
- Co-op experience
- Open world adventures
- Weapon switching
- Resource grinding
LEGO The Hobbit PS4 ReviewLego Hobbit may not be as funny as other Lego games, having dropped a large amount of its mick-taking to stay more in keeping with the film’s tone, but that does little to harm its charms. Once again the developers have produced a highly polished tribute to yet another well-known brand.
The qualities go further than just staying true to the source, however, as this iteration offers what I consider to be the best batch of Lego levels they’ve ever produced. They vary tone, pace, and are all of such a bite-sized length that means no one theme ever outstays its welcome. Combined with the feature-rich overworld and you’ve a package that should hopefully convince even the most weary veteran of the series that Traveller’s Tale aren’t through yet.
The big worry is the unnecessary complexity they introduce. With more focus on weapon swapping and resource gathering the Lego series is treading a fine line, one which if they continue down could mean they lose the accessibility that they have become known for. This may be an exaggeration but if when we next return to Hobbiton we find that Bilbo not only has a collection of tools under his coat but a tech tree and an XP meter then I fear for the series. The polish in the levels and the world sustain here, not the extra bulletpoints on the back of the box.
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