RELEASE DATE: April 8, 2014PLATFORM: PS4 (Reviewed), PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, 3DS, Wii U DEVELOPER: Traveller’s TalesPUBLISHER: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentCATEGORY: Adventure
When you are as bereft of puzzle solving skills as I am, the “E for Everyone 10+ Up” label on Lego: The Hobbit’s box can feel cruel, condescending, and smug. Every time I buy these games, a thick fog of frustration rests over me, for I am a plunderer and a warrior who smashes through walls, not one who collects colorful baubles so I can construct a catapult to fling me through a barrier of tinder. This is the lie that I tell myself.
The truth is, I am just plain bad at these games — of which I have owned a half dozen — but my aptitude for these games isn’t the point. Everything doesn’t have to be results driven — how far have I progressed, how quickly did I beat it, how many bricks did I collect — joy can also come from the journey. So, while my journey through Lego: The Hobbit slit the achilles of my soul to watch me crumble to the ground thanks to my shocking lack of cognitive reasoning abilities at times, overall, the game is fun, and that’s what keeps me coming back to these titles.
Cobbling together a gripping story from the first two Hobbit films – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (with DLC coming in the winter to add levels from the upcoming third film) – Lego: The Hobbit begins with the dragon Smaug’s siege on and destruction of Dale and Erebor. His homeland decimated, Thorin leads his dwarf forces to Moria and a battle with the evil Orcs and their leader Azog, whose hand is severed by Thorin in one of the first reminders that this heavy tale will be occasionally undercut by lighter moments, like the sight of Azog chasing after his bouncing hand.
Though a thrilling adventure in its own right, the game’s central journey doesn’t really begin until the story makes its way to Hobbiton where Gandalf recruits Bilbo Baggins for a quest to Erebor with Thorin and his dwarves. Though there are occasional diversions from the main trail and mini-games, like Radagast’s sled, none are as enjoyable as the button mashing attempt to adapt the “Chip the Glasses and Crack the Plates” scene.
From Hobbiton, Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, and the dwarves cut a path across Middle-earth, encountering stone trolls, the aforementioned Radagast and Azog and the Orks (great band name), the Goblin King, Stone Giants, Gollum, Bard, and Smaug, among others.
Of all the “boss” characters, if you can call them that, the Stone Giants represent the most visually stunning as their mountain-sized rock bodies tussle, leaving you to scramble and jump from pedestal to pedestal, though it’s hardly a challenge. None of the combat really is, though it can be occasionally frustrating when the Orc hordes are segmented off, allowing only a couple through at a time, though I suppose 1,000 charging marauders might grow to vex most gamers in the same way as I was vexed for an hour trying to figure out how to climb the trees after Azog chased me in the forrest.
With regard to the visuals, Hobbiton possesses a natural beauty — with inviting streams and grass that looks incredibly real. There’s also an interesting effect when it rains in the mountains and you see water beads drip down the lens of the camera.
Rivendell is also amazingly detailed and beautiful in an almost ethereal way. A lego person looks like a lego person, but the PS4 really allows Traveller’s Tales to flex their muscles with the environments. Just walking through this game is a significant part of the fun.
Unfortunately, though, that’s not exactly the easiest thing to do. Yes, you can free roam a bit as you walk through Middle-earth and the shire, using the lingering “Guide blocks” and the small map to find your way back to the path if you get lost or confused, but one feels as though they are being corralled more often than not with inaccessible waterways and fences. I’m not asking for “Fallout: New Middle-earth” (actually, maybe I am asking for that) but it would have been nice to be able to explore a wider area than we are allowed, though I feel like that’s a selfish complaint considering the lushness and detail of what we are free to climb through.
Gameplay is on par with the rest of the Lego games. Kids of the appropriate age will take to the controls, but they may need some help with the puzzles, because we’ve already established that I did. The easy multi-player (which you can jump into with ease) is a help there, allowing you to team up with friends but the AI team-ups are rather deft as well when you need to seamlessly switch playable characters to jump on another character’s shoulders for an attack or to climb. As for asides, there are the occasional mini-games where you have to choose Lego pieces off a wheel to assemble larger items, like the aforementioned catapult. There is also a sort of in-game currency called “Loot” that you can trade for other goods that can be used to activate said mini-game.
As for the sound, the score is both familiar and appropriate and I quite like the use of dialogue snippets from the films, though it sometimes sound as if someone popped in a Desolation of Smaug DVD and recorded those snippets on an iPhone, so basically, the quality of the transfer could have been a bit better. With that said, the snippets don’t overwhelm and neither do the in-game cutscenes, though the final level pushes the line a bit as we come full circle — that is until the release of the DLC.
The primary knock on Lego: The Hobbit is the same one that plagues every Lego game: after a while, the sizzle fades and the majesty of playing along to the story of your favorite film character is diminished. These games are very elementary with similar objectives and gameplay. Those licensed worlds and characters distinguish them from each other, save for a few minor variations, but after awhile, that matters less, compromising the replayability.
The easy answer is that this Lego game will tide us over till the next one, but the MSRP on these games isn’t a bucket full of air and at a certain point, it feels like we’re just supporting a whimsy addiction that could be more economically satiated with a copy of Minecraft and an active imagination.