With its latest effort, developer Traveller’s Tales has returned to the lore-filled realm of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. The result is LEGO The Hobbit, a quirky and block-built take on the Lord of the Rings prequel story. However, instead of basing its content on the book itself, the game is instead based on Peter Jackson’s film trilogy and complements its The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug‘s Blu-ray release.
The Hobbit is the tale of Bilbo Baggins, the short, stocky and human-like cousin of Frodo, the main character in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Within its fantastical and danger-filled narrative, the protagonist — who’s affectionately referred to as a burglar — receives an unexpected invitation from Gandalf the Wizard, who asks him to accompany himself and a large group of dwarfish allies, as they attempt to reclaim their kingdom and return home. Of course, there’s a catch that makes things infinitely tougher, that being the fact that the dwarves’ former kingdom has become the home of a greedy and gold-obsessed dragon named Smaug, who was drawn to it by a former king’s enormous stash of the yellowish metal.
It is during the aforementioned quest that Master Bilbo Baggins comes across schizophrenic Gollum and his “precious,” a golden ring forged in the fire-filled pits of Mordor. That discovery and subsequent theft ends up setting the table for the fiction’s most well-known and beloved tale. That is, of course, Frodo’s quest to destroy said ring, before Sauron — the land’s beacon of evil — can get his hands on it. We’re just going to stick with The Hobbit for this review’s purposes, though LEGO The Lord of the Rings is available for purchase if you so please.
LEGO The Hobbit features a fourteen-mission-long main campaign, which does a really good job of following the events of the first two films in Peter Jackson’s trilogy. The third movie, There and Back Again, is absent at this point; however, it has been said that levels based upon its concluding narrative will be released around Christmas. As a result, the game currently exists as an incomplete experience, which makes us hopeful that the third film’s DLC will be released for free.
Although the existence of fourteen missions sounds like a lot, that isn’t the case here. Most of the stages are very short, and some even come in at under ten minutes in length. As such, you’ll blow through the campaign quickly if you stick to it and don’t worry about doing any of the side missions or going after any of the series’ familiar collectibles, those being coloured blocks, hidden mini-kits and assorted characters. Doing so will add a lot of extra time to your play-through, but will force you to endure a lot of backtracking and menial side-quests.
As you progress through LEGO The Hobbit, you’ll unlock certain Middle-Earth events, which predominantly refer to side quests given by villagers. For the most part, these are forgettable, uninteresting and egregiously similar fetch quests, wherein the group is asked to find or make specific items. Crafting those things, as well as other required quest items, is accomplished through the combination of materials dubbed loot, which can be found throughout the game world. Many types are earned simply by breaking environmental items, but others require you to mine for them. Mining is quite easy and simple, though, requiring players to stop a moving ticker in the middle of its arc.
Items can be forged easily, provided that you have the right amount of each required type of loot. Such instances come up quite often in the campaign, as well, and instigate a mini-game of sorts, wherein you must watch as the item in question is built. Along the way, the automated construction will stop and will show the ghosted image of a missing piece of the puzzle. At those points, it’s up to you to quickly select the appropriate piece from a radial menu. Being quick on said draw allows for a hefty monetary bonus, while errors lessen said amount dramatically. If you’ve played The LEGO Movie Video Game then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking out, because the exact same “Master Build” mechanic is found within that title.
If LEGO The Hobbit had better side missions and more interesting things to do post-campaign, it would be a lot more fun to play. Instead, the game’s incredibly large open world hub is wasted on boring fetch quests and menial tasks. Sure, there are some exceptions to this, but they’re overshadowed by the rest.
The above-mentioned campaign also ended up being a bit underwhelming as a whole, and bored me on several occasions. Its levels follow the films’ plot lines well, which is both a good thing and a bad thing, because despite being interesting from a storytelling standpoint, The Hobbit‘s exploration-filled quest doesn’t work incredibly well as a video game. Many levels are devoid of enemies and feature tedious and somewhat boring puzzles instead. As a result, there’s a ton of repetition to be found, and even when there are enemies to fight, the combat is lacking. That was especially true of the game’s select number of boss battles as they were almost all both similar and uninspired.
In true LEGO fashion, each of LEGO The Hobbit‘s characters has his or her own special ability. These pertain to the game’s different puzzle types, which involve using hammers to move heavy objects, equipping Bilbo’s ring to turn invisible, and utilizing chains to either pull things down or swing on hooks. If you like this type of gameplay then you’ll feel right at home, but go in knowing that things can be obtuse at times; so much so that kids may have problems completing certain parts. Going further, I also found it difficult to remember each character’s skill-set and weapons, which led to a lot of time spent in menus where I was forced to read the small text descriptions under their pictures.
Sometimes, puzzles will require you to buddy up with a friend, which is one of the best things about this game. This involves standing next to the character you’d like to join with and pressing a button to issue the related command. Once that has been completed, the two heroes will move as one, and will use their unique weapons in tandem. It’s a helpful tool that is best used against bosses, but it’s important to note that characters can also buddy up to create a human ladder, which is obviously helpful when high places must be reached.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which is easy on the eyes. Its colours pop during daylight segments, its lighting is quite impressive and it features beautifully drawn pencil-art cutscenes that will be tough to forget. However, it won’t blow you away with its visuals. Then again, this is a multi-platform release, which is available on just about every device under the sun.
During my play-through, I noticed a few visual bugs, the first of which resulted in two characters being stuck in the ground during a cutscene. Going further, there was also a moment where a cutscene video flashed to a weird-looking image for just a second. Those two were only momentary occurrences, though, unlike a stuttering issue that would affect the game’s frame rate from time-to-time.
The audio fared better, and didn’t present any issues worth complaining about. As a whole, the game sounds quite good and has well above-average voice acting, which can be attributed to its usage of audio clips from the movies. I do, however, feel that the game would’ve been better without voiceover work. Without it, the developers would’ve been forced to add more whimsy and humour into its animations — two things that are lacking here in comparison to some of the earlier LEGO games.
Despite its issues and its lack of originality, LEGO The Hobbit remains a decent enough game that fans of TT Games’ work will enjoy. It’s more involved and more obtuse than a lot of the other LEGO games, though, so if you’re going to buy it for a child, it might be best to make sure that a parent will be able to help them with it.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
LEGO The Hobbit is a tried-and-true LEGO game that could've been better. Still, it's worth checking out if you're a fan of the fiction and/or TT Games' familiar interactive formula.