If there's one thing TT Games are masters of, it's recreating well known and loved worlds in virtual Lego. It doesn't take long playing Lego The Hobbit on PlayStation 4 to realise that the game lives and breathes Peter Jackson's fantastic interpretation of Middle-Earth. It's not easy to remain calm and collected at the sight of The Shire or Rivendell in Lego.
Our first impression is, simply, that it looks great. All the environments are faithfully recreated and the graphics surprise us with nice texture work and great lighting. And the visuals are complimented by Howard Shore's iconic music and fitting sound effects. If you love both The Lord of the Rings and Lego, games you'll thrive in Lego The Hobbit.
There relatively few surprises as far as the mechanics go. If you've played one or two Lego games in the past you'll feel right at home. It revolves around breaking objects for points, solving puzzles with the various special abilities of the characters, and beating on groups of stupid (but at times cute) enemies.
You're able to play as almost any of the characters from the two movies, and there are a lot to choose from. Bilbo, Gandalf, Legolas and all the dwarves compete for our attention and at times the screen gets very cluttered. This is especially true of the battle between Dwarves and Orcs where hundreds of small Lego characters run around in the background, and about ten Orcs and ten Dwarves manically run around in the fore. We died at least 8 times simply because we were unable to tell what was what and what we were expected to do at a given moment.
But it's not all chaos. The adventurers are at times divided in smaller groups, each with an objective of their own, that the player can switch between. This can involve getting one group heading one way up a mountain while the other takes another road and you switch between them to clear obstacles for the other group. It's a game focussed on co-operation, even if you're playing alone, as is the rule with Lego titles.
Lately TT Games have chosen to include dialogue in their games, and we cannot help but feel that it's a little bit of a shame. Surely we're not alone in thinking there was a certain charm to the speechless antics of the old Lego titles. It's easy to see why dialogue is included with a rather elaborate story. But still most who players will no doubt be fully aware of the plot as they play the games, and the youngest players probably don't care either way.
Even if there hasn't been any revolutionary changes since Lego Marvel Super Heroes, the game isn't without new features. There is a crafting system (dwarves excel at this), that can be used to build more advanced sets such as catapults and boats. In order to build these you require raw materials such as iron, wood and rock, things that you pick up along the way. We never encountered any shortage of materials, and never had to grind in order to advance.
The hub world in Lego The Hobbit is surprisingly large and it's filled to the brim with collectibles. There are even side quests to clear in between the main story quests. It's hardly anything revolutionary as these often involve collecting one thing or locating another in order to gain a few extra blocks, but it's a nice complement to the main course.
Lego The Hobbit is based on the first two movies in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy. It's not really all that much source material to work with, especially as far as The Desolation of Smaug goes, as it didn't offer many scenes that are appropriate for this kind of game. It's easy to tell that the developers had to stretch what was there and some levels feels really protracted. There are also plenty of filler activities like chasing pigs, collecting keys and beehives that comes across as busy work meant to prolong the game.
Lego The Hobbit ends just as anticlimactically as the last movie. TT Games would probably have done themselves a favour if they had waited another year in order to include the end of the trilogy. We can only imagine that it will be an even greater challenge to create a meaningful game out of just the third movie (or, as it's rumoured, it could turn out to be DLC, we'll just have to wait and see on that).
In spite of some slight annoyances it's easy to recommend Lego The Hobbit to fans of both Lego and The Lord of the Rings. It entertains. It's also easy to see that there has been a lot of Lego titles lately. It could also be considered true that you can have too much of a good thing, and at several points during our play-through we could not help but wonder why it didn't innovate more and try more new mechanics.
But it should be said that the Lego concept is flexible as it is. It's equal parts adventuring and puzzles, with elements of platform titles and beat 'em ups. TT Games should be commended for their ability to maintain the high standard of the Lego releases year in and year out. Lego The Hobbit is no exception.