I would be hard pressed to come up with another gaming franchise that innovates so little from title to title, and yet remains so consistently fresh and fun as the LEGO games have. Gamers have nearly made a career out of berating titles like Call of Duty for rehashing the same mechanics and gameplay year after year, but it seems as if the LEGO games can get away with it because everyone loves LEGOs and the games are completely charming and hilarious. The newest title, LEGO The Hobbit, is no exception. It is every bit as fun and funny as you have come to expect, as well as having an almost mind-boggling amount of side quests and collectibles to track down. If you play this game, then you’re probably already familiar with the source material. It is based on the two Hobbit films, An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, and the third film will be covered in DLC which will be available this winter. The story moves along quickly, as the LEGO games always do, and it does a decent job of covering all the major beats. If, however, you’re not intimately knowledgeable of the tale itself, do not look to this game to give you an exhaustive account of all the goings-on. The purpose of this game is not to tell you a well fleshed out story, but rather to let you smash and build your way through the most iconic parts of the films. I’ve actually read some other critics bashing the game for this and I have to wonder what it is they were expecting. LEGO Marvel did a good job of telling a story, but the developers wrote that story themselves. Anytime LEGO has adapted a pre-existing movie (i.e. Harry Potter) they have always truncated the story a bit in favor of getting to the gameplay. It keeps things moving at a brisk pace and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Gameplay-wise, things are much as they have always been, with a few innovations peppered throughout for good measure. The instruction building platforms make a return from the LEGO The Movie game, as well as mithril crafting from the LEGO Lord of the Rings game. The mithril items are particularly entertaining as you will find yourself crafting some hilarious (and useful) items. The Necromancer is a little harder to take seriously when you have him decked out in a sparkling afro and musical dancing shoes. There’s also a loot system now that allows you to pick up helpful elements such as wood, precious stones, and other things to help you craft a series of useful items. Fast travel is also a helpful option as you can visit any location you have already discovered with the help of the eagles. It’s about time those lazy things pull their weight. Another standout aspect of the game is the sound. The music is, of course, beautiful as it is pulled straight from Howard Shore’s fantastic score from the films, but my favorite part is the voice work. Instead of having a script for the game, like in LEGO Marvel, TT Games has brought back the lines straight from the movies process that we enjoyed in their Lord of the Rings games. It’s all done very well and most of the time it is simply hilarious. Scenes of heavy and foreboding dialogue from the films are interestingly juxtaposed against completely goofy and silly scenes and I never once was able to wipe the smile off of my face during the cutscenes. Think Azog’s meeting on Weathertop with the other orcs was dark and disturbing in the movie? Wait until you see Azog’s severed hand bouncing around and taunting him in this version. Puts a bit of a different spin on it.
I mentioned that there is an absurd amount of things to do and collect and I want to make it clear that that is no exaggeration. I put about twelve hours into the game in an effort to beat the main story line (I get easily distracted) but I have now put well over twenty hours into the hub world and I am not yet at 50%. Every location has a multitude of things to do and for the most part, they are all fun and entertaining. The races are, however, the worst part. Much like every other LEGO game, trying to get through those timed check points can often be a severely frustrating experience. The LEGO games have mastered the art of smashing, building, and collecting, but they have always lacked in the platforming portion. The timed races require a degree of precision that the game simply doesn’t offer you. In an attempt to get to 100% completion I try to do all of these portions first; otherwise I may never go back and finish them. Besides that one annoying blemish though, sidequest are a joy. Most everyone in the world wants you to find or build them something and exploration and building are squarely in this game’s wheelhouse. If you have never liked the LEGO games then this title will not change your mind. There just isn’t enough innovation to get unbelievers on board, but that’s OK because if you, like me, can’t get enough of these games, then LEGO The Hobbit will be just what the doctor ordered. And with the promise of There and Back Again DLC to finish out the story, we can smile for the fact that the road does indeed go ever on and on. Oh, also, Bombur in the barrel is an unlockable character. Maybe the best LEGO character yet!