Thorin and company are ready to take back Erebor brick by brick in LEGO The Hobbit, but they need a burglar to capture the heart of the mountain; the Arkenstone. Though there’s the traditional TT Games humour, a number of mechanical and gameplay flaws cast players out of the frying pan and straight into the fire.
Warner Bros. and TT Games have joined forces once again to rebuild J.R.R Tolkien’s LEGO Middle-earth following their first visit in LEGO Lord of the Rings. Renewed in glorious HD, LEGO The Hobbit is certainly pleasing to the eye, if a little rough around the edges. For fans of the Tolkien universe, you’ll get to explore the beautiful Rivendell once more and the new but dark depths of Dol Guldur. However, the game is plagued by glitches and crashes that have become almost synonymous with the LEGO series – and it’s in the main storyline where you’ll encounter most of them.
LEGO The Hobbit focuses on the first two films directed by Peter Jackson, with DLC promised for the third and final instalment. But given that Bilbo’s not yet completed his journey, TT Games’ title feels a little lost in the fray. What starts as a promising build-up of events, with excellent light-hearted appeal and gameplay variation for “An Unexpected Party” and the Bill, Bert and Tom scenes, combined with the sombre but electrifying scenes in Dol Guldur with Gandalf and Radagast, quickly turns into a dull and uninspiring fight with Smaug near the story’s end.
Though the irony is partly amusing when Dori unites with Bilbo in Smaug’s lair – Tolkien purists can afford to scoff at this moment – gameplay soon becomes disjointed when the legendary red dragon teases players and flies into the distance. Doomed to follow the film’s events, the story has no real ending, and the game’s plot suffers greatly. Players itching to plunge the famed black arrow into Smaug are cruelly kept in the dark with a deeply unsatisfactory end. And although TT Games did pop in a bonus area, much like Sauron’s destruction bonus in LEGO Lord of the Rings, Smaug is nowhere to be found.
Players familiar with Traveller’s Tales LEGO games have possibly encountered the odd glitch or two and, while it doesn’t pose any major problems in terms of storyline, it can hinder the enjoyment of the game. Main storyline sequences and cutscenes, which suffer from drops in frame rate, are the most problematic, where it’s rather similar to a game of Jenga – sometimes the piece can be edged out with a bit of luck, and sometimes everything crashes to the floor. Suffering from bouts of freezing, particularly in co-op mode and with fast-paced scenes such as Bombur’s Barrel rolling, LEGO The Hobbit can be treacherous footing for even the hardiest of hobbits.
Middle-earth’s open world is, perhaps, the most vibrant in terms of gameplay and puzzle design. There are countless Mithril Bricks hidden in areas throughout the land, as well as 98 unlockable characters. Plus the Wii U’s GamePad doubles up as an excellent map screen, handy for planning an epic journey and pin-pointing the eagle statues with ease.
New to the Hobbit game is the ability to mine crystals with Bofur, which can be useful for building LEGO objects in side quests or trades, while Dwarven abilities such as stacking allows you to reach new areas. The buddy-up ability is also a great addition to the game, providing many interesting scenarios for characters.
Of notable merit are TT Games’ animations for characters when idle; no longer are they humming or rocking back and forth, but each has their own quirk or performance. Plus there are plenty of nuances and references dotted throughout the game, providing ample amusement for players. For instance, forging the Rhythm Stick at the Blacksmith in Bree brings delightful results, akin to the Disco Ball in LEGO Lord of the Rings.
While LEGO The Hobbit has a few design flaws, TT Games typically saves the day with its traditional comedy and wonderful puzzle design. And what it lacks in story gratification, it makes up for in exploration, though you may have to take a couple of eagle flights with Bilbo to get there and back again.