J.R.R Tolkien is an author who could be considered one of the fathers of the High Fantasy genre. Of course, he’s not the only one who wrote incredible works within the genre, but his Lord of the Rings series and now The Hobbit, have achieved major success in recent years. And for good reason, they are outstanding works that exist in a fictional world that feels as real as the one we now occupy. Of course, ever since the movies were filmed in New Zealand, everyone thinks that’s Middle Earth now. Heads up, it’s still New Zealand.
But I’m not here to talk about books or movies, I’m here to talk games. We all know the Lego series has been going on for quite some time now, and since the folks over at Traveller’s Tales have done such a good job thus far with the series, including their Lego: Lord of the Rings game, it’s time to tackle the latest movie to Lego game. It’s time to go back to the beginning of the story and play Lego: The Hobbit.
A Story as Old as Time, and yet It Never Gets Old
The title of the first Hobbit film was “An Unexpected Journey.” I love how candid it is about the story it will tell. This classic story of a little Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins being swept up into the company of dwarves seeking to reclaim their kingdom from a despicable dragon is dripping with the tropes of an awesome High Fantasy storyline. The story then continues into the second part entitled “The Desolation of Smaug” where events escalate significantly.
Of course, I don’t want to spoil anything for you dear readers, but despite the classic set up, the story of Lego: The Hobbit is as captivating as it is classic. It takes some time before it hits a stride reminiscent of the epic scale seen in Lego: Lord of the Rings, but once it finds the rhythm, you won’t want to stop. In addition to pulling its story straight from the films, Lego: The Hobbit utilizes the exact lines of dialogue from the film to voice its in-game characters. Scenes will play out with that classic Lego humor while the character recite their lines from the film. There are some additional transition cutscenes where Christopher Lee of Saurman fame narrates some original dialogue, but otherwise it’s pulled straight from the films.
One thing you will notice here is that the story seems cut short. That’s because it is. Lego: The Hobbit only features the first two films in the planned Hobbit trilogy. While this is a disappointment, the third film won’t be out until December of this year, and therefore the game would have had to stagnate for some time before being released. It has been confirmed that the game will receive the third movie's storyline as a DLC add on, however release date and pricing have yet to be announced. As it stands, you’ll spend about six hours getting through the story which of course can also be played cooperatively. It may not sound like much, but we all know that Lego games never end when you beat them. No, that’s when the fun really starts.
The Same Lego Gameplay You Expect, with a Few New Twists You Didn’t See Coming.
Lego games have a kind of expectation around them when it comes to gameplay. People always expect two player cooperative play throughout each mode of the game, and that’s here. I did notice that this time around they offered an option to switch between a static split screen, or the dynamic split screen that appears and rotates as players move further away from one another. The dynamic split screen is torture for my eyes, even though some people like it. I prefer the static split screen and I love that the option is here.
People also expect simple combat, and a lack of punishment for dying beyond losing some money. Again, nothing has changed here. The combat remains a one button affair, with some special moves added in for each character to spice things up. It works fine, but I always wish they would expand on the combat a little more. The game is easy enough, so older players like myself would enjoy a little more variety to how we dispose of our enemies. I don’t need a fifty move list of combos, but a little more variety would have been appreciated.
People expect puzzles that don’t take too much thought, but also don’t hold your hand. This is here, and this is also where the game starts to take some new steps. For example, there is now a loot system which feels vaguely like something ripped out of a RPG, and that’s a good thing. You’ll now find raw materials like wood, gems, or gold in addition to the money you find when you break things. By visiting anvils in the world, you can craft items for solving puzzles, completing side quests, and more. This added touch was not expected, but I really liked how it played into the Lego formula of building something out of nothing.
The age old collectibles are back, along with the massive roster of characters. Finishing a Lego game’s story only puts you at about a twenty percent completion score. Going back through the levels, experimenting with other character abilities and scavenging for every last stud is what makes the Lego games so full of replayability. If you’re not one to grind for completion, this one isn’t going to win you over, but fans will be plenty satisfied with the number of secrets and side activities.
Another element that has snuck its way in is the building mini game first glimpsed in the Lego: The Movie Game. This mini game has you selecting the proper pieces from a given set to continue building an object until it’s completed. The faster you choose, the more bonus money (studs) you get. Finally, the dwarves in the game have their own specific moves that involve teaming up with one another to break down obstacles or clear a path. Again, these features all work well, and they are welcome additions as they add more depth to the puzzles and the gameplay.
By and large, Lego: The Hobbit still feels like a Lego game. That’s not a bad thing, but the series is becoming long in the tooth and the same old tropes are starting to wear thin. It’s still fun, that much is certain, but these tiny additions aren’t going to be enough in future iterations of the series.
My, Your Presentation Is Lacking a Certain Something; like Legos Perhaps?
If there’s one thing Lego: The Movie Game did right, it was the environments. You would be hard pressed to find a single object in that game that wasn’t constructed entirely out of Legos. Other games in the series have used real textures for backgrounds, but everything else was made from Lego. Now, Lego: The Hobbit looks fantastic on PS4, but I can’t help noticing how little in the game is constructed from Legos. The objects are, and the characters are, along with certain structures. The rest though, is very nice and detailed real world textures.
It’s hard to find a balance here, I can understand that. You want to showcase the next generation hardware, but you also want to stay true to the franchise. Any passers by would be able to tell this was a Lego game without a second glance, so we haven’t lost all of the little bricks, but I was surprised to see how much of the game was done in a realistic style. I wouldn’t really call it a negative aspect, because it does look really good. I suppose it’s more a surprise and a caution to the developers not to lean much further into our world, lest these games lose their childlike demeanor and humor.
Despite being on the next generation console, there are still some issues of screen tearing and the occasional frame rate stutter, but it’s almost not noticeable because the game looks so great most of the time. The choice to pull the voice acting straight from the film was a very good choice, and Traveller’s Tales still manages to inject the Lego humor in, despite the nature of certain scenes. Of course, had they gone entirely off their own script, they may have been able to take advantage of more opportunities to be charming and witty. At the end of the day, I think it’s better to use the original audio, if only to stay true to the source material.
The PS4 Advantage: Oh My, That Is Quite Shiny!
To borrow another phrase, you can polish a Lego all you want, but it’s still a Lego. Yes I Know what the original phrase is, and no I don’t think Legos are turds, I just thought it applied here. The PS4 version of Lego: The Hobbit succeeds in being the most graphically impressive of the bunch, running at a gorgeous 1080p resolution. Compared to the other versions, the Lego models do have more of a sheen and the rest of the textures and effects have quite the “pop” to them.
The lightbar does indicate the color of the ring beneath your character’s feet, but otherwise there are no PS4 exclusive features. Even so, this is a beautiful game considering its entire cast is made of plastic bricks.
The Final Verdict: I’m Looking for Someone to Share in an Adventure
Bilbo may have been hesitant at first to join Gandalf and the Dwarves, but I would suggest that you exercise less caution when deciding on Lego: The Hobbit. Fans of the series, you’re going to see some new things, and you’re going to see a lot of stuff that’s the same. It’s a winning formula, no doubt, but these tiny features, while interesting, aren’t enough to keep the ship from sinking. Lego: The Hobbit is a good Lego game, but it shows the series’ need for innovation more so than ever. I would recommend it to a Hobbit fan and a Lego game fan in a heartbeat. Those looking to jump in, don’t expect a reinvention of the wheel, more like leaking tire that’s been given a little more air to keep it rolling.
Final Score: 7.5/10
What do you think of Lego: The Hobbit? Would you like to see the series try something new? What about the third movie, would you buy it as DLC for the game? Tell us in the comments!
Game Category: Action / Adventure
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date: 4/13/2014