If you’ve played any of the LEGO games before and have watched the two Hobbit films, then you should generally know what to expect from this. That’s not a bad thing – the gameplay’s fine and it wouldn’t be a very good adaptation if it didn’t borrow heavily from the source material – but yet again, with this LEGO game, you’ll feel as though you’re treading familiar ground.
Not too familiar ground, though. This game does enough to develop on the mechanics in LEGO Lord of the Rings, although it’s much the same in terms of style and many of the bricks and pieces feel recycled from there. It’s actually quite a good retelling of the Hobbit’s story, and one which embellishes the plot with new information, side stories and secrets just as much as it cuts fodder out to fit the story into the confines of a LEGO world.
It’s an action adventure game with platforming and brawling elements, with a heavy focus on either co-operative play, or switching between multiple characters to complete tasks and puzzles. In other words, it’s a LEGO game, but there are some new mechanics that attempt to set it apart from the norm.
Throughout the game, you’ll traverse through various levels, which are comprised of different sections of the movie and can lead to some impressive set-pieces, such as when you’re climbing the Stone-giants while they fight each other in real time. There’s also always a smart solution for scenes where a character should be alone, so that it can all be played co-operatively, such as a goblin being hit on the head and believing Bilbo to be a friend rather than foe, taking over as the secondary character at this point.
And that’s good, because it’s a game that’s at its best in co-operative play. It makes it much easier than constantly switching characters and creates some unique scenarios where players are split up. It often features a dynamic split screen, which moves with the players if they stray too far apart from each other, which is a good way of handling this but can become quite dizzying. This, as well as some other effects such as motion blur, can always be switched off in the menus.
When you’re not in a level, you’ll be able to explore a huge world filled with secrets, stretching from Hobbiton to the Lonely Mountain. There’s plenty of sidequests here – which usually consist of finding an item within a level for a character, killing hordes of enemies, or completing a small puzzle – as well as characters to unlock and purchase, and then many other secrets to be found, too. Thankfully, the Great Eagles act as a fast travel system, seamlessly taking you up into the sky and dropping you off while impressively managing to avoid loading times – at least on new generation machines.
Combat often feels more fluid when compared to older LEGO titles, and there’s even chargeable special attacks – either a spin or smash, depending on the character – though most of your attacks are still mapped to a single button. Combine this with some cinematic QTEs when facing larger enemies and one-on-one battles, and the swordplay is actually quite decent, though when larger players dual wield it would have made sense to map this to two buttons. There’s even the ability to buddy up with another small character and take on bigger foes with the added height.
The collection aspects have been improved on further than in recent games. Yes, there are still studs which act as currency, minikits to find and many more secret items to collect, but there’s also added mining, looting, a crafting system and trading. There’s loot – special pieces of LEGO, such as wood, gold or even consumables such as fish or carrots – to be found everywhere, and some characters can even mine certain rocks to get rare materials.
This leads to a mini-game, where you have to first present the correct amount of loot and then build an item by selecting the correct pieces. You’ll see a collection wheel on the left and the piece to be placed on the right, and it’s essentially about matching these pieces. It awards a diminishing number of studs, depending on how fast you manage it, but it’ll also create the object you need to progress. It’s a good system, and brings even more of a sense that you’re building things in the game, when compared to the traditional method of holding a button while your character does all the hard work.
Admittedly, some sections of the game can be rather tedious, though thankfully a large majority of the game is very enjoyable, if a little easy. There’s little in the way of challenge, and hint blocks are strewn across the world to quite blatantly tell you what to do, with no interesting puzzles or tough combat situations. It doesn’t ever get repetitive, but it does get a bit dull, although it’s hard to imagine even children losing their patience at any point.
It’s surprising how good the game actually looks. Everything is very shiny and smooth, as LEGO should be, and even the non-brick parts of the environments are impressive on the new generation consoles. There are also some superb lighting effects at points, along with depth of field to create a style similar to the recent movies. All of the characters are really well animated and it’s a pleasure to see everything in motion, although there are occasional hiccups with the frame rate.
The presentation is straight-up LEGO: humorous and not taking itself too seriously, while generally using dialogue from the movies in an appropriate manner. Beyond that, there’s additional narration from Christopher Lee over 2D scenes which bridge levels together, which have a distinct 2D style imbued with 3D bricks and pieces.
Perhaps the best thing to take away from LEGO The Hobbit is the way it lets you get know the characters individually much better than the movies have managed in the same amount of time. The dwarves all have their own abilities, and while some of them are shared, others are unique, so they don’t just merge into one large group of people.
It’s very true that LEGO The Hobbit is yet another game of this ilk, and shares far too many similarities to the two other games released in the past six months, but there are improvements in important places and it’s quite an expansive game if you’re going to attempt to collect and do everything across the large open world of Middle-earth. Failing that, you’ll be guaranteed to find a lot of fun in co-op through the story.
It’s very faithful to the movie and manages to embellish enough so as to not be a simple retelling, yet doesn’t quite cover enough ground to be anything other than a companion to the films. It’s probably the best Hobbit game you’re going to get – just don’t expect a massive deviation from the LEGO formula.
Version tested: PS4