All these new additions have rather overburdened the control scheme, too: your inventory is accessed with a long press of B, but it’s also an action button, and can chuck some held objects away. It’s overly fussy, and resulted in a particularly frustrating battle between Sam and gigantic spider Shelob, where we ended up repeatedly lobbing the Light Of Earendil into a dark corner instead of stabbing the fell beast and progressing onwards.
And that long overdue character selection wheel? It has eight slots for a fellowship of nine, requiring one to link through to a sub-menu.
Underneath it all is the same old structure that has supported some 12 such games in seven years. You enter a level, solve a few light puzzles with the abilities of your characters and collect trinkets, returning to do it all again when you’ve unlocked enough powers to rinse the place for goodies. It’s proved an engaging formula, and it’s still well suited to family play, but it’s feeling overexposed and over-encumbered, with the towering number of items to collect – minikits, red bricks, a vast inventory of items found and forged, blacksmith designs, Mithril – getting unwieldy. Few, we imagine, will have the patience to see Lego TLOTR through to 100 per cent completion.
The same old bugs persist, too. Mission-critical objects become intangible, preventing progress till they deign to pop back into existence. We also experienced freezes, made all the more irritating by the fact in-level progress is still only saved at infrequent, player-activated checkpoint statues.
There are moments where bright rays pierce the clouds, however. Levels where Frodo dons the ring and slips into the whispering world of the Ringwraiths can be tense, requiring more subtlety than simply smashing everything in sight. The twin tracks of Osgiliath, where Faramir provides missile support to Frodo, Sam and Gollum, also offers a microcosm of everything Lego games do well.
Crafting new objects from Mithril bricks and blueprints is undeniably fun, some of the fruits of your labours granting new powers when equipped and others just there for kicks. The simple fetch quests are also linked to engagingly silly collectibles, although they do start to feel like padding after a while. And there’s certainly a wealth of content here for those who can see past the frustrations, with our first 10-odd-hour story mode playthrough clocking up only a 30 per cent completion rating.
Lego TLOTR is, despite its many flaws, still broadly enjoyable. It has charm, it has its moments and the series holds an undeniable attraction for kids both actual and inner. It’s a Lego game, in other words. But it’s bloated, too, full of half-formed, shoddily executed ideas and frustrating glitches. And after years of glacial iteration, surely we have the right to hope new additions will be, if not truly precious, at least a little more refined.
Xbox 360 version tested.
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