Released in 2014 and developed by Travellers Tales, Lego the Hobbit embraces many of the features that have made their numerous Lego adaptations of popular film franchises a success over the past decade. Humorous, charming and enjoyable, Lego the Hobbit will please the majority of the series’ existing fans, without winning any new admirers due to the conspicuous lack of innovation on the existing formula these games are known for.
Set in a passably sized open-world sandbox, Lego the Hobbit follows the plot of the first two films in the trilogy (inexplicably omitting the third film) as Bilbo Baggins abandons his peaceful life in the Shire to join the quest of the lonely mountain with his thirteen Dwarven companions, led by Thorin Oakenshield, and the enigmatic wizard Gandalf the Grey. During their journey, the company must overcome orcs, sorcerers and giant spiders to reclaim the Dwarves long-lost home. This may seem like an overly simplified summary of the story; however, this mirrors the lack of narrative focus in this game and indeed the previous entries in Travellers Tales’ franchise as a whole. The story is heavily abridged, relying on brief narrations performed by acting great Sir Christopher Lee to create a condensed version of the story prior to each of the sixteen levels, complemented during play by infrequent lines of dialogue copied directly from the films themselves. Though the result is a rather incoherent plot, especially if you play through the levels spasmodically, it’s still sufficiently informative to keep even the most absent-minded gamer abreast of events. Furthermore, by limiting the amount of narrative exposition, the game maintains focus on what is by far its most appealing aspect; the gameplay.
Fundamentally an action-adventure game, Lego the Hobbit also incorporates elements of traditional platformers and even some basic puzzle mechanics to provide a satisfactory level of diversity to the gameplay. That being said the combat mechanics are, to a certain degree, limited and therefore won’t appeal to anyone looking for an in-depth or challenging experience, whilst the control scheme is simple and easy to understand, making the game accessible to young children. Importantly as with every other title in the series, the game includes seamless couch co-op which allows two players to enjoy the game together on the same screen. The main campaign consists of sixteen levels unlocked sequentially as the player journeys across middle-earth. Initially, these levels are played in what’s known as ‘story mode’, which restricts your choice of characters to those who appear in the associated section of the film. Once a level has been completed, however, the player unlocks ‘free-play mode’. During ‘free play’, there are no restrictions on selectable characters, which gives the player access to unique, character-specific abilities e.g. Sauron’s dark magic. This is important for perfectionists who wish to complete the game 100%, as the majority of level items are unobtainable during the first attempt. Irrespective of its salience to completion, as much as anything, ‘free-play’ is fun; it gives rise to amusing, surreal set-pieces such as Bard’s young daughter defeating Azog the Defiler or a geriatric Bilbo besting the Necromancer in single combat.
When not working through the story missions there are a plethora of side-quests and auxiliary tasks, many of which provide an adequate distraction from the main campaign, along with various opportunities to unlock new characters, weapons, items and buffs in the form of ‘red-bricks’. A certain number of these activities are repetitive and tiresome, however; incompatible with the irreverent fun the rest of the game delivers. Ultimately, as stated in the introduction, the biggest disappointment is the lack of innovation. Travellers Tales veterans like myself will certainly enjoy the experience, but not consistently; having played numerous games in the series it becomes ever harder to enjoy the process of hoovering up studs, fetching sundry items for homogeneous NPC’s or systematically destroying Lego rocks.
On a more positive note, the graphics are unequivocally better than any preceding Lego game. The characters and sets are sharp, whilst the background art is pleasant to look at, if not visually impressive. Completing the experience is the inclusion of the original soundtrack from the films, providing a sense of immersion that contrasts nicely with the otherwise light-hearted tone of the game.
To summarise, Lego the Hobbit is a solid entry into the franchise that will please the majority of its fan base. That being said, given the sheer abundance of Lego games created by Travellers Tales over the past decade, I worry that without some sort of significant development or change to the undoubtedly enjoyable paradigm, these games will lose their appeal to adults and become the sole province of children – 7/10.