Initial Release Date: April 8, 2014
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Publisher: Warner Brothers
Platforms: PC, 3DS, PS3, PS Vita, PS4 (reviewed), Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Tolkien’s original book gets the Lego treatment in this exploration based action game inspired by both the book and the movies. I played through Lego The Hobbit with a co-op partner on PS4, and found that while it was a relaxing break from some of the more punishing games, The Hobbit missed the mark in its conclusion, in its pacing, and in its side games.
The Hobbit follows the well-known tale of Bilbo Baggins from both the book and subsequent big screen production. Many playing the game are probably quite familiar with the story, wherein Bilbo is accompanied by a band of dwarves seeking to retake their home in the Lonely Mountain, now inhabited by the dragon Smaug.
The game manages to adapt the story well enough, weaving the action portions into the gameplay, and augmented the travel and dialogue-heavy parts as cutscenes. However, while I was familiar with the source material, those approaching the game completely new might find some of the story difficult to follow. I believe the developers operated under the notion that the players where likely fans of the movie or book.
The strongest point to the presentation is most certainly the humor. Lego Hobbit imparts a silliness not unlike the humor found in the Paper Mario games. The cutscenes incorporate some more wacky exploits of the characters, often made more pointed by focusing on the fact that they are indeed LEGO characters.
Unfortunately, the story takes a massive hit from the incomplete state of the game. Lego The Hobbit was released as the mega three part movie adaptation was still being rolled out. I think the original intention was to release DLC along with the third movie. Sadly, that never happened, and the game simply ends after the Lonely Mountain encounter, with no tie-up to the story.
Ultimately, the game does a fine job of taking The Hobbit’s story and turning it into a Lego-infused silly adventure. While the story seems aimed at those with background knowledge, it still manages to completely botch a clean ending, leaving both me and my co-op partner unsatisfied.
As I mentioned in my first look at the game, I had not played a Lego-style game in quite some time, but I was familiar with the general concepts.
Hobbit and the other Lego games focus on collecting loot of all various shapes, sizes, and colors – from coins to minikits to hidden Lego blocks. The exploration aspect is heavily emphasized in each level, with a summary after each level of your level of plunder.
In between the more linear level segments are various overworlds which act as hubs between each level and chapter. The hubs were an interesting inclusion in the game, as they gave you some freedom to try out various characters and smash various things to collect more coins (to be used for even more characters).
The Lego games pride themselves on the secrets, hidden items, and bevy of characters to unlock. Exploration is rewarded with various loot that is then cashed in for various unlocks that, in turn, allow for even further dissection of each level.
A big component is using the loot to unlock new routes in replaying the prior levels. Many times on the first playthrough, the players will encounter certain obstacles that can only be surmounted by specific characters that are intentionally unavailable the first go-round. This adds an element of replayability, but does add frustration when you waltz by what is an obvious secret without any manner of unlocking it.
However, each level is replete with objectives and obstacles that must be completed using your current squad. Each of the characters has a selection of special skills, and the players can choose their character from a pool during any level at will.
Some of the skills include mining, using a big hammer, or stacking dwarves to reach high places. Some members of the team have access to ranged weapons to hit distant targets that knock down ladders or other elements to advance in the level.
Personally, some of these abilities became quite repetitive, losing their luster quickly as they are presented in nearly identical ways throughout the
same level and throughout the entire game. When you’ve stacked through dwarves to reach one ledge, you’ve done enough stacking for awhile. Repeating this process several times in a row to scale a mountainside is not particularly engaging.
Combat is fairly straightforward against the normal enemies, which also explode into a surprisingly satisfying pile of Lego bricks. The players health is tracked by a number of heart containers, and each have a basic attack plus a “power-up” move. Enemies almost always employ their base ranged or melee attack.
“Boss” fights were very unsatisfying — they were button mashing quick events that felt like they had no response (ie you’d mash circle but there is no rumble and no animation change on screen to signify your efforts).
Lego The Hobbit is built to be low difficulty. There are no game overs, and the only penalty you receive from death is a dropping of the loot you’ve collected, which can then be reacquired as you immediately respawn. The easiness of the game was actually a draw in my case – my co-op compatriot was still getting used to the PS4 controller and thus the low penalty was a welcome change from game over screens or life totals.
Other gameplay elements include auto-runners where you simply move left or right to smash through obstructions that add to your loot. My co-op partner was not fond of these portions, and felt that they added little while sapping player agency. The auto-runners have no chance of failure (at least I could not create a fail state).
In addition, you are occasionally thrown into “mini-games” where you build a Lego model piece by piece. Well, the building will occur and then pause for you to choose a Lego piece from a wheel which matches the transparent piece shown on the screen. These instances were tedious and detracted directly from the fun factor.
The inclusion of co-op was the reason I had purchased the game, and I played through the entirety of the story with a partner. As previously mentioned, the low difficulty was perfect for my partner, and it helped with the pacing to avoid game overs. My partner also did not feel like they were holding back our progress due to lack of skill or familiarity.
Notably, friendly fire is always on (or at least I could not figure out how to switch it off if that was an option), which was frustrating. The combat portions are very rudimentary, so while you are swinging your sword you are often slashing your teammates.
Using the special skills and abilities through co-op seems superior to having to get through those sections as a single player. You are often swapping through your active characters (like when stacking) and so having a friend to help out makes it go quicker.
Lastly, the camera angle choices get wonky on the split screen portions. This wasn’t a major issue, as most times the game does not enter split screen. Split screen is dependent on how far the characters stray from one another, which doesn’t happen often.
The voice acting struck me as quite good, and it appears that the Lego characters are indeed voiced by their silver screen counterparts. This added detail did add to the immersion and authenticity of the game.
Visuals were a bit of a surprise – the translation of the “real world” to its Lego-inspired form was cleverly done, and the non-Lego landscapes actually stood out a bit more as quite crisp and detailed.
The Lego games are built with replayability in mind, and as pointed out, each level is replete with secrets and nooks to go back and explore once the player’s arsenal of unlocks is greater, in a somewhat Metroidvania fashion.
Lego The Hobbit is a solid translation the Hobbit tale into Lego form, but suffers from the complete lack of ending, tedious ability-based puzzles, and uninspired side games. The game does provide an easy-going recreation of the movie that is fun to relax and enjoy with a co-op companion when taking a break from the stress of Dark Souls.
+Humorous cut scenes
+Fun adaptation of both the movie and book source material into Lego
-Fairly bland combat
-Complete lack of ending to narrative
Final Score: 5.3/10