The LEGO series is venerable, a tremendous success by any measure. Brick environments and LEGO-ized heroes coupled with pop culture thematic material is a recipe for success. The series is going strong, selling well even though the core gameplay experience is older than the current console generation (which itself is a bit long in the tooth). As the series has aged, new twists and tricks have been added to formula, and for the most part, these additions have kept the LEGO series good, maybe even very good, but not great. Does LEGO Lord of the Rings have what it takes to make the first truly great LEGO game?
While the basic ingredients of the LEGO series have changed gradually over time, all of the familiar elements you expect are present in LEGO LotR. The environments are filled with brick scenery that can be smashed into bits to collect studs, the LEGO currency. Walking around, destroying everything you see, is extremely repetitive, but still as enjoyable today as it was in the first LEGO Star Wars. After the main story has been completed, there is much to do, including finding collectibles and purchasing new characters. The drop in/drop out, two player local co-op works just as well as ever. These elements are the building blocks of the LEGO games, if you'll pardon the pun, and LEGO LotR implements each one as well as any previous game.
But the most successful LEGO games are those that interpret their source material into LEGO game form effectively. Both LEGO Harry Potter games used spell casting and potion making to mix things up. The special ability suits and cast of heroes and villains in the LEGO Batman games gave players all sorts of enjoyable options. LEGO LotR effectively implements the epic sense of scale, struggle between good and evil, and the camaraderie and teamwork shown by the Fellowship of the Ring into video game form.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of LEGO LotR are the production values, from the expansive environments to the quality of the cut scenes. Levels are truly expansive, and feel much larger than those of previous games. From the rolling fields of the Shire to the blasted wastelands of Mordor, and everywhere between, the sense of scale is incredible. The hub world, where levels are linked to one another, isn't quite as detailed as LEGO Batman 2's Gotham City, but it's still enormous. Riding from one level to the next on horseback really makes the world of Middle Earth seem nearly as alive as in the movies and books. Adding to this is the brilliant inclusion of spoken dialogue taken straight from the movies in cut scenes. Don't worry; the famous LEGO humor is still present, mainly due to some hilarious sight gags. LEGO LotR looks and sounds fantastic from start to finish.