Lego The Hobbit
- Street Date:
- April 8th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- April 13th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Warner Bros.
- Traveller's Tales
PS4 version reviewed. Review was done with a mix of the drop-in, drop-out co-op and single player. Review contains some spoilers for the two 'The Hobbit' films.
Not satisfied with delivering two 'Lego' titles in the past six months, 'Lego Marvel Super Heroes' and 'The Lego Movie Videogame,' Traveller's Tales and Warner Bros. bring audiences 'Lego The Hobbit.' With a rational extending from the rest of the production of 'The Hobbit' trilogy, 'Lego The Hobbit' allows players to directly play a 'Lego' game version of the first two 'Hobbit' films. Much like 2012's 'Lego The Lord of the Rings,' the game makes extensive use of the recorded dialogue and soundtrack of the movies as part of its top shelf presentation. But as is the norm for this popular series of games, the story levels are just a part of the overall package.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Unsurprisingly, 'Lego The Hobbit' unflinchingly checks several boxes on the list of possible 'Lego' game characteristics. Through either solo play or drop in drop out co-op, players proceed through sixteen levels (and a bonus level) en route to completing the story and pursuing the brick rewards from the various sub objectives. Both 'Hobbit' films are explored with a mix of humor (Azog's lost hand is easily a humor highlight) and supplementary sequences.
What is surprising though, is how the game attempts to deal with its dwarf-heavy cast, as well as the common citizenry of Middle-earth. Dwarves are given various abilities, some unique, but most either outright shared with other dwarfs like the Dwarf Stack or plate smash ability or are attainably by obtaining and equipping the right weapon. For example, levels contain rounds targets that must be hit with arrows and square targets that must be hit by a slingshot. A bow is Kili's weapon of choice, so having Kili around is very helpful early on. Kili also carries a sword and an axe, which can be manually switched to along with the game's automatic tendencies. Some levels have a bow that any character can pick up and use, but that bow will disappear at the quickest opportunity.
The issue comes when a dwarf like Kili is in the party as a playable character. In a level like The Troll Hoard (cave full of long lost epic weapons), the entire party of dwarfs is present, but the game's design will make individual dwarves and other characters temporarily inaccessible purely for the sake of denying the player access to abilities. This is normal for the series, but this game drops any pretense of a reason (much of the time), such as the character in question being busy. So while it's normal to play the story mode, and have to bypass minikits and other objectives until Free Play or until other abilities have been unlocked, 'Lego the Hobbit' takes that feeling of inability to the extreme. Trying to remember which Dwarf has the pick axe, or the hammer, or can become a trampoline is already somewhat annoying (the shared abilities further cloud the distinctions), and the fluctuating, segment to segment, playable cast can be outright frustrating.
Making this even worse in the case of my playthrough is the game's in between level segments, which are good in theory. 'Lego The Hobbit' features neither a hub world nor a sandbox mode. Instead the game uses a playable overworld map, which is unlocked level by level, with sidequests and objectives unlocked at the end of each level. The gameflow is something like, reach the end of the level and the results screen and then enter a segment in the overworld that links the story to the next level. The issue for me is that characters are locked in these segments, so while there is a new side objective every few feet of map, completing those objectives is at the mercy of the story. If Gandalf takes off, then good luck breaking any wizard bricks.
Again, it's normal for the series to present side objectives that can't be completed until later, but 'Lego The Hobbit' almost entirely kills the ability to do these overworld quests (Middle-earth Events). It does this despite gradually introducing things like a quick travel system, day/night specific quest switching, mounts, loot resource trading (more on loot later) etc. So though Free Play is always unlocked in a level by level basis, free playing the overworld has to wait until after the last story level is completed.
This Lego game tries some new tricks, such as a combination loot collecting, item-crafting system. Unlike the stud currency in 'Lego City Undercover,' there are more than dozen a kinds of loot items. The multiple choice build minigame of 'The Lego Movie Videogame' returns but runs on this loot system, which also when combined with hidden collectible schematics, fuels the creation of mithril items in the overworld's blacksmith crafting.
In addition to these robust systems, the game is full of smaller sparsely used gameplay systems. Bilbo caries a fishing rod, for, wait for, fishing. As in the movie, Bilbo also gets hold of a certain ring which adds another ability. So then the circle button controls a charge attack and the equipping of Bilbos' ring/fishing rod (the ring does not replace the fishing rod, nor does the elvin sword). It also happens to call for a buddy up attack. Buddy up attacks are required often enough, but whole levels (like buddy unfriendly Gandalf levels) omit its use. The game seems to introduce these abilities with a special furor to teach the player before shoving them aside. The mining tutorial section, with its freethrow-like timing game, was a big concern early on, but though mining is done throughout the game, it is never that concentrated again.
All of the abilities (some tacked on and some not), mean that there are loads of text boxes, especially early in the game. The text rune pops up and then opens when hit, which can also be troublesome if its accidentally attacked a few times. The runes can be adjusted in the options, but "appear for the first five times" for a given gameplay system default setting makes the most sense.
As the game goes on, the tutorials begin to abate, leaving the series normal level traversing mechanics to shine with some important exceptions. The real issue with all of these systems is that in practice, the implementation is unpolished. Collision detection is a constant issue. Gandalf/Radagast's wizard strike, already unwelcome as it seems to override simple melee attacks in favor of ranged shots in most every situation (Gandalf dual wields to no good effect), is a good example. Far too often while playing, the wizard character is right in front of a wizard brick or wall or whatnot, and the wizard brick breaking attack just passes harmlessly through the brick until the player backs away.
In addition to having to read so much text, the game just straight up forces the player to wait for onscreen button prompts for almost everything. The cracked plate, as just one example, can be broken by dwarves with axes, but in order to actually do it, the player can't just attack the cracked plate with an axe, you must stop and wait for the onscreen Square button prompt to appear. Oftentimes, the onscreen prompt will flicker, giving off a false indicator. These scripting issues all seem fixable, and rarely if ever break the game or the player's progress. They just detract from any tight feel for the controls in a game that already has introduced another level of game-slowing weapon/character switching.
Sequences like the river barrels segment, which force the player to wait for a goblin to attack and begin a long, unstimulating quick-time event, mar what are otherwise fun sequences. Which brings us back to the game's basic concept, 'Lego' gameplay and 'The Hobbit' movies.
Personally, I really enjoyed the first movie, but the second one seemed to stumble quite badly despite some great highlights. Obviously, if you say, like the Rock Giants, then seeing them in the game in Lego form and maybe even playing as them is really fun, but I even enjoyed playing less beloved segments. (For instance, the send up of the Tauriel love triangle.)The game really does excel at delivering a modern, but good, version of a movie tie-in game, complete with the humor, mechanics and collecting of the 'Lego' game series.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Like the gameplay, the visuals suffer from a lack of polish and from some head-scratch worthy decisions. Though I would prefer that 'Lego' games have Lego environments, what's presented onscreen as lush a representation of Middle-earth as we've seen in games. While the in-game multiple-choice builds would have you believe that the game is always either brown or black, the game has broader range. Through night and day scenes, and with caves and hobbit holes, the game's lighting impresses on the PS4, using both a serious shadow depth and a Lego appropriate hard fall off to subtly highlight details in both the characters and environments.
The interplay between the relevant complexity of geometry, texture composition, and lighting comes together beautifully again and again with the run-in with Smaug being an obvious highlight that the game needed to deliver and did deliver.
Sadly, errant occlusion runs rampant. It doesn't come close to spoiling a given scene, but can be quite distracting once noticed.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Frankly, with the movie's five-star audio assets on board, the audio should be a slam dunk. It nearly is. Both in cutscenes and in game, several lines of dialogue can just come across of either too quiet to hear or otherworldly in delivery. The only in-game adjustment available is for music. This is likely due to a lack of proper audio mixing. All dialogue is audible with the right turn of the volume knob. In Smaug's case, he was so loud that I had to dramatically drop the volume.
One important augment to the story is the addition of narration by Christopher Lee. It's an interesting choice to say the least.
A separate issue beyond delivering the movie's story, is the voice acting for the NPCs. Specifically, many sidequests are issued and completed by indistinct NPCs; many of whom appear to be bearded female minifigs. In general, both their dialog and deliver is hammy and unpleasant, especially contrasted against the rest of the game.
As noted earlier, I felt forced to wait until beating the story to dig into the Middle-earth events, which is where most of the 250 mithril bricks derive from. Worse than that, I had to wait until beating the story to even unlock the blacksmith and begin forging items for my backpack. Removing the freedom to do more sidequests during the story doesn't suit me. The game's Bonus level is an interesting one-off that desperately needs help with collision detection. I was concerned that the game's convoluted loot, crafting, and weapon systems would be a deal-breaker for co-op, but in practice co-op works well once both players understand the need to carefully look for onscreen prompts.
The sidequests really vary in quality from fetch quests to puzzles and riddles, escort missions, and so on. As long you wait until the story's over, there's plenty of fun to be had.
With only two months removed from the release of 'The Lego Movie Videogame,' 'Lego The Hobbit' arrives as its own alternate recent movie tie-in. The game seems ripe for all sorts of small quality adjustments, and the de facto relegation of so much of the side content to post story is a bizarre choice. Even with theses qualms, the game delivers a grand 'The Hobbit' experience, that looks good and sounds better on the PS4. In either solo or co-op play, the story and side content is sure to entertain families in equal turns.
- 5.1 LPCM
- 7.1 LPCM
- Offline Co-op
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