One of the goals I sought to accomplish over the holiday was to play a lot of our new Xbox game, Lego Lord of the Rings. We’ve enjoyed the Lego adventure games since the first one and have played all the ones that were available on PS2: Star Wars, Star Wars Original Trilogy, Batman, and Indiana Jones.
Press X to run. Press X to run some more. Press X and keep running. Press X. X. Now press X to run. Still pressing X to run.
Our first foray into the next-gen Lego games was Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, which we started but didn’t get too far into because it seemed so weird. Everything was weirdly complicated and we often had no idea what we were supposed to be doing. The split screen thing, which seemed like a good idea until the sides are swirling around and you have no idea who or where you are, was frustrating. We chalked this up to the fact that it was based on Pirates of the Caribbean, a franchise we really don’t know or care too much about (we enjoyed the first one, but thought the second one was tedious and didn’t go back for more.)
Now that we’ve played LOTR, we know that POTC was not an anomaly. This game is just nuts. It tells you that characters can be bought, but gives no indication at the time where or how. It’s a long way until you find the one guy who can blow up Mithril bricks. Although there are elves that can do everything Legolas can do, Gimli is one of a kind, so if you both need to be Gimli to accomplish something, one of you will just have to do something else. There are a lot of points where it’s not clear what the game wants you to do, and you just flail around helplessly until you stumble into the right answer. There are things that are not at all obvious, and there are things that give you no feedback on whether you’ve done what they want.
Case in point: there are puzzles for Gandalf to do in which bricks must be levitated and placed a certain way. In some of them, the bricks are colored and shaped and there’s a guide to how they should be arranged. However, not only are the controls for targeting and moving the bricks absolutely maddening (at one point I got a brick attacked to another incorrectly and found no way to unattach it) the game doesn’t do anything when you get them right. Since most other things give some kind of feedback, this is just odd. In many cases there’s no pattern, just three rocks to arrange. Turns out you’re just making a stairway with them, but there’s nothing to indicate this, so we dinked around with them for ages expecting something to happen when we got it “right”. There are almost no actual instructions in the manual, and good luck hopping on Google to find things out, because the Internet is filled with Lord of the Rings junk and there are no keywords to separate out any of it.
There are also problems with drunken cameras and weirdo “I tried that three times and nothing happened but for some reason the fourth time it worked” positioning issues.
Unlike previous Lego games, the episodes are set on a map of Middle-Earth, so it’s all arranged geographically. Throughout the world there are people who can send you on quests to fetch goofy things they need from elsewhere, like a guy who somehow misplaced his soup ladle in the Mines of Moria. You find the thing they want, go back to them, and they give you a reward. This is pretty neat, and there are a lot of them. It’s a neat system, but holy cow can it be frustrating. First off, when you find the Dwarven Clock Radio or whatever, there’s no easy way to find out where in all of Middle-Earth the one guy who wants it is. The map will show you who wants what (and it lies, telling you that you can complete quests when you can’t) but you have to manually scroll around the whole thing to find who wants a thing you just got (and hope you can recognize it in the tiny little picture.) You can use the map to travel around and to set waypoints that it gives you paths to, but we’ve found that the waypoints will just sometimes disappear or reset. If you’re playing two-player, you can be in separate places, which is nice, but we’ve found this can also screw with the map and waypoint system (and that’s not even taking into account the night/day thing, which adds an extra layer of problems with no payoff whatsoever.)
And finally, there’s the forge. You collect mithril bricks and forge blueprints, which you take to Bree to have the blacksmith there make stuff for you. And OH MY GOD IS THIS PROCESS STUPIDLY LONG AND UNSKIPPABLE. Each time, you have to watch the bricks get loaded into a barrel, the barrel dumped into the forge, then you’re told to go jump on the bellows, you do that, the smith takes the brick out, hammers it, shows you the item, and then puts it in your inventory. It takes forever, it does it every time, it’s unskippable as far as I have found, and if you’re playing two-player the forge bit takes up the whole screen so the other person just sits there doing nothing while this is happening.
“Here’s your trowel. Hope you weren’t needing it before the natural heat death of the universe made gardening obsolete.”
Now, all that being said, we’re still playing it. Despite the large amount of frustration with the controls and stuff, it still has the charm and humor of the previous Lego games, and there’s still a lot of fun to be had. Naturally, we want to complete all the quests and buy all the characters. Also you can make Aragorn, King of Gondor, ride around on a sheep while wearing a sun hat and have him make the sheep poop money. That’s something Tolkien fans have been wanting ever since the books were first published.
So yeah, we’re soldiering on, because there’s still a ton of fun to be had here. (And we’ll go back to POTC afterwards, I’m sure.) But man, they could have made the game more intuitive and less frustrating. If you get this game I’ll give you one piece of advice: play through the whole story first and ignore anything that isn’t part of it. By the time you finish, some of it will make more sense, though the quest system will still be annoying.