It was inevitable after LEGO: Lord of the Rings that the prequel trilogy would get a similar adaptation. After all there's a new bunch of characters to control, new areas to explore, and new sets to wreck. LEGO The Hobbit perhaps comes a little early since the third movie of the franchise is still months away. Despite that, it's a fully featured game. It may not finish the story, but long-term LEGO and The Hobbit fans will find a lot to like here. It's a very faithful adaptation of the films, with all the humor and whimsy that the LEGO game franchise brings to the table. Unfortunately, it also isn't much in the way of surprises. Anyone looking for something that breaks the LEGO mold won't find it here. This is a strictly by-the-instructions kit.
LEGO The Hobbit covers the first two films: "An Unexpected Journey" and "The Desolation of Smaug." As such, it follows Bilbo Baggins on his adventures with the dwarves, occasionally diverging to focus on other characters when Bilbo is out of action. Like most LEGO games, it mixes the story of the film with a lot of slapstick humor. It's a genuinely charming game, and the minifigs are full of personality. The variety in minifigs keeps the characters feeling distinctive, and the game does a great job of capturing the feel of Peter Jackson's films without adhering exactly to the aesthetic. There's a handful of references for die-hard J.R.R. Tolkien nuts, but by and large, this is a game for children who've watched the films. The plot is abridged a little too heavily for it to be enjoyable for kids who don't know the films. It can be easy to be confused about why something is happening when you only have recycled voice clips and pantomime to go on.
For better or worse, LEGO The Hobbit doesn't change much from the usual LEGO standard. You're placed in the role of minifig versions of various Tolkien characters and tasked with finding your way from one end of the level to the other. Along the way, you can smash up environmental objects to find various objects and LEGO studs, which are used to unlock hidden characters and new features. The game is designed for simplicity of play and younger audiences. Combat is a simple one-button affair where you mash the attack button and occasionally dodge hits. Puzzles are clearly marked, and there isn't really a question about what you need to do. The charming presentation makes it a great experience for kids. In addition to the main story mode, there is also an open-world Middle-earth you can explore, where various side-quests and guest characters appear. This definitely adds some nice exploration to the game.
As is now standard for LEGO titles, each character has a collection of abilities. Some characters have natural powers, such as Elvish characters who are naturally agile and can use certain environmental objects based on that. Others rely on equipment and weapons. A dwarf with a hammer can smash objects and switch to a flail to grab a long-distance hook and swing over a gap. You can even buddy up two characters to do things they couldn't do alone, such as smashing through a heavy object or swinging across a gap together. Some areas are only accessible if you return to a stage with an unlocked character with the special ability that wasn't available the first time you played through the level. None of this is going to feel new to LEGO fans, and there's still a lot of familiar clunkiness that has existed since the days of LEGO Star Wars. When you have a large party, it never feels smooth to switch between characters, and several button prompt options are finicky. If you try to hold the circle button to build something with LEGOs, your character might be charging up his strong attack instead. The game has very little in the way of punishment for death or failure. You lose a small amount of your collected studs, and that's about it. The title supports same-system co-op play, so it's great for kids and adults to play together.
One of the more distinctive features of LEGO The Hobbit is the crafting system. As you smash and crush things in the environment, you'll get various crafting objects in addition to the usual studs. These crafting objects can be used in the main story or side-quests to craft complex LEGO objects that advance the story. I have mixed feelings about this addition. The crafting feature is neat, since you can watch a huge LEGO object be built in real time, and you can even slow it down to see each individual step. It's great for kids who'd like to replicate the building on their own. There's even a small minigame built around finding the next pieces to earn bonus studs. The downside is that crafting can be tedious. If you don't have the right parts to craft something, you need to go around and smash things until you find them. It adds an extra step to the process that doesn't add much to the overall experience. I was never happy about digging up the crafting parts. The building process is cute, fast and fun, but it felt frustrating when I saw a crafting table and realized I didn't have the parts necessary to create the item.
There's also a selection of minigames and QTE sequences. For example, you can use a pickax to mine certain rocks. This starts as a simple timing minigame that encourages you to stop a moving arrow in the right zone for maximum benefit. Another may involve the infamous barrel sequence from the second "The Hobbit" film reimagined as a QTE sequence, a game where you play whack-a-mole, or a part where you run away from Smaug and dodging his flaming breath while collecting studs. The minigames are largely simplistic but do a good job of breaking up the game flow. There are a few that I feel don't really work (such as the aforementioned barrel ride), but for the most part, they're fun. The basic LEGO gameplay is fun, but variety never hurts, and LEGO The Hobbit does a good job of offering variety, even if it isn't always successful.
LEGO The Hobbit doesn't do a lot to feel next-gen. Much like LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, it's clearly a last-gen game given a pretty straight upward port. It runs smooth, and the animations are as charming as ever, but there's no special reason to go for it on the PS4 over the PS3. Beyond that, it is about as good-looking as a LEGO game gets. Some of the charm has worn off the effects after years of the same sort of style, but it works well. The voice acting is taken directly from the films, which is both a positive and a negative. It keeps familiar voices, but there is noticeable repetition and recycling. It's hard to complain about the presentation, and it's great for young kids who are fans of the franchise.
LEGO The Hobbit is yet another LEGO game. It does a great job of presenting the world and characters, but the mechanics and gameplay have seen very little in the way of touching up. If you've played previous LEGO games, you have a good idea of what to expect here, and if you haven't, it is perfectly accessible to newcomers. As usual, the selling point is the setting tied to the game. If you (or your kids) are big fans of "The Hobbit," then they'll enjoy the game. If not, it'd be better to look at one of the many other franchise tie-ins that have received the LEGO treatment.
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