LEGO Lord of the Rings is what Bethesda devs probably built when they were toddlers. LEGO titles have played around with open worlds before, but nowadays there's a feature set to match - besides smashing Orcs to bits, you'll find yourself forging stuff, questing and upgrading weapons. Add in a Middle-earth that's shockingly faithful to the source and character voices straight from the movies, and this is a pretty credible RPG.
That said, playing through the world's most venerated saga besides Star Wars can actually become a little wearing. There are grindy bits, like navigating a pile of rocks as Sam or Frodo, but they're more than compensated by the bigger setpieces, like the sight of giant living trees smashing up Christopher Lee's house. For all the slightly patchy execution, it's clear that a lot of effort has been put into making every area enjoyable - there are a lot of new puzzles and ways for characters to interact with their surroundings.
It's best to spend a fair bit of time crafting items in the open world before embarking on a mission, if you don't want to get frustrated switching characters to find the bit of kit you need. There are 30 blueprints with which to build new equipment and upgrade your weapons. Inventory management is a bit of a headache throughout, but you can always rope in a co-op partner to share the load.
The map offers fetch quests which involve replaying levels in Free Play mode, and shows massive attention to detail, with every facet of Middle-earth recognisable beneath the plasticky veneer. The same level of fidelity applies to the storyline and characters. From cutscenes that mirror the films shot for shot, through little-known unlockable characters like Radagast the Brown, to a comically unemotive Legolas, Travellers' Tales love of the source material is the thread that holds the experience together.
The rousing po faces of the Third Age are tempered by the developer's customary vein of slapstick comedy, which once again appeals to all ages. You can, for example, craft an item that plays a disco track of Gandalf shouting to make other characters dance.
A light-hearted take on heavy-duty subject matter is no more than what we've come to expect from Travellers' Tales. In adding RPG features without shattering the returning mechanics, however, the LEGO team have arguably outdone themselves. You shall not pass this one up.
The most fun The Lord of the Rings will ever be
- Beautifully detailed brick world
- Whole new range of puzzles
- Actually funny, unlike the films
- A bit ponderous in places
- Inventory is a bit clunky