SDCC 2012: Battling the Balrog in 'LEGO Lord of the Rings'

TT Games' LEGO Lord of the Rings has a collection of significant changes for the family-friendly series, some of them part of the gradual increase in depth that the LEGO games have been going through over the years. During my time with LEGO LOTR at SDCC, I played a game that was familiar. But even in my brief journey through the Mines of Moria, I could see hints of a gradual evolution of the series, plus a Warner Brothers rep hinted at grander changes (like an open world to navigate story beats from the LOTR series).

So will this be the one Lord of the Rings game to rule them all?

Like previous LEGO games, Lord of the Rings is, first and foremost, about honoring franchise in all the big and small significant ways. Using music from a movie series is nothing new (LEGO: Star Wars, LEGO: Indiana Jones), but TT Games' current title follows LEGO Batman 2's lead in including full voice acting, featuring the voice cast from the film. Ian McKellan, Sean Astin, Elijah Wood, and the who gang are back to reprise their roles from Peter Jackson's film.

The level I saw, where the Fellowship makes their way into the goblin-infested mines included Gandalf, Legolas, Merry, Pippin, Frodo, Sam, and Gimli as playable characters. As with previous LEGO titles, this one allowed me to swap between characters on the fly, each possessing their own unique skills. Legolas was able to mix up close melee attack with ranged archery (used to solve a couple of puzzles in the level) while Gimli can be picked up by other characters and thrown at breakable surfaces.

One of the things that was hard to ignore as how much better looking this game was compared to its predecessors (I was playing the 360 version). Not only could I pick up little details like the LEGO logo on prominent blocks, but some of the more detailed surfaces like walls and floors are appropriately gloomy, craggy, and imposing. During the iconic scene with the Balrog (poor Gandalf), my wonder was dimmed but only slightly by the more vague and over-lit blocks that make up the subteranean monster, but one creature out of a collection of well-realized environments and monsters shouldn't be held against the entire experience.

Some of the things I was told about but didn't really get to mess around with during the demo were the new backpack system which will allow players to collect, use, and combine items found throughout the game, as well as the open-ish map which we'll be able to travel, triggering story and gameplay sequences. It's not clear at this phase how this later change will affect the overall storytelling.

LEGO Lord of the Rings will be making its way to all platforms this holiday season.

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