The fact that the developers at Traveller's Tales have waited so long to transform the Lord of the Rings trilogy into a LEGO game is at first surprising. But since 2005 and the release of LEGO Star Wars, Traveller's Tales has tweaked and expanded their simple formula of taking well loved movie franchises and reinterpreting them into simple LEGO puzzle/action games into an epic art. Seven years ago The Lord of the Rings franchise would have been reduced to ten playable levels per movie. The best part though of LEGO Lord of the Rings is the gorgeous and faithful open world. Traveller's Tale's base formula would have grown tiresome fast if they had simply leaned on the Lord of the Rings films' appeal to sell games, but their devotion to the source material, and utilization of simple yet effective gameplay mechanics, makes LEGO: Lord of the Rings a solid entry for LEGO and Lord of the Rings devotees alike.
The look of this game is as inventive and amusing as any other LEGO reimagining, continuing the tradition from LEGO STar Wars III, The Clone Wars, however, Traveller's Tale include vistas and elements which appear closer to diaramas than LEGO sets. The variety is good and allows the visuals to really capture from the movies what LEGO blocks cannot.
Gameplay in the LEGO games has always broken down to simple puzzles and light boss battles, mixed together in a very straightforward way. Where previous LEGO games have differed though, is that instead of offering a level by level recreation of the feature films, the world of the films is recreated for the player to explore. This is an invitation to nostalgia. Many players will find more pleasure in exploring the detailed world of Middle Earth for every last collectible than playing the game's vanilla story missions. Not that there is anything wrong with the story missions specifically. They are well worth playing in order to enjoy the always amusing cutscenes. The developers have always had a loving sense of humor toward these beloved characters and franchises. The humor in this game is no different. The majority of the enjoyment in the story missions also comes from replay. LEGO games might be the most jam packed full of collectibles and hidden extras of any franchise ever. After finishing a level for the first time, the real fun begins. Freeplay mode allows players to go through any level with any character they want. This unlocks a whole new layer of puzzles and hidden goodies to uncover. Every unlockable character has unique abilities which are worth experimenting with.
LEGO Lord of the Rings is not the most faithful recreation of the Lord of the Rings universe, but it is certainly the best. Other attempts to adapt Lord of the Rings into a video game have failed mostly because they all got away from what makes an adaptation great. There is a secret Traveller's Tale knows and should stamp on the back of every license developer's eyelids, take what is there, and have fun with it.