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Welcome Back to the West
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The only thing that stops the dust is the rain. It’s a sweet reprieve, but there is no middle ground. The land is either as dry as the Betty Ford clinic, or as wet as the ocean floor. Everything can be seen from the ridge overlooking Armadillo as John Marston gently bounces along atop...

LEGO The Hobbit Preview

blake_peterson By:
GENRE Action / Adventure 
PUBLISHER Warner Bros. 
DEVELOPER Traveller\'s Tales 
E10+ Contains Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief

What do these ratings mean?

Far over,themisty mountain cold, to dungeons deep, and bricks of gold...

As shown at a recent event in San Francisco,Lego theHobbit’s missions transition from hand-drawn images tothefamiliar retelling of scenes fromthemovie, while Saruman actor Christopher Lee narrates the full story (recorded specially forthe game).The scene that we were encouraged to play (of two available) wastheencounter at Goblintown. A brief cinematic separates Bilbo fromtheDwarves who are then taken totheGoblin King, wherethescene plays out with licensed audio fromthefilms.

Theclassic comedy oftheseries applies, with broad, silly comic beats, not dissimilar to those fromthesource films. Whentheaction starts, it’sthe familiarLego gameplay: thedestruction of enemy mini-figurines and use of character-specific abilities to solve puzzles. There are impassible paths clearly meant for characters acquired later, like Gollum, and a few silver objects,thekind that traditionally require explosions and promise hidden treasures for free play mode.

LegoTheHobbitborrowsthecharacters and their traits as portrayed inthe films, with each having a specific skill or ability as in traditionalLegogames—Fili fires arrows, Bomber can roll like a ball, Thoren Oakenshield is invulnerable while wielding his shield, etc. Different this time around is thatthegame requirestheDwarves to buddy up to complete certain objectives, like performing a finishing move on a goblin mini-boss, which requires players to cooperate directly if playing multiplayer.

Executive Producer Nick Ricks says that thestory will contain thefirst and second films (though it wouldn't be surprising to see the third crammed in there). This was Ricks' first time seeing thegame playing onthenewer hardware, with advances in dynamic lighting and textures, since dev kits forthenext-gen consoles are still hard to come by. Ricks said the game has a peculiar lighting challenge; sincethecharacters are modeled exactly after real Legos, it can produce odd lighting artifacts and shapes. It’s a tribute totheskill ofthedevelopment team that none of these are inthe pre-alpha preview build.

Nearby my station, two brothers no older than ten years-old playedthegame together, which forced them to temporarily stop bickering and co-operate to defeattheGoblin King duringthe first part ofthemission. Inthebackground, thousands of goblins run around theenvironment. Ricks tells me these lower-resolution versions are used as thecharacter models forthe3DS and Vita versions ofthegame, developed by another team.

At one point, theyounger brother has trouble getting down what he needs to do, prompting his brother to help him. This is part ofthedesign philosophy of these games, and Ricks highlights one oftheproblems withtheseries development andthereason for maintainingthedrop-in, drop-out co-op. Since thegame is meant for players 5-12, it has to be fun for younger players, for whom what core gamers might consider basic tasks may be difficult, and yet at the same time be entertaining for older players who may enjoythe collecting part ofthegame.

Another part ofthegoal ofLegoTheHobbitis to continuetheevolution ofthe RPG elements fromLegoLord oftheRings. One oftheways they’ve enhanced this development is throughthecollection of construction blocks that can be used to open up “Instruction Builds"as found in the recent LegoMovie Videogame. There,theInstruction Builds were a good thematic tie-in tothemovie, where hero Emmet Brickowski, a generic Legoconstruction worker, unlocked certain elements by building actual Legosets from a set of instructions as a puzzle mini-game. As part oftheRPG element ofLego the Hobbit,theInstruction Builds now requirethecollection of different construction materials you can collect from destroying different items, and more expensive blocks (like gold) allowthedwarves to open up different paths.

Whiletheother mission available for play had a few bugs (thebackground of Bilbo’s house disappeared), thedevs were quick to note everywhere there might be a problem for fixes. It also gave some insight intothedesign and playtesting process, asthedevs watched small children play it (you could see them making mental notes about whatthekids grasped or didn’t). Ricks told me, for instance, that they’d removed allthetext instructions that appeared on-screen because they realized no one was reading it, opting instead for objects inthegame that could be clicked on for explanations.

Lego theHobbitis shaping up nicely, and it’s great to seetheseries continue to evolve. It will have players embarking on an epic quest to reclaimthe Dwarven homeland onApril 8th, 2014 on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, Wii U, PC, Vita, and 3DS.

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