But then a couple weeks ago I finally bought it as part of the loot I got for graduating last month. So far I am negatively surprised. Rundown below:
Game controls: So far, almost everything about the setup and the gameplay has me confused. For one thing, the game is programmed to be incompatible with a mouse; all controls are on the keyboard. Second, the default player one controls are on the left-hand side. That is a point lost because the general public, including myself, is generally right-handed. And so I had to spend ten minutes swapping out all the controls to something on the right before I could even do anything...bad.
Prizes and bases: The only other lego games I've experienced are Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Those game worlds have places (the cantina and the college) to which the player returns at the end of a level to buy items, characters, and power-ups. So I was expecting the same from this game and assumed it would be the Prancing Pony in Bree. Instead, that place is nowhere in particular and the functions of that base site are spread all over the map. The item shop is in Bree, which necessitates going all the way back there every time you have something to buy. Characters are available for purchase when you find them, (for instance you must get to Rivendell and meet them before you can buy Bilbo and Elrond for free play) and power-ups are available only if you first complete a confusing mini-quest with no bearing on the story which usually requires one to backtrack all the way to beginning of the level. The showroom wherr you can see the progression of the various level-specific model prizes is in Rivendell. Yes, the only way to get there if you want to is to walk all the way back to Rivendell...
Level map: In the other games, the level map is very prominently placed in the base site. However, since there is no base site in this game, the level map is impossible to find. (I have yet to find it without trying very hard.) The most efficient way to go back to free play for a level seems to be to backtrack all the way to the beginning of that level and find the marker flag, which is negatively efficient and gets worse the closer you get to Mordor.
Character A.I.: I don't believe the other games caused a lot of trouble in this area, but in this one, it is ridiculously awkward getting the A.I buddies that follow you around to actually do anything. I have discovered that if you take a character and push ahead during the quest, the buddies stop moving, even if they are dangling from climbing bars. This requires the player to spend an inordinate amount of time going back and forth, switching between all the buddies one by one and walking them all to the next segment of path. And if you move too slowly the ones you've already moved will come back anyway, so that you have to do them twice. It gets very annoying. Of course, if you aren't trying to progress in the game and instead are just wandering and destroying things, they never get stuck. Why!? (Side note: The system also likes to spontaneously prompt you to use an item you won't collect until much later. This is a well-documented glitch.)
So basically everything about the actual design and playing has turned out to be unsatisfactory already. (I am only on the pass of Caradhas for the first time, which leads me to another thing, inconsistent level arrangement...)
Length inconsistencies : I am only in the middle of the first movie, but already I notice that the arrangement of some of the sequences is inconsistent with the film. The Hobbits' dash to the ferry becomes a two minute run-straight without stopping-pick-up money -nonstop affair, whereas it was fairly compressed in the film. By contrast, Arwen's ride to the ford, an impressive stand-alone set piece in the film w/ all nine riders coming up behind, is reduced to "ride the horse forward, make a couple turns, no riders in sight, cross abridge, we're done." I also have an issue with the fact that so many twists and turns and character-specifif activities are built into failing to cross the pass of Caradhas that it seems like a specially bad waste of time. I'm worried that there is more where that came from.
A little more about characters: Gimli and Sam have been overemphasized through repeated use of lighting fires and smashing rocks. Gandalf is totally unused when you first pick him up. Elendil and Isuldur are exactly the same from the back, so when you are attempting to complete the battle of the last alliance and the ensuing Sauron boss fight, and watching the action instead of the name, it gets hard to tell whether you have the right character.
Practically the only satisfactory part of the whole thing are the cutscenes, (which are partially direct lifts and partially totally different in order to compress the film into the game format. In oder to be family friendly, the shots of Aragorn, Gandalf, and other characters indulging in pipeweed have been edited out...The changes to the cutscenes make the scenes themselves more enjoyable in compressed form. (Frodo drops the ring in his tea by accident, it lights up. A second later Sam tumbles down the chimney. The dialogue that is used is lifted directly from the film audio track, with the film actors' voices. That part is cool. Unfortunately, in the interest of compression they were inconsistent about which iconic lines to leave out (some lines are recited out of place as a result of the rearrangement of scenes). The worst victim of this is Boromir, who does get to say "they have a cave troll", but loses both "It is a wonder we worry over so small a thing" and "One does not simply walk into Mordor" which I'm sure everyone wanted to hear in the more humorous format of the lego game. The last good note is that Howard Shore's iconic score has also been attached to the game in all the right places.
In Conclusion: The non-game elements that were part of the films worked the best. The actual gameplay is confusing and at times actually tedious. If you are a Ringer like me the best score is 3 stars. If you are simply collecting lego games all the stuff I pointed out will jump out at you and you'd probably give it a two. So, only hardcore Ringers will really enjoy spending a month playing a 12 hr film series and then another month collecting everything. I believe the other film-based lego games functioned better. note: I play the PC version. If you get it for the video game system you own it probably works better...
p.s. This was a surprisingly long "mini" review...:)