'LEGO: The Hobbit'

From: WBIE

Rated: E 10 +

Who's it for: Fans of the LEGO games who know the story of "The Hobbit"

Console: Xbox One, PlayStarion 4, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U

Grade: B-

Longtime readers of this column well know my love of the LEGO games. Being able to explore my favorite geeky subjects as a tiny LEGO mini-fig — breaking bricks and collecting studs along the way — sends my OCD-laden psyche on a happy little vacation.

The team at TT Games cranks out several LEGO properties a year, nearly all of them tied into a licensed property. They all share the basic gameplay of smash stuff, collect studs, explore everywhere, solve puzzles — rinse and repeat your way through the story.

And while these basic mechanics work well, they also become repetitious, particularly if you have played a good portion of the games released since 2005.

Lately, however, TT Games has been adding new gameplay twists to keep the series fresh. Its newest offering, "LEGO: The Hobbit," offers fantastic variety in the gameplay department. Unfortunately, that is offset by a presentation that is less than ideal.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first: "LEGO: The Hobbit" has two serious story problems.

First, it relies on the player's knowledge of the story (specifically the movies). The retelling here is sparse, lacking the rich detail that makes "The Hobbit" such a rich story. If you are not aware of the narrative, there's a good chance you will be lost.

Initially, this doesn't seem like a major problem. After all, the game is going to appeal to fans of the book or films first and foremost. But it would have been nice to have a game such as this to introduce "The Hobbit" to children, particularly given its shiny, plastic aesthetic.

Second, the game feels incomplete. That's because it covers only two-thirds of the film trilogy and ends on a cliff-hanger. Once the story ends — with Smaug headed off in a rage — the game drops you into free-play to continue your exploration of Middle-earth.

It would have made more sense, at least in this reviewer's mind, to release the game in November to coincide with the theatrical release of "The Hobbit: There and Back Again," as well as including that film's material.

Still, once you get through the story problems, "LEGO: The Hobbit" stands as one of the better games in the series.

In addition to the basic gameplay I outlined above, the game incorporates some tropes more common to adventure/role-playing games.

In addition to LEGO studs, players collect a variety of resources to use at crafting stations. These items become necessary to solve puzzles and progress through the game, so it becomes much more important to explore everywhere and collect everything.

Crafting would have been even cooler if you could choose what to craft where — say, better weapons or armor — but it's still a nice diversion from standard smash-and-grab gameplay.

Another activity, one that made its first appearance in "The LEGO Movie Videogame," is the find-the-missing-piece mini-game. When you make a large object, the screen will pause during the construction and ask you choose the missing piece from a menu. Choose quickly, and you can get a huge stud bonus; choose slowly or make mistakes, and that bonus decreases.

Finally, the game offers a new "buddy-up" mechanic that allows two characters to join together for an extra strong attack, particularly effective on giant creatures and particularly tough walls.

The characters themselves offer a nice range of abilities, though they aren't nearly as distinct or varied as last year's exemplary "LEGO Marvel Super Heroes."

The game's story mode is short, clocking in at 6-8 hours, but each story mission you complete opens up events across the Middle-earth map. That's where you'll find the real fun.

The game's atmosphere makes the journey a great one, and the graphics on new-gen systems are simply stunning.

Players interested in getting 100 percent completion should plan on putting in 20-30 hours.

While "LEGO: The Hobbit" falls short of the best of LEGO series of games, it's still a fun adventure for Hobbit fans of all ages.