Friday, September 14, 2012

The Battle of Helm's Deep 9474 - Review

"You said that this fortress will never fall while your men defend it. They still defend, that have died defending it"

-Aragorn to King Théoden
I have to admit that my first impression of LEGO's rendition of Helm's Deep was that the set was overpriced and too small to truly capture this impressive fortress. Much like most of the sets in the Lord of the Rings line, it did not seem capable of showing the grand majesty of the building described in the books and seen in the movies. While I still think the price is a bit high, I have changed my mind about the quality of the set itself.

Thanks to a rather steep discount on Amazon, which dropped the price under $100, I went ahead and ordered a copy of The Battle of Helm's Deep. I have not built a castle in quite some time and the banner set of the Lord of the Rings line seemed like a good way to revisit this type of building.

What's in the box?

The set comes with parts spread across nine bags. The four instruction manuals and sticker sheet are packaged on the slab of cardboard LEGO thankfully uses on larger sets. There's also an orange brick seperator in the first numbered bag.

How is the build?

The fortress is built in sections. You start with the front gate and steps, then move out to the side walls, the tower, an exploding wall, and then the keep. There are a few repetitive steps here and there, but they are small enough that I did not mind them. Each section connects to the rest of the structure using technic pins, and then a brick along the top of the wall to reinforce the conection. This should make it easier to break up the set for storage if you don't feel like taking it completely apart.

An interesting part of the set is that the walls are almost entirely brick built. It was a welcome change from the castle sets of old, where the walls basically consisted of a string of panels connected by a series of 1x2 bricks. There are a few panels used in the build, but far fewer than I expected. This added a great deal of enjoyment to my building time and allows for the addition of nice little details here and there as the walls go up, such as the occasional sand green or textured brick throw in. They are a little ugly from the backside, but it does give the walls more character in my opinion.

The exploding wall feature, recreating the scene where the Uruk-Hai breach the wall, is well thought out and has a few connection points to provide some stability. I doubt I'll be using this very often though.

The stickers are minimal. They are used to add some texture on the walls of the horn tower, a banner in the keep, and the back of a throne. I usually do not apply them, but felt they added enough here to warrant their use.

Building time was spread out over the course of three nights. I approached this casually and set the mood by watching The Two Towers and Return of the King extended editions. I like to savor these larger sets as long as possible. I'd estimate build time at 6-7 hours if you take your time.

Following the instructions is pretty easy. There's the nice little inventory of parts that goes with each step, which helps you avoid missing something and having to go back. There is a small selection of left over pieces when everything is complete, mostly some extra flames and wedges.

How are the parts?

Lots and lots of light blue-gray pieces, as you would expect. There's also a good mix of dark blue-gray for the base of the front wall and sand green 1x1 bricks and 1x2 tiles are used to add some details here and there. There are several of the new 1x2 bricks with textures on them and some nice dark green cheese slopes.

How are the minifigures?

This set comes with eight figures and the new brown horse. You get three of the Uruk-Hai soliders, a berserker, Gimli, Aragorn, King Théoden, and Haldir. Theoden, the berserker and Haldir are exclusive to this set, while the rest pop up in other sets in the line.

Honestly, all of the figures are great. Théoden has some detailed printing on his armor and helmet, as does Gimli. Most of the accessories are solid, although I'm not a big fan of Gimli's larger axe. The two heads snap on to a bar piece to make a double-sided axe and just don't look right to me. I really wish they would just include a battle-axe piece that is all one unit. As it is right now, this version just seems off balance because the heads are not even with each other.

I do wish some generic Rohan soldiers had been included as well. While I like having named character figs, it's also good to have some additional forces to man the battlements.

The final product

I can honestly say this set is worth your time and is much grander than product images would lead you to believe. If you can find it on sale, I highly suggest picking up a copy as this will be a classic. When fully assembled, the walls of the fortress extend out quite far and the set has a pretty impressive footprint. It will make a truly massive playset for any kid and should provide hours of entertainment staging epic battles.

I will actively be looking now for a cheap copy of the Uruk-Hai Army set, which should make a great addition to my fortress and its forces.

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