LEGO was kind enough to send us a copy of 79007 The Battle at the Black Gate for review, the middle-tier set in the second big wave of Lord of the Rings sets. I genuinely liked the Weathertop set that occupies the same price point, even with its absurd flick-fires. Of course, battle is a bit of a misnomer, since I think they normally involve more people than a pickup game of basketball.
There actually was a battle at the Black Gate, in Return of the King, which was a distraction so that a couple of Hobbits could throw a ring in some lava. The Black Gate itself was also featured in The Two Towers, in one of the cooler little tricks of cinematography where we Rudy and the kid that thought a video game was a baby toy in Back to the Future II hid under a cloak in a different part of the screen than you were looking.
In truth, the vast majority of the detail for the gate was in that little scene, since it showed trolls pulling chains and people going through them. In Return, it was just a whole bunch of evil humans and orcs were waiting to come out and do some more killing after failing to defeat the armies of men at any point in the movie. The big features in the set are obviously around the minifigs and the Eagle. Everyone wants some Eagles!
At $60, this set certainly isn't cheap, and falls into the same range as Weathertop did. After a couple of nice smaller sets in the LotR line, and a recognizable ship (if only shortly scene) at the top-end, this one stands alone in the middle range for the second wave of sets. The jury is out, so will it be worth the money?
Here's the problem with Lord of the Rings as a licensed theme in general, since it's based on the movies: it's about characters. Certain locations are particularly iconic, like Bag End, but stuff like Helm's Deep and The Black Gate are more of backdrops for some really interesting character development. While Helm's Deep delivered on its big cost with a good selection of parts and figures, sets like Weathertop and Black Gate are relying on a small number of exclusive figures or parts to deliver value, like Eagles or Ringwraiths. Which makes $60 a pretty hard pill to swallow when you really only want a couple of things
There are five minifigs and two animals in this set. Two figures are brand-new, Gandalf the White and the Mouth of Sauron. Aragorn has new printing to, but his head/hair/sword are the same. The orcs are the same, though the "helmet" is new to stick on one of them. Not a bad mix, but still not a battle, and having The Mouth is obviously a win.
As soon as the first picture of Saurman showed up, you knew that there was going to be a Gandalf the White figure coming down the pipe. While we've had several "Gandalf" figures, but always of "The Grey" variety, which means we were only covering about half of his time in the movies. Throughout the entirety of the Two Towers and Return of the King (save a flashback or two), he was in White. The figure itself is basic-ish, but matches his role there. Sadly, now Shadowfax, but I guess what's the fun in that. The face is the same as the new Gandalf face that we got in The Wizard Battle (and also shows up in the Tower set). The beard is the same as Saruman's, save totally white instead of with the printed grey. The torso is brand new as well, all lacy and frilly.
Aragorn from the neck up is little changed, but the torso and legs are new, with the royal printing of the White Tree of Gondor. It's odd, looking at it all blue, because I seem to remember that being black in the movie... but a search of google shows me that it was both blue and black. That just leaves more more confused. Much like Gandalf, he should have a horse, since that featured prominently in this scene before getting his butt kicked by
The real thing of note with this figure is the cloak. It's a single-piece of cloth with different colors on either side. It's not a printed color, the cloth is actually made that way. Apparently someone doing materials procurement for LEGO is dealing with wizards, because that's some black magic right there. Now they just need to mix these two color cloaks with the printing we've seen on some other cloaks, and we have some nice stuff going here... especially with all of the rumors of licensed stuff seeping into the Collectible Minifigs.
Now this is the guy we all wanted, really. His part in the movies was minor, and all he really did was get straight-up murdered by King Aragorn. Still, he was some Pan's Labyrinth-styled nightmare fuel, and the figure is no different. The head is pretty much just the mouth, but I see it showing up in a lot of other builds (Especially when someone figures out how to put eyes on minifig hands). The helmet is nifty and over-the-top, and would look good on any number of "bad guy' castle types.
A cool figure, but not one that needs much more discussion past what you see. His greatest promise lies not with what you can do with this figure, specifically, but what you can do with the parts that make him up.
We also get a couple more Mordor Orcs, which are the same as the old ones... just now with a new hat!
Look, Frodo, eagles! While the eagles were not featured all that prominently in the movies, they were very important in the books (including The Hobbit, where I expect them to make a showing in the next couple of movies). These guys are easily the highlight of the set, given that they're awesome. Outside of the fact that that wings are removable and go into any standard clip hinge, they look great and can seat a minifig.
Of course, that being said, what they did during this battle was off the Ringwraiths, giving The Armies of Man a change to, you know, actually survive the fight. Of course, what's missing from this set would be ringwraiths. It leaves me torn... on one hand, I love having Eagles... on the other, I'd rather see them in a position where they make sense, like in the Tower set where they rescue Gandalf. Or maybe a set with lava where they rescue Sam and Frodo after Gollum takes a swim in lava. On the other hand... I am totally going to figure out how to put those wings on the back of a minifigure...
The Mouth of Sauron comes with a horse, the same as the evil horses from Weathertop ridden by the Ringwraiths. But like I mentioned for Gandalf and Aragorn, the real miss is that there should have been more or different horses in the set, even if that meant cutting one of the orcs (or maybe, I hate to say, the Eagle).
Since this is the Battle at the Black Gate, of course there is a gate. It's... very gate-ish. I'd like to make some kind of joke, but I can't really come up with any. Obviously, given the size and scale of the black gate, we were never going to get to the scale of that thing, which spanned between two mountains. Even so, this thing is very underwhelming when you build it. It's smaller than you'd think, even in a $60 set, and it just looks... odd.
Of course, the immediate problem is that there is only one tower instead of two, which lends to a good part of the "weirdness" when you look at it. Per the LotR Wiki, the gate was approximately 250 feet long and 60 feet tall (though based on the picture, I'd guess it's closer to 300 feet). This set captures the area between the gate and one of the towers, which still means that the gate should be about 180 long. So the scale is off.
Again, I'm not expecting such a giant thing to be represented in the gate... I just think they could have done something a bit different. Of course, the bigger problem with this is that the most notable feature of the gate was that it couldn't be opened easily or bypassed. It took Mountain Trolls being whipped and pulling giant chains to sloooowly open it. The front of the gate uses a staggering pattern of cheese and full slopes, along with a few tiles, to get the staggered effect. It works out pretty well, but is a bit boring to build.
This by contrast is on small hinges and has a crossbar to hold it closed. The mechanism worked for what it was, but it seems like a lazy way to skip a very important detail. This set should have had a troll in it and some chains to hold with the opening. The crossbar could have still been there and gotten the same effect.
The actual gate itself is somewhat of a chore to build, but has some interesting, if repetitive elements. If you like black slopes, teeth, and horns... this is the set for you. It also has plenty of touches like spears, skulls, a wine bottle, and lots of tiles. Mostly, it's about putting some orcs on there to miss a couple of Hobbits sneaking by, or open the gate, add a lot more orcs, and slaughter some humans before a magic trinket defeats your entire army.
The entire gate breaks into four pieces... the gate itself, the big tower, and a couple of rock pieces. The rock pieces are completely unnecessary, and really detract from the overall set. I get why they're there... it's to bookend the set and give it a mountain-y look. In effect though, it does the opposite. The point of the gate was to protect the one part of this area that wasn't forbidding and impassable. Here... the gate stands out and the hills are just tack-ons. could they have left these out and given us another horse or a Troll? Who knows, but I wish they would have.
The tower is probably the nicest piece of the gate complex, with it's little trapdoor and tiny catapult. On the back, you get a couple of those Ninjago/Chima minifig blades in black, which only appear here and in the $100 Pirate Ship Ambush set. There are also plenty of other small parts that could fit into stuff, like corner bricks, those rounded-ish bricks that Vikings gave us years back, just in black. One annoying thing, though, is that you get a lot of wedge plates, but only one direction. So you're going to have some mismatched sets of those things.
At the top, we also get four of the flexible black triangular plates, first introduced back in a Clone Trooper battlepack. We've gotten these in black before, one each, in the Batwing and Shredder's bike sets, but here we get them in bulk. The set also features a couple more of the small arches, like what we got in the Council of Elrond, only this time in black. And that's really the story of the set.
If you look at it for parts alone, and you like black, there is a lot here to like. Slopes, bricks, spikes, tiles... assuming you want them all in black. It's the black gate, so that makes sense. For minifigs, we get all relevant charcters, it just feels like "battle" is a bit of a misnomer, but a new figure in The Mouth is great, as is Gandalf the White. But like some other recent sets, and other LotR sets, the biggest gap seems to be in what's missing from the set. No horses for Gandalf or Aragorn, who both went through the battle on horseback, and no Troll to both beat on Aragorn and pull open the gate.
The Eagle is a wonderful addition, but without him whacking a Nazgul out of the sky, it feels a bit out of place. In the end, the set is decent, but is a bit of a letdown on quality and overall feel. Good minifigs, but for parts it is limited. While the piece count is high compared to some other stuff we've seen, a lot of that is tied up in cheese slopes, teeth, and small tiles or studs.
Really, it feels like a $50 set, tops, but much like Weathertop, is priced higher than it feels like it should be. Also, like Weathertop, or the TIE fighter (and other sets that don't quite deliver their value), I'd expect to see this thing go on an extended sale. Thanks again to LEGO for sending it our way. The current lineup of Lord of the Rings sets doesn't disappoint.
What I liked:
- Mouth of Sauron, Gandalf the White, and Aragorn are all great additions to the minifigure line
- Decent parts and lots of little touches like minifig weapons and letting me use an ancient Simpson's joke about a new hat
What I didn't like:
- Eagle feels out of place, despite being awesome
- Piece count is inflated by small things
- No Troll or Horses for Gandalf or Aragorn really hurt the feel of the set
- The scale is off, which is to be expected in a set at this price, but some choices made in that scale make it more apparent than it needs to be
Verdict: When it hits any sale, it's worth the money. The eagle is great, other minifigs are good, and eventually you'll need one of those black slopes. You can pick up The Battle at the Black Gate right now on Amazon.
Buy The Battle at the Black Gate right on Amazon