It’s rare for me to get to play a major title before release. Usually, the occasional major title I get comes after release, and I’m one of the last to get to review it. I’m not complaining; I love what I do, and I’m lucky to get to do it. I focus mostly on unique smaller or indie games, so when I do get a chance to put my focus on a top flight title that’s yet to be released, I really appreciate the opportunity. That is especially true when it’s related to something I really enjoy; in the case of Lego Universe
, that would of course be Legos.
When you think about the age range for people who collect or play with Legos, NetDevil
, developer of Lego Universe
has a huge task in its hands. Even if you forget for a minute about the series of well-loved Lego based games; How do you build a Lego based game, especially an MMO, for nearly all ages while finding a way to keep kids safe from the dangers of internet based games?
To start with, you need a plot that is compelling enough to allow all of the different Lego worlds to co-exist within a single game. NetDevil opted for a story line based upon the real world fuel behind Legos; namely imagination. In this case, the source for all imagination becomes corrupted by the Maelstrom, and fractures the Lego world into what could be an infinite number of shards. The end goal is for players to work to free imagination from the grips of the Maelstrom. This allows the developers to connect the multitude of unique Lego worlds without it jarring the players’ senses.
While discussing the various Lego worlds, it’s important to note that none of the licensed IP’s that are the basis for the TT Games line of Lego titles appear in Lego Universe. Staying away from the licensing costs of these IP’s helps reduce the overall costs of development, and it seems likely that LucasArts would want to keep focus for Star Wars MMO players firmly on The Old Republic
. In place of the licensed IP’s, the more traditional worlds of pirates, knights, ninjas and other typical themes are the basis for each of the shards. There are also special shards used to introduce your character to the game and for specific skills like learning how to train pets.
As your player ventures between these various worlds and themes, you solve the game feels much like any other MMO. You solve quests in order to gain abilities and get new items. The quests grow in difficulty from gathering a few bricks of a specific type to travelling across multiple worlds and completing various smaller tasks for NPC characters.
Character creation itself feels a lot like building a real life minifig. You pick a torso, legs, a head, and some hair. The true customization comes from choosing the eyes and mouth on the head, as there are nearly limitless combinations of the two. You can set the color of the hair, torso, and legs as well. The really fun part comes from naming your character; as a precaution for the youth involved all user-created names have to be approved. The game provides a system that allows the player to choose a series of 3 words strung together to be their temporary name. Mine, LightingGasRocket was good enough, that I might have kept it if I hadn’t gotten MayorMcBrickle approved as my permanent name.
Graphically, the game looks very much like the TT Games
series we’re all used to by now. Many of the items in the world around your character are destructible, and a source of the imagination that powers your characters abilities. Whether it’s the system generated NPC baddies, items in the environment, or from completing a task, players collect health and imagination which power nearly everything the player does. The art is cutesy, but not sickeningly so, and feels like a good fit with the theme of the game. I was a bit surprised initially the game didn’t take the tack of making every part of the environment look like it’s made of Lego’s, but I find I like this look pretty well.
The two biggest pieces of the TT Games
that have made their way into Lego Universe are the quick builds and the lack of speech by the characters in the game. With the exception of an introduction by now Sir Patrick Stewart (now known as “Ubiquitous Regal Sounding Game Voice Guy”), there is no real voice acting in the game. The minifigs make emote related noises, but even those are fairly limited.
The quick builds are just as nicely used in Lego Universe
as in the previous games, but are more prevalent, required several times in each world in order to complete tasks. In some cases they almost feel overused, especially in the early segments of the game. The animations are still fun to watch, but probably could have been implemented about 1/3rd as often.
To make your way between the worlds, your minifig travels via a personal rocket ship which you build. There’s nothing special about the rockets themselves other than you receive a bunch of different components to make the rocket something more your own. It’s better than the solutions a lot of other games (Star Trek Online
, for example) have come up with for travelling between different worlds, but it would be nice if you could customize it further. Each rocket is made of only 3 pieces, and you eventually run out of components to choose from.
To make up for relatively unchallenging game play for the most part, there are a significant number of quests and achievements to earn through exploration of the game. Tourist style mounted binoculars and information signs give you something to search for, as do elusive imagination bricks and other hidden items. Completing some of these collections provides the player with unique minfig components that offer additional bonuses.
The biggest draw for adults will clearly be the ability to build your own creations within the game. Each player can claim a private area of land in the game as their own personal space. In that space they can build using individual bricks or model segments whatever it is they can imagine. These bricks and models are given along with play related items as rewards for completed tasks, or as part of destroying Maelstrom infected baddies.
There’s enough space in each players land to build some fairly large items, and I think some older players will spend a significant amount of their time in this mode. As a terrific potential moneymaker, Lego Universe
allows users to order real world kits containing anything they build within their personal area. Plus, players can share their creations with others to use as models to build against in their own area.
If building doesn’t do it for you, there are several mini games to take your mind off the primary game. One of the early combat mini-games is a last man standing style where the focus is on surviving as long as possible against increasing numbers of enemies. And if that isn’t enough for you there are both car and foot races scattered throughout the game. The car races allow you to build and customize your own car, and is deep enough to keep race fans busy for hours.
For a MMO designed to include children as young as 10, I was surprised how open player communication is. Players can friend each other, chat in a local group, or chat directly. Much as user names require approval, I’m guessing specific words in chat will be tightly monitored to reduce the risk of predatory behavior. The social tools are in general solid, if relatively unspectacular.
There are a few areas I’d like to see the developers improve the game; in particular in relation to the model building. It’s very difficult to line the pieces up next to each other in such a way that they look perfect, even with model pieces that are designed to go together, like castle segments. The individual brick building works fairly well but rotating pieces sometimes still doesn’t allow you a strong angle to view the pieces the way I’d like.
Finally, the music in the game is very good, and for each world seems suited to the theme of the world. The only problem I have with it is that frankly, it’s far too melodramatic and tense for a game that doesn’t put a tremendous amount of pressure on the player in most sections of the game. I’m guessing this was done to help cover up for the lack of dialogue, but it’s something that can probably be easily corrected in a later patch.
In the end, there’s a lot to do in Lego Universe
, that will appeal to a wide range of audiences. The primary game play isn’t incredibly demanding, but does get difficult enough that the 10-11 year old age set might need parental assistance with some area. The depth of the mini-games and building mode really shine as the areas that will keep players coming back after the quests and collections are complete. The main load screen shows hundreds of possible worlds, so it seems likely that it’s only a matter of time before other shards come on line for players to explore.
With the few relatively small problems and significant depth to the game, coupled with the potential for quality licensed IP to be added, Lego Universe
is a strong start to and a unique entry into the MMO realm.