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.
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