LEGO video games have been around for nearly 20 years. The LEGO Star Wars games have been around for at least half of that. Which makes LEGO Star Wars, by itself, one of the longest-running series in video gaming, believe it or not. One game every two years for the past 10 years.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens begins, interestingly, before Star Wars: The Force Awakens, its movie tie-in. The game starts off with the rowdy conclusion to the 1983 film Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. Return of the Jedi is when Luke Skywalker faces Darth Vader under the laughing countenance of The Emperor, Wicket the Ewok is fighting the good fight in the California Redwoods, and the Millennium Falcon is juking gun turrets on the surface of the Death Star. You either know this stuff for you don’t.
Then it moves into The Force Awakens proper, the 30-years-later sequel to Return of the Jedi. In The Force Awakens, you meet the lively, likable cast early on: Rey, Finn, BB-8, along with the return of Han Solo, Chewie, Leia, and so, so many others. If nothing else, LEGO Star Wars games know how to set up endless character unlocks. All the characters you know, plus variations on their themes (i.e., Chewbacca, Wounded Chewbacca), and all the bit characters you’ve never given a second thought to.
With this cast of characters—that easily looks 100 deep—you run around different locations from the film. You shoot, punch, and lightsaber your way through anything that’s made of LEGO, solve environmental puzzles, and collect the avalanche of coins that spring from everything. It’s a beat ‘em up that’s hungry for two-player couch co-op. You can do it single player, too, but you’ll have to manually switch between characters in your party to solve the different puzzles, since only certain characters can perform certain tasks. BB-8, for example, is one of the only characters small enough to fit through some hatches and pipes. Chewie, as another example, is one of the only characters with the physical strength to push and pull some elements into place. You might need a Jedi around sometimes, too, to handle the requisite mind tricks in some battles or to throw hefty objects through the air. So keeping a party filled with characters bearing various talents is critical, though the game is good at giving you the bare minimum requirements on at least your first time through these levels.
Everything looks great in the game. There are big, splashy set pieces. The backdrops just keep getting better and better, scaling up with the upscaled technology driving these games. The woods onon the Forest Moon of Endor are lush with ground vegetation and towering trees. Jakku is sufficiently piled with dunes: dunes in mounds, dunes with ridges, dunes covering the ruins of long-lost wars. The Star Wars universe is one of the original purveyors of the fill-in-the-blank level. In Star Wars, there’s a lava planet, a water planet, an ice planet, a desert planet. All of these things correspond with video games’ use of lava levels, water levels, ice levels, and desert levels, etc.
Theme is important in LEGO games. Because all the LEGO games function the same way. Run in circles around a diorama, bash everything you can, collect everything you can, solve block-building puzzles. That’s about it. But with themes, you can do this in a LEGO game as The Avengers, or as Batman, or as Star Wars characters. The formula is set in stone at this point. Only the characters and settings change. LEGO introduced vehicle-driving segments a long time ago, and those are still doing well.
Block-building puzzles can get tricky. You’ll get a pile of LEGO on the screen, then have to assemble something over here to move the level forward, or assemble something over there to take out some bad guys. Sometimes you’re bashing, building, disassembling, then reassembling things multiple times to defeat certain scenarios. Watch any new player streaming their game, and you’ll see them get stumped multiple times. I’m one of them. And I almost never know what I’m building until it’s already built, so it rarely feels like I’ve “solved” anything. I’ve just pushed an auto-build button. These puzzles rarely make you feel smarter for solving them. They just want you to do things in a proper order, and you just have to trial-and-error your way through the proper order, or memorize it for your next visit with different characters during a free-play session.
The production value is present. But I can’t believe they pulled actors from the films into the recording booth to record original dialogue for the game. The cutscenes are playful and witty, but the gameplay dialogue lacks the humor, charm, and warmth of the movie. They brought in Daisy Ridley as Rey to say things like, “Another troop transport inbound,” and “Yes, that should do the job.” John Boyega as Finn yells stuff like, “Yes!” and, “There’s too many of them!” I appreciate that they're trying to provide more signposted direction for what to do next. But it's almost tragic hearing these actors waste breath on such conventional instructions.
Also, decades-old issues with voice acting are still with us today. A voice actor, for instance, doesn’t always know what will be happening on screen when they’re reading their lines in a sound booth. So, they brought Harrison frickin’ Ford into the studio for some original lines of dialogue—only to have half of his lines drowned out by laser fire in the game. Most of Harrison Ford's lines are fine and delivered with the panache and charisma you’d expect. But ultimately, whether he’s delivering an eye-winking one liner or is on the run from a bunch of tentacles and teeth, he’s got that cool-handed Han Solo tone. You just can’t hear the guy sometimes. It’s a bummer.
But LEGO injects its own brand of humor, which really shines when there’s no dialogue at all. With Storm Troopers bodyboarding in the background of a major battle. Admiral Ackbar gulping fish whole and yelling, “It’s a trap!” every chance he gets.
There’s a lot of narrative dissonance between what a LEGO game is and what Star Wars is. It takes some getting used to. But it eventually works itself out. You’re supposed to be defending against an attack from the First Order, for instance, but you’ll be shooting up the entire village yourself in order to do regular LEGO video game things, like searching for gold bricks, grabbing coins, and breaking things apart to build other things. You’ll even take loose LEGO pieces and build a popcorn maker that sends out popped popcorn that shocks Storm Troopers. Hey, it’s a video game. It’s still pretty wild, though.
Remember that part in The Force Awakens movie where Kylo Ren goes ape on a computer console? Well, that’s basically every character in LEGO The Force Awakens. You just wreck anything, everything, all the time. Nothing is safe, nothing is sacred, so have fun with it.
But there’s poor design choices that’ve plagued LEGO games for many years now. Poor choices that I suspect are given somewhat of a pass due to the inherently charming nature of LEGO games in general. But there are problems that just can’t be buried under charm any longer.
The save game system is one of the least considerate in modern gaming. The distance between autosave points can be long and arduous. And if you have two saved games running next to each other (for instance, my daughter has one saved game and I have a second) the only way to tell them apart is by guessing how far along you are, percentage-wise. This game, for instance, is five percent done. This one is six percent done. Since you can't name a saved game file, you have to hope you know where you are in relation to the other person’s saved game, percentage-wise.
Also, if it feels like you keep playing the same scenes over and over, even though you saved on exit the last time, it's likely because you certainly are playing the same scene over again. Save on exit appears to do nothing. It saves at the beginning of a chapter. So if you’ve been running around a large map for 30 minutes (or for an hour), you’d better find one of those major autosave points or you’re going backwards when you load up your game the next day. Sure, you keep everything you’ve already collected, but if your main drive is to get through the storyline, saved games are unfriendly.
This problem is further apparent when you run into gameplay bugs. I can recreate a game-stopping bug, without error, during a fight inside of the Millennium Falcon that stops all forward progress. (It has to do with a LEGO-built spider droid that you lose access to, but are required to use to finish off one of those nasty, toothy, tentacled Rathtar creatures.)
Since you’re stuck starting levels over from the beginning so much, you’re often stuck with those damnable Star Wars-ian walls of scrolling text. Those scrolling walls of text are, admittedly, as much of a part of the Star Wars universe as lightsabers. One per movie, they’re great. They’re really great. But they lose their charm when you’re forced to endure the same blandly written narratives over and over for each and every chapter of a video game—a game that continually starts you over each chapter due to the terribly designed game-save structure.
The only thing mitigating this problem is that the largest levels are sometimes built shallow and wide. Meaning, you can branch off in different directions around the map, exploring and exploding things to your heart’s content for a good long while. But the critical path, the shortest distance between point A (where you start) and point B (where you end up) is a relatively quick jaunt.
The camera is another issue. It’s almost always convinced it’s smarter than you, despite you being in 3D environments that beg to be panned around. There seems to be an invisible director that’s always reluctant to give up control of the camera.
Regardless, that ever-present LEGO charm reinforces just how likable this cast is. It’s hard to be angry at the game, and I certainly like LEGO The Force Awakens far more than the bloated and bland LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars.
You just have to be patient with the idea that LEGO turns every set piece into an epic battle. Every place you go is expanded, stretched out, and blown up until you’re quite tired of each location before you’re allowed to move on. Yes, it’s easy to want to revisit iconic locations, like The Emperor’s throne room; and yes, it’s fun every time to hop into a two-legged AT-ST and start blasting everything on Endor. But there’s a lot of Plainy McPlainwrap that went into the design of the Jakku villages (where Rey grew up), and, interestingly enough, the Millennium Falcon is given the Doctor Who treatment when you find out that the ship is way bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside.
But LEGO The Force Awakens still achieves, through its level design, a bit more intimacy than some other LEGO games. The same camera you have to fight to get a good look around is the same camera that knows when to pull in closer for a more detailed look at the characters and environments. While the LEGO cutscenes and characters embellish the Star Wars universe without insulting it.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Randy gravitates toward anything open world, open ended, and open to interpretation. He prefers strategy over shooting, introspection over action, and stealth and survival over looting and grinding. He's been a gamer since 1982 and writing critically about video games for over 15 years. A few of his favorites are Skyrim, Elite Dangerous, and Red Dead Redemption. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oregon.View Profile