Also available on: N/A
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Genre: Massively Multiplayer Online
Building on the hugely-successful Lego video games from TT Games, Lego Universe aims to create a massively multiplayer online world for playing with those famous bricks. The game, developed by US studio NetDevil, has been out for a week now and is just starting to build a life of its own, as players explore the far reaches of the universe with their minifigure (minifig) characters. The MMO stays very true to the joys of Lego, with the multiple gaming worlds being wrapped in a vibrant and playful visual and audio presentation. At first, there are plenty of places to go, things to build, monsters to smash and quests to explore. However, a lack of depth to the content, along with far too many design bugs and some rather frustrating missions makes Lego Universe far from a perfect creation.
Aimed primarily at an 8-12 male audience, the Lego Universe story unfurls in an alternate world populated by Lego minifigs, where the spirit of imagination powers everything. When a team of minifigs goes in search of the last essence of pure imagination - capable of creating anything they can imagine - the explorers get rather more than they bargained for. One minifig imagines a giant spider, which stumbles into the imagination source, unleashing a dark force known as the maelstrom that turns innocent minifigs into twisted monsters and shatters the world into a myriad of miniature planets. Players are tasked with saving imagination by battling the maelstrom and bringing harmony back to the universe.
Essentially, the game controls very similarly to previous Lego titles. Minifigs are manoeuvred around the playing space with options to smash enemies or interact with items. Monsters roam all around the planets and players can fight them with weapons ranging from swords to fishing rods. All enemies destroyed drop a shower of bonus items, including money, health, armour and imagination, which is the primary power source for various abilities, including building and advanced combat. Enemies also sometimes drop blocks, which are used in the game's building sections. On the tertiary level, building works exactly the same as in the TT Games, in which the player triggers a pile of bricks to auto-assemble into a range of items. However, Lego Universe also goes further than that into modular build and brick-by-brick systems.
Around a few hours into the game, players get to claim their own property. In the shattered world, there are countless planets infected by the maelstrom and every player is expected to return at least one to a creative playspace. After ridding all the enemies, the player claims their land by building something on it. Modular build involves collecting pre-built sections of castles, houses, pirate ships and other structures to be re-assembled in whatever configuration the player wants. More creative players, though, can use the brick-by-brick experience for building more elaborate structures. On properties, any collected bricks and pieces can be placed on the land and then interacted with. There are hundreds of different pieces, all of which can be given different colours from a palette menu. Any created models can also be given 'behaviours' via a relatively simple control system. For example, a tree can be programmed to rotate and then explode when hit with a sword. All creations on your property can be kept private or opened up to the Lego Universe community.
One of the strongest aspects of Lego Universe is its presentation, where NetDevil has really excelled itself. Each of the gaming worlds feels instantly like Lego, which is a great achievement and the millions of character customisation options work really well. There is a great overall variety in the universe, from pirate worlds to futuristic cities and sprawling race tracks. One of the best features of the presentation is the soundtrack, which delivers different music for each area to genuinely add an extra layer to the atmosphere. Unfortunately the menu design lacks the same sense of finesse, as the hundreds of items players collect in the game are often hard to navigate and browse, especially when under pressure in a tight spot. The build system also proves a little frustrating at times, particularly when attempting more complicated creations. Tracking down a specific block to fit a specific need within the backpack-based menu system can often prove a chore.
Aside the build modes, the story is engaging and works well to retain the player's interest. The writing and dialogue sections are actually pretty good and the humour of Lego feels authentically recreated. However, there are rather too many somewhat tedious fetch-quest style missions tasking the player with heading from one place to another, often with little sense of purpose. Some missions also feel like filler, such as collecting ten pieces of a certain item, only to be tasked with picking up more of the exact same thing. There are a range of mini-games to tackle, such as racing and shooting, each with their own nice design touches. However, little points of frustration ensure that the mini-games never really feel like complete successes.
All the game's strong work in gameplay and presentation is also rather undone by a persistent and irritating batch of bugs (and not ones made of Lego). The online game suffers heavy lag at peak times, while hit detection on enemies is often stuttered and erratic. Some of the missions also feature missing items or vital aspects vanishing, requiring the player to log out and log back in again to restart the process. Players get the opportunity to tame pets in the game, but the 18 different animals suffer from some horrific AI. They jitter about, fail to respond to commands and often get irritatingly stuck on rocks and in tight passageways. Not even a trip to the vets could sort these beasts out.
Possibly Lego Universe's biggest problem, though, is in its value for money. Most players will be able to bash through the around 20 hours of structured content in two or three days of committed play. That would be a decent return for a normal boxed game, but Lego Universe requires a subscription commitment that could last up to a year (and cost £64.99). After bashing through the quests, the player is just left to explore the worlds and modify their own properties, which isn't really enough to retain most people's interest. NetDevil claims to have an "aggressive" rollout schedule planned of additional downloadable content, and that will be vital to keep players engaged as there is simply not enough at present to justify a long-term subscription.
Overall, Lego Universe succeeds in creating an online MMO world for players to explore and indulge their Lego creativity. The visual presentation is impressive, backed by a triumphant score that adds genuine atmosphere. The story and quests are relatively engaging and the build system works well to recreate the fun of building with Lego, without the huge cost of buying the actual blocks. Unfortunately, the game is marred by a legion of increasingly frustrating bugs, as well as a general lack of structured content that makes a subscription seem less than good value. Hopefully NetDevil will tackle the initial teething problems and bring on a raft of new content to give Lego the MMO universe that it deserves.
> What do you think of the game? Share your views