LEGO Universe Review
By Michael Richter |
LEGO Universe has been officially out for a few days now, but for many, the launch was mostly symbolic. Players who pre-ordered the game had access as early as the 8th of October, more than a fortnight before launch. I started playing about halfway between the early starter date and the official launch, and as I said in my impressions piece about a week ago, I managed to finish about half of the structured content in just a couple of days.
LEGO Universe is extremely faithful to its source material. In every single area of the game, wherever there is something living or something man-(or minifigure-)made, it is made entirely out of LEGO blocks. It's effective at portraying a world of plastic, and many of the non-LEGO set pieces, such as the giant tree in the Forbidden Valley, are just as visually enticing.
Like previous LEGO games, smashing an enemy results in a shower of blocks. Enemies drop money, health, armor, which functions as a second health bar, and imagination, which functions as the main resource for pretty much every ability, combat related or otherwise, in the game. They also occasionally drop items and blocks which can be used in the build mode.
The build mode is LEGO Universe's second biggest strength. As it stands right now, I have over 720 different kinds of blocks. That's different kinds. I have well over three thousand blocks in total -- probably closer to four. The blocks can be used on your claimed property to build literally whatever you want. There are also pre-made models that can be used as-is, or broken down into their base blocks. Building is a pretty simple task of choosing the block and slapping it wherever it fits. They can be moved and colored after they're placed if need be, and once you've crafted a model, you can move it as a whole or break it back down. Models and bricks can have behaviors placed on them, such as exploding on contact, moving when activated, or spawning health, armor, imagination or enemies. It's all isolated to the confines of your property, but you can allow other players to walk in and inspect your creations.
If you love the creative aspects of real LEGO, then LEGO Universe does quite a good job of recreating that sensation without ruining your fingers on the sharp corners. It also does an excellent job of recreating the frustration of sifting through a bucket of blocks in search of something specific. Although there is a method for sorting your bricks, it can be extremely unintuitive, especially given the audience Universe is aiming for. For one thing, the button buried in the menus and is extremely small. It also sorts in a kind of strange way -- blocks fall into categories, like basic, space, architectural, tiles etc… and you can choose up to three to narrow the collection down. What the search doesn't include is a means of searching by the size of the block, so if you're just looking for something that will fill in a 3-by-3 gap in your model, you'll have to work out whether you're looking for something sloped, grated, hollow or from one of the very vaguely named sets, and then just sift through the remaining blocks that are automatically placed in the order you found them. It's better than nothing, but by no means as flexible as it could or should be, given the quantity of blocks.
I said that the brick build was the second strongest aspect in LEGO because the music takes the cake. In every area of every zone, there is a new, usually orchestral, track that completely sets the mood for the area. Even better, each piece of music plays for a good long while before it loops. Whenever you think it can't go anywhere, it surprises you and takes a turn. Even the pirate theme, which could have easily been an annoying little ditty, is melodious and a joy to listen to. The entire soundtrack is a really great blend of fun, atmospheric and catchy, and I can't say a negative thing about it. Even the musical snippets like playing the organ at the Pirate camp, or using the boom box item ooze with quality.
Blocks. Lots and lots of blocks.
The writing, from the opening cinematic, to the quest info, to the little bits of dialogue characters say as you walk past, is of a fairly high quality and occasionally very witty. The story, which involves the player characters trying to "save imagination" from the malevolent Maelstrom is cute.
Barring glitches, the mini-games are also pretty solid although far too limited. The racing mini-game has two cleverly designed tracks which are let down a little bit by the average racing mechanics. The shooting gallery mini-game is pretty standard but includes a combo system and the opportunity to win models to spice things up.
But they, like the rest of the game, suffer from potentially ruinous bugs. While in the shooting gallery, for example, my aiming reticule vanished entirely, meaning I had no way to tell where I was aiming. In the broader world, the bugs are worse. One bug involved a Quick Build -- a structure that players whip together at the cost of some imagination to affect the world; bridging a gap, for example. This one was a trampoline perched atop a stone spire that players had to jump down to from a ledge. Once there, they were meant to take the trampoline to the next spire and travel onwards, except the trampoline vanished entirely. Players were blindly jumping onto the spire and, finding nowhere else to go, plummeting to their doom. There was no way to progress further than about 50 feet into the level because of this bug.