Playing God With Lego Universe
By Kei Beneza (dividelife), OnRPG Journalist
Whenever I think of LEGO, I'll always hear "the ultimate playing god game" reverberating inside my head. With my bare hands, I can build and destroy anything at will. LEGO is something that I can't categorize as a childhood memory because I can still appreciate how imaginative I can get with just a few blocks in my hand. It was really a hoot when some famous game titles such as Batman, Indiana Jones and Star Wars released their LEGO edition games. Building stuff with LEGO blocks never gets old, so playing a LEGO-inspired game is a complete delight.
Now imagine all the fun you can have if your character would not just be limited to a squared version of Batman or Darth Vader. What if you can choose your own character, build, create your own world and even encode a command on your creation for show?
This is exactly the premise of the recently released pay-to-play online game LEGO Universe. Distributed by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and developed by NetDevil, LEGO Universe is clearly eyeing kids up of to 12 years with its interactive and creatively done character selection screen with trademark LEGO block palettes and design rendered in 3D. But because of its block building feature, I'm pretty sure that this game will also be a hit for any LEGO fans and enthusiasts of all ages.
Hey Man! Can You Lend A Hand?
Creating your characters or minifigs is fun. The game has made virtual counterparts of all the LEGO blocks that the company has ever released, which means that you have a wide array of choices when it comes to customizing your "mini-fig". If you're a player over 12 years old who are used to playing other contemporary online games, then you'll probably notice that you will not be choosing any warriors, spell casters, or any other classes for your minifig on the get-go. In LEGO Universe, you are all part of a world who, in your own creative way, are fighting the Maelstrom which is a dark force responsible for corrupting the pure imagination that exists in the game world. Your job is to protect other pure imagination in the universe before it turns more minifigs turn into Maelstrom minions called Stromlings. With your building power, you can go from one world to another to push back the Maelstrom. But how do you that without knowing your minifig's abilities from the start?
I C4n Haz Ninja Skillz
Your character in the game has three basic stats: the HP or Heart Power represents your life; the Imagination sort of acts like your energy or mana points so you can create or build what's required in the game; and there is also the Shield, for its most obvious purpose.
Some of the items that you will loot from destroying objects or finishing a quest will reward you with new costumes or equipment. Just like in other MMOs, these costumes and equipment will boost your stats and give you unique skills. You do not gain levels, but your costume and equipment will define your strength as a character overall. Some costumes in the world include a knight, a ninja, a wizard and a pirate; you can just imagine what kind of skills comes with these costumes. So technically, your set of combat and other additional skills will largely depend on what your minifig wears. It kind of reminds me of Costume Quest, but the huge difference is that there is no special interface whenever you do battle in LEGO Universe.
Later on, you can choose factions in the game to further define your role in the battle between the minifigs' Nexus Force and the Maelstrom. You have to earn the right to be able to choose your factions by performing faction-specific quests. The Assembly is devoted to building, the Sentinels excel in combat, the Venture League Explorer, well, explores and helps discover new useful areas, and the Paradox faction specializes in researching the benefits of using the Maelstrom power to destroy itself. Choosing factions will give you some faction-specific skills and stores.
With My Pronged Hands, I Shall Smash You To Pieces!
LEGO Universe has both the PvE and PvP game orientations. In PvE, it will mostly feel like a rehash of your adventures in LEGO Indiana Jones where the environment is like a puzzle you have to solve like looking for the location of imagination bricks. The whole game feels like a regular action adventure role playing game for the console, except that most often than not, your quests encourages (or even requires) you to cooperate with other online players to complete a mission. What makes it a little difficult, though, is the lack of a proper party or guild system to help you keep track of your party during your missions.
Creatures in the game are not just there for you to battle; you can also tame them as pets. While pets are not much of help in battles, they can still help you find items in the game. To keep the game child friendly, you do not kill another player in PvP; you are simply and literally just smashing them to pieces. If you get smashed, then you will be have to "rebuild" yourself.
Use Your Imagination To Save The World
One of the most apparent difference I can spot between LEGO Universe and the rest of online games is how you really play this game. I'll summarize what you basically have to do in six items: destroy, collect, trade, build, explore, and battle.
Your character can destroy objects that enables you to collect parts or blocks for building modules. Most of the items will be bound to your account, but those that aren't can be traded with other players. Coins can also be traded; so you if you're a dad playing with your kid, just think of it as giving his virtual allowance. You can start building quest-related objects just by doing an action on a specific area to automatically construct the needed item. The items that you collect can be used either for model building or custom building. This part of the gameplay is something like a direct translation of real life building to virtual block construction in the game, which I think is a neat integration of the toy and the online game.
When you enter Brick Mode, you can start using the blocks that you have amassed and start getting creative with it. Turn your masterpieces into properties that your online friends can view. You can also program or set a behavior on these properties such as a door popping up an "Open me" command when you click on it, or have one of your creations react upon hearing a trigger command. It may sound complex for kids, but I think that we shouldn't be underestimating the kids' fast learning curve today. The game has such an easy drag and drop interface with a generous amount of helpful hints as you go along with your quests.
Speaking of kid protection, the Chat Minus and Chat Plus for LEGO Universe is available to make this a family-friendly game. Only approved words in the game can be used in Chat Minus, but Chat Plus allows you to converse freely only with your Friends (online acquaintances) or Best Friends (people you really know in real life). These features can both be a boon and a bane, but LEGO has taken precautions to the next level given that their market are kids.
Construction... success (?)
It seems like there is nothing really new, yet LEGO has managed to give their online game a completely new feel to it. The world is expansive with its colourful graphics, simple yet engaging questing, and basic collect and trade economy. The developers has also integrated the construction ability of the LEGO toys into the game, a building feature comparable to Second Life.
However, the concept of the well-known and beloved toy being turned into a whole new world online may not be as appetizing as it sounds if you are not a LEGO enthusiast. Hardcore online gamers who are used to a more complex gameplay and complicated economy may just snub this game out. There's also a good chance that a chunk of this group will pass on the opportunity to try this game since its subscription based. If they do, they will just breeze through the game. The background story gave the game a nice feel to it, but I don't think one should expect much from the content since this game is intended to be uncomplicated.
As far as replay ability or subscriber sustainability goes, I'd have to say that the building feature is one that will never, ever get old-and this is something that both kids and kids at heart can enjoy. You will explore and explore to get more blocks to be able to create more jaw-dropping properties. In the long run, this may only be your driving force to continue subscribing to the game.
- It's for kids. Of all ages. 'Nuff said.
- Creative and addicting building feature
- Available for the PC and the Mac
- A very (overly?) family-friendly game
- Party or guild system is yet to exist
- Me to party members: Where the heck are you on my map?
- Tough communication system (sensitive chats)
- More content to make the subscription more worth it