Lego Universe Preview: Absolutely Yes!
Jonathan (Ardua) Doyle, OnRPG Journalist.
A little over 20 years ago, my great-aunt visited from America. I did what any self respecting child would do when confronted by a relation that you have never heard of nor seen before.
I hid under the table.
Eventually I was lured out with the promise of toys and this is where my little story gets relevant. The toy was Lego. As I think about all the things I have seen in Lego Universe, I can say with perfect certainty, I feel five or so years old again and I am in love.
Welcome to the land of Imagination
Lego Universe at first blush appears to be aimed at a younger audience. The music is fun and upbeat. The login screen alone is worth a laugh. Between Minifigs (the official name for Lego men) getting up to stuff in the background to the guy in front who is there to help you through logging in. He points to where you’re supposed to type and even politely covers his eyes when you get to the password. It is kid friendly, it’s clear and it was side splittingly funny to me. Two quick bonks on the head (that’ll make sense when you actually log in, poor Minifig) and you’re off to the character creation screen.
Avatars and outfits
At the time of writing you can create four Minifigs for playing in the game. Fortunately also at the time of writing there are four factions in the game that you can join so you’ll be able to see it all with these slots. Once again NetDevil have gone for friendly and easy interfaces and it works so very well. Customization is quick and you’re ready to step onto the Venture Explorer in no time. A point I would make though is unlike most games where you have to work at unlocking new outfit choices Lego Universe almost gleefully covers you in costume drops. So much so that by the time you leave the tutorial it’s entirely possible to have three new shirts and a little bonus. When you get a new outfit and you want to put it on, it’s as simple as dragging it from your inventory onto your Minifig. Tah-dah you’re now in your new outfit. Some have stats, others have bonuses but a great many just look good. Often new outfit pieces are tied to achievements or mission rewards but they’ve yet to be difficult to get in my experience.
The other part of Avatars, well this is all subjective so your mileage may vary, but NetDevil carries on the interactivity seen on the login screen at character select. Minifigs will react with glee if they’re chosen, try to grab your eye if they’ve not yet been selected and the part that gets me, they look so heart broken when you click to someone else. I only have two characters at the moment and I think this game is aimed, according to the literature, at 8-12 year olds has forged a better link between my emotions and my virtual representation than any other game I’ve played in. I genuinely feel bad picking one Minifig over the other when they make those sad faces at me. Thankfully they get over it quickly and go right back to trying to change your mind with cheeky grins and subtle hints that they want to be played.
Tutorials… haven’t we run enough of them?
If you’re an MMO player like me, you’ve run your fair share of tutorials. They’re always the same aren’t they? Here’s how you walk, here’s how you jump. Don’t forget to breathe, no you don’t mine for fish. The Venture Explorer though is a Tutorial I’ll happily run over and over. It looks fantastic (yes it’s a Lego spaceship) and the instructions aren’t terribly obtrusive. A quick pop up shows you the keys, waits till you press them and then gives you a big thumbs up for it. Standard yes but remember that this game has to appeal to a younger audience than the standard MMO player. We all started somewhere, we were all noobs once and Lego Universe does a great job of easing new players into game play. Also for any completion nuts out there who simply must have every possible unlock in every possible way, there’s plenty of unlocks in Lego Universe and you’ll never be back to the Venture Explorer (well I’ve not managed it anyway), so better to get them now.
Also for old hands at MMOs there are a few parts of the tutorial that are unique to Lego and need to be explained, so it won’t hurt for long. Quickbuilding and the Thinking Hat.
Useful tutorials everywhere
Quickbuilding is the fantastic part you see in the CGI video where all those wonderful blocks whizz out of the Minifigs hands to create something epic.
The Thinking Hat is something you pop on when you have to invent. To get off the Venture you’re going to need a rocket ship and once you’ve all the parts you have to put them together. The rocket model is a simple three piece one but as time goes on you will unlock more and more complex models that not only need more bricks but also bigger and better Thinking Hats (think of them as skill levels).
Living up to Expectations
Speaking of the CGI Trailer for the game…you know what? Lego Universe is pretty much that. Of course you don’t move as fluidly as that sometimes and yes it isn’t nearly the same level of graphics but where most games have the most mind blowing visuals you can conceive of in a trailer with the game rarely matches, Lego Universe delivers on its trailer. You will quickly throw together models for battle and other reasons. You will charge about dressed as a Knight or a Spaceman or a Pirate or heck even a Ninja wielding a laser gun and with a shoulder Parrot. Most importantly you will battle dark forces who threaten imagination and Minifigs everywhere. NetDevil have not promised me that it will change my life or blow my mind or kill (insert Game you think it’d beat in a fan boyish delusion). However it does blow my mind, it does make me laugh and it does make me feel good about games again. There are issues with the game right now that the MMOer in me has trouble with, primarily the chat system. Its current form is very limited and if the word you want isn’t in the games dictionary, you aren’t saying it. However at the same time this is a title to bring more people into our online world, specifically children. If that means I have to go to Ventrilo or Teamspeak to crack jokes and curse with (or probably at) friends to ensure that the game as a whole is secure for younger gamers, so be it.
Building mode – yeah time to play with Lego!
Regardless of any current issue I have, it’s still early days in the beta as of writing so things can change and I’ll do my best to keep you up to date.
One thing has not changed since I first got to the Login screen. This game makes me laugh every single time.
Closed Beta Impressions
You know? I’m damn impressed by NetDevil. Each week brings more places to visit, more corrections, more improvements and more things to do. Each week also affords me plenty of chances to play and submit bug reports. I’ve been in many betas but bar my first, they all tended to be very restricted affairs. Lego currently has a few meaty windows with a good spread of times allowing US and European players to get on and give it a good run. They keep adding to the game and they’ve even recently had a little prize giveaway to beta players that sadly I missed. All in all I am getting a really good vibe from Lego Universe. There’s been serious work put into it and more importantly, more than just a little love. This is more than just a game.
Sure you’ll probably have to shell over money to see it, play it and keep it but whatever the cost involved, I personally will gladly pay it. 20 or so years ago my love affair with a simple toy started. It wasn’t the flashiest toy but it was only limited by my imagination. Now I get to see everything I love about Lego shine on my computer screen. I get to reconnect with the child I was who grew up loving simple games, simple pleasures and simple humour. I get to come back to Lego with the maturity of being an adult and the memories from my childhood. I get to come back and I can admit I am in love.
To be testing NetDevils Lego Universe to me personally is an honour. The day I’m too old, jaded or cynical to crack a smile at the game they’ve made is the day you can put me in a box and in the ground.