LEGO Universe is a game designed for “kids of all ages” and modeled on previous LEGO video games in looks and controls. I’ve seen a lot of the game and have had quite a bit of hands-on time with the higher levels, so this was my first experience starting from ground zero. Netdevil has made LEGO Universe an interactive experience from the get-go. An animated mini-fig is there to greet you when you log in and covers its eyes when you type in your password. Cute.
Your avatar is a LEGO mini-fig and just like the physical mini-figure, there are several parts that can be customized: the hair/hat, face (eyes & mouth), body and legs. Colors can also be set for the parts, and interestingly enough, you don’t choose a gender, so you can totally create a sexually ambiguous character. The name creation is via choice of pre-screened words or you can submit a name for moderation.
You start off falling to your death. Okay… I kid. I had completed the first quest in the tutorial before I got my mini-fig smashed to bits. Luckily, all you lose is a few coins and you simply rebuild your mini-fig, picking up from where you left off. In this first scene we are introduced to the movement keys and the Shift key which is the universal interaction key. We also learn modular builds – that is building models by putting component parts together, as well as the Quick Build that is powered by Imagination.
You’ve got life and armor as well as Imagination, represented by hearts, shields and what looks like a Lightning Ball toy. No choice of class this early in the game, and loot drops like other LEGO video games, life, armor, imagination, gold and bricks that you have to run through to pickup.
What’s it about?
In the first few hours of the game, it’s about hitting things. Smashing maelstrom creatures, beating up “smashables” in the landscape to collect items for quests, and quick builds. One of the first quests had you smash a Maelstrom Tech and do a quick build with its component parts. That created a turret which protected you for a short while before it fell apart and became a mob again. LEGO Universe isn’t about directed play and you could simply hang out at the Avant Gardens and complete all the achievements and quests there, or go further afield, following another quest line which eventually takes you to your first Brick Yard – or personal property. Some quest rewards gave you house and castle models, and these models can be placed on your personal property.
There are some cues in the game, the usual icons above NPC heads – a rotating coin for a vendor, an exclamation mark for a quest giver, a column of light that can be seen across the zone for the turn-in quest NPC, and bricks that hop up and down for Quick Build objects. Interactive objects are intuitive. See something that looks like a giant button? Hop on it and see what happens.
The quest that gets you your first property is interesting as it asks you to use your imagination to defeat the Maelstrom and claim it. After killing - sorry… no killing in this kid game – smashing everything that moved, I was left with bricks and a swirling tower of corrupted imagination power. The bricks hopped up and down which clued me in. Moving close enough, the Shift icon appeared and I did a Quick Build, which made a round platform with a hand rail around it. After a few tries, I managed to hop on. Pressing Shift again, it took me up and I conquered it. Using imagination.
Controls, Tutorials and Hot Tips
LEGO Universe mostly follows what has become common MMO key-maps; WASD to move, Right click and hold to pan the camera. Everything else is a double-click, a right click or clicking on icons on your UI, and for this game specifically, the Shift button for interaction. It feels like many other LEGO video games I’ve played, and there is a lot of platforming game-play. Jumping and double jumping to reach certain areas, so much so that many players hit the double jump button The camera is its very own critter. When you accept a quest, or complete a key task, the camera pans and zooms in to the next area / NPC you need to get to. It doesn’t quite follow over the shoulder but shifts about in a manner I don’t quite understand. Perhaps I haven’t quite gotten it because it makes me nauseous.
For a kids game, I actually expected more hot tips or direction. One of the first things you encounter after you leave the opening tutorial and land in the Avant Gardens, is an animated dog model. Interacting with it told you to go to Pet Cove to learn how to acquire pets. Just how to get to Pet Cove however… not a clue.
After acquiring the personal property, the quest took you through a short tutorial on placing models and packing up models, then we are rewarded with the next step, behaviors! Except, it didn’t show you how to use the behaviors. Finding the information on the Lego Universe site showed that I just wasn’t close enough to the models to get the Shift icon to show, to open up the behavior interface. Doh!
LEGO Universe, you have so much promise. I want to get pets which will dig up buried treasure. I want to build race cars which I can race against others. I want to create models with which I will program behaviors. I want to create buildings with bricks I collect, I want to choose a faction and get cool armor sets. I want to love you, LEGO Universe, but your camera makes me puke. Anti-motion sickness meds only do so much, and I attribute much of my difficulty with the game to that. Having seen a lot of the build at various trade-shows, and had hands-on in higher level zones I realize that I have hardly plumbed the depths of this game. Even at this juncture, I could have gotten further but for my handicap. I’ll be letting my eight year-old nephew at this game to see how he does. He has played all the LEGO Star Wars video games so I imagine he’ll have no issues with this.