LEGO Universe Review
LEGO Universe is a fully fledged 3D MMOG targeted towards “Kids of all ages” but although rated E 10+ for cartoon violence, is meant for kids aged 6 and up. Like any MMO, it comes with a back story to explain the setting, and in the case of LEGO, also incorporates the various LEGO “worlds.”
In a parallel Universe where we exist as LEGO minifigures (or minifigs), four brave adventurers sought to discover the Nexus of Imagination. Lore had it that it could bring to life anything we could possibly imagine. Traveling from world to world, they found an old forgotten map which led them to the planet Crux where they found a temple constructed by the first builders and a tower of pure imagination. Of course they had to try it out. The gallant knight Duke Exeter closed his eyes, thought hard and created a small model of a castle. The space pirate Hael Storm poofed a model of a galleon into existence and buoyed by their successes, Doctor Overbuild a brilliant engineer brought a perky little puppy to life. The wheels in the mind of the wily tycoon Baron Typhonus were spinning at top speed and in a mad burst of imagination, created a monstrous creature that smashed the poor puppy to bits.
This use of destruction to harness creation and imagination turned into chaos and chaotic being know no masters. The creature turned on Typhonus and dragged him into the Imagination Nexus, corrupting it and creating the Maelstrom which exploded, sending bits of itself and planet Crux hurtling through space. The remaining trio fought for their lives and succeeded in saving one last sliver of pure Imagination which they brought home with them, only to find that the Maelstrom had corrupted everything it touched. Turning creatures into chaotic Stromlings bent only on destruction. The heroes formed the Nexus Force, determined to keep the Maelstrom and bay and each led a faction of minifigs to train the future to defend Imagination and wrest the land back from the Maelstrom.
The World and Factions
LEGO Universe is a fragmented world which players will travel through and discover. Each world has a launch pad or two where you climb into your rocket ship and travel to other worlds. There are not just three factions but four in this world and this is how they came about:
Doctor Overbuild formed the Assembly, a gathering of the brightest builders and critical thinkers to battle the Maelstrom using engineering science. In a Sci-Fi game, this would be your technician class. The guys that set turrets, build bridges and lay mines.
Duke Exeter gathered the finest warriors in the land, training them to in creative use of the most advanced weapons. What other class would this be but your tanks? Your warriors and paladins.
Hael Storm drew the dare devils. The adventurers and explorers who like nothing better but taking on that next quest into the unknown to root out far flung pockets of the Maelstrom. Is there an equivalent class in other MMOS? DPS perhaps? The dual-wielding Ranger?
The forth faction was created by a former protégé of the Baron Typhonus. A mysterious ninja girl by name of Vanda Darkflame. She took to the study of the Maelstrom itself, and she and her followers use the darkling forces of the Maelstrom against itself. This dark magic using class is quite clearly, a Necromancer equivalent.
Classes are not chosen right away, but only after you take on a series of quests for the faction recruiters, and the quests are representative of that faction’s play styles. Of course there’s also fashion to consider as each faction’s equipment have distinctive looks.
Gameplay & Stats
The gameplay of LEGO Universe is similar to its single-player predecessors, LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Indiana Jones and the like. There’s quite a bit of platform play involved and you smash things, pick up hearts (health), shields (armor) and coins. In LEGO Universe there’s also Imagination that needs to be collected as these power Quick Builds. As befits a kids’ game, controls are simple. WASD to move, mouse clicks for combat, intuitive icons to open up interfaces and a single key, the Shift key to interact with objects. Combat is manual and is simply spam clicking thanks to the auto-target feature, just like the single-player game. Get near enough to an enemy, and click repeatedly.
There are three stat bars. Health, Armor and Imagination, all of which can be expanded by gear, which is bought from NPCs an earned as quest rewards. The character creator allows quite a bit of customization as you put parts of your minifig together, and select things such as girly eyes, lips and a pony-tail to signify that you are female, but you totally can match a boy face with a pony-tail.
In a slight departure from other MMOGs, minifigs do not gain experience and levels. Instead, you are defined by your gear which can be bought from NPCs, drop from Stromlings and are rewards for the quests you do for your faction. Your equipment determine your attack strength, attack speed, special abilities, imagination levels, health and armor. This is where that +2 sword really means something.
Chat is defined by the LEGO Universe dictionary. Like most kids games, it has a White list of words that can be used, rather than a Black list which can be circumvented by creative spelling like “Fooooook!” Kids can also be Best Friends with each other and that opens up free-text in Private Messaging, but to do that requires parents to verify that their kids know each other and they are allowing that by exchange of personal information, which is far more secure that simple token exchange like giving each other a password on the playground.
There can’t be a LEGO game without building. There are Quick Builds which are powered by Imagination. Approach a pile of animated bricks and you know that’s a Quick Build. If you have the Imagination, pressing Shift will make your minifig go into super speed and build the model. Then there’s Modular Building where you collect parts of a model such as a car, a rocket ship or a house and put them together. Finally, there’s Brick Mode which is where you slap together bricks you collect to created a unique structure.
Your first Modular Build is in the tutorial where you build your personal rocket ship, Quick Builds are found throughout the world, and Brick Mode is accessed in your personal property. On your personal property which can be customized to your liking, you’ll also discover Behaviors – which is basic programming. Link A to B to C etc. So for example, you get near your model of a dog and it barks. When it barks, the model of your cat next to it runs away and “hits” a tree which explodes.
Bricks are used up and reclaimed by breaking a model down, but Behaviors, once acquired can be used over and over again. In Brick mode, you slap your bricks together and they fit like LEGO bricks should, but in Modular builds, getting the pieces of the castle or house you picked up can be incredibly tweaky as there isn’t a “snap to grid” function and to move your pieces, your mini-fig picks it up and you have to walk it to where you think it’s going to go and set it down. I didn’t have the patience to line up the pieces of my castle.
There are diverse interesting Quick Builds in the game, and one of the first you encounter is smashing a Stromling in the Avant Gardens and building a turret with the pieces to protect you for a short while, an amusing one is the guitar on the rock concert stage and there are minigames to be found in the most out of the way places.
Travel is hoofing it and travel between worlds is through launch pads, in your rocket ship. At time of writing, there isn’t a teleport function for kids to travel to their Best Friends so travel can get tedious as the worlds aren’t connected directly to each other and players will also find themselves traversing back and forth across the same areas over again as they travel and go on quests.
Races are a game feature that are unlocked after you get through particularly windy, obstacle laden paths through the game. A journey where you have to smash things, Quick Build, and Double-jump to success. Then you are provided a repeatable quest to race against the clock for achievements and rewards. There are also racetracks where you can build cars with an incredible array of modular pieces and race against others.