What’s it Like?
Expect a lot of combat and expect to die a lot. Well, technically, you don’t die. Since it’s a LEGO game, you smash things into bricks and your minifig can be smashed into its component parts. All you have to do is rebuild and you do in a safe spot in the zone, lose a few coins and continue on your way.
There are a lot of achievements and you get badges for every level your hit, which can be pleasant surprises as you play, or may be a hindrance when the achievement flashes across your screen at the very worst moment and you get smashed.
LEGO Universe is a game of exploration and discovery. It doesn’t exactly tell you what to do or where to go although it does give you hints by swinging the camera in the general direction of where you need to go for a quest and if the NPC is within range, you’ll see a pillar of light as well. This is rather surprising for a kids’ game as most kids require some sort of direction. Quest organization by zone would also be a useful function at each step of the way. It is also a collections game, one of collecting secret flags and pets.
Play Experience and Reviewer Opinion
After my initial first look, I had two boys aged 8 and 12 play the game. Both love the console LEGO games. The 8 year old landed in Avant Gardens, picked up his first quest, looked at the number of Stromlings between him and the Sentinel base where he had to go and abandoned the chair, doing what he used to do in the console game. “Aunty Carol, you play this part for me.”
The 12 year old had trouble with the camera, often fighting it and complained that it made him ill. Don’t worry, kiddo. It makes me ill as well. Their experience and feedback was that they should have been able to plug a controller into the computer and play it that way. Fair enough, that’s what they are used to.
Despite their initial difficulties, once we started visiting player brickyards, the boys were fascinated. This then is the magic of LEGO. Both physical bricks and LEGO universe, and the ooh-ing and aah-ing of physical LEGO builds you see on websites can be done here in some advanced player brickyards.
Advancement through LEGO Universe is linear although it may take you some time to find your way through to the next world and the adventures beyond. As we got through quests, and the various worlds – Nimbus Station, Pet Cove, Gnarled Forest, we obtained quests that were obviously too hard for minifig as geared and kept running out of inventory space for all the bricks collected. I will say now that this took me quite some time to review as the camera makes me ill. I did not get as far through the game as I usually do for a game review. From all accounts though, after the initial hook of about 20 hours of game play, the quests get tedious and grindy, sending you back to areas you’ve hunted in to now hunt 30 of X and 40 of Y.
LEGO Universe is not for everyone. For the LEGO builder and collector, this seems to be a dream come true of not having to find a place in the house to build that dream build. It might be a little cynical to say this but it also replicates the tediousness of sorting through the hundreds of little bricks you have in your inventory.
For a kids’ game, I found quite a few niggling flaws, that being the lack of direction, the lack of hot-tips, the funky camera that “does its own thing,” and the non-existent quest organization. Kids don’t have the time to log in for hours at a time each day. Most get to play Friday through Sunday and trying to remember where your quest NPC is for your turn-in is no fun although you do get a summary when you leave a zone of your uncompleted quests and collections. Some tutorials need to be repeatable especially the building and the behaviors.
Waiting isn’t a whole lot of fun either as the low player population sometimes meant waiting around at the mini-game for enough players to actually play. Not to forget that some of them are located in out of the way places and you can’t teleport to a Best Friend, much less a casual friend.
LEGO Universe is also quite expensive for a kids’ MMOG as the game costs $39.99 – the same as other LEGO games which can be played anytime, but requires a $9.99 monthly subscription to continue playing after the first 30 days. It seems a shame that the business model chosen wasn’t a Hybrid model where the game itself and the first area were free, and other worlds purchased or accessible via a monthly subscription. Net Devil would probably also make a mint selling packages of bricks to the “older” kid and LEGO aficionado.
With a little more tweaking, LEGO Universe could be a brilliant magical game. It has all the hallmarks for greatness with polished graphics, game play and many hooks. It’s just too bad that some minor flaws can spoil the magic, and as the 12-year old said, “I don’t have $10 a month! And not when I’m only allowed to play computer games on the weekends.” There are cheaper alternatives on the market, and that could explain the light population in the game in spite of a popular franchise.