LEGO Minifigures Online taps into the real-world Minifigures madness, a trading card-like phenomenon in which collectors buy unmarked LEGO grab bags that contain random LEGO Minifigures. Though LMO is free-to-play, its clever use of this collectible mechanic will no doubt help Funcom rake in the cash. I mean, who can resist collecting bags until they've added the chicken suit guy or roller derby girl to their collection? Cool as this is, it isn't Funcom's only money-making strategy.
The other involves offering a paid membership (prices range from $7.99 per month to $69.99 per year) that rewards players who buy it with perks such as (among other things) shorter respawn times, access to special “pocket adventures,” and the ability to use the game's chat function. Clearly, membership is the way to go, as my beta experience confirmed.
Due to preview time constraints, Funcom provided me with membership access and 7500 diamonds (the currency used to buy grab bags). This enabled me to get a timely taste of different Minis. Each bag costs 675 diamonds, which sets the cost of each Mini at around $2.50. Eagerly, I purchased all the bags my stash allowed and ended up with a motley array that included Medusa, a Gypsy Fortune Teller, a Skydiver, a Decorator, a Legionnaire, and my favorite – a Grandpa. Each of these had a different balance of three main stats: Power, Defense, and Creativity (the last determines how fast the Mini can build) plus a primary and secondary attack.
Once I had my three-Mini dream team ready to go, (Medusa, Grandpa and Fortune Teller) I jumped into the game. After a reasonably short tutorial, I was tossed into a full-on LEGO adventure on a pirate-themed world. Seemingly anything can be translated into LEGO, and the translation inevitably adds a layer of humor and charm. That happened here too, and I found myself smiling right away, thanks to LMO's amusing dialog and cute LEGO-ized pirates.
What my time with the game taught me was that although the game retains some measure of sandbox play, you're also given a series of repeatable goals. (On the pirate world that meant looting, smashing, and fighting off monkeys.) Both allow you to collect stars (currency used to buy upgrades) to your heart's content. A minimap with a big yellow arrow points the way to your main objective, but rewards abound for veering off the beaten path: things like health, stars, the occasional grab bag, and different kinds of bricks.
These last can be combined in various ways inside a special menu to beef up your Minis. Though framed as a kids' game, LMO's brick system could well attract a good number of adults because although skill tree advancement is pretty straightforward, the possibilities for tweaking your Minis with different brick combos are considerable—and more importantly, meaningful.
I definitely felt the difference in difficulty when taking on bosses and other tough enemies, when playing without brick augments. I also felt the difference depending on the make-up of my team. At first I chose Minis that appealed to me most visually, but soon learned that choosing looks over stats is a bad idea. A well-rounded team is the key to success since it helps you deal with a variety of situations.
Fortunately, though only one Mini can fight at a time, team members can be swapped out whenever you want, and you can also switch the team up with other Minis in your collection at any time. This is great if you remember that unlike other LEGO games, LMO is persistent, which means your entire team could be “smashed” while you're staring at a menu.
Once you become acquainted with your Minis and what they can do both alone and in combination, combat in LMO is really fun. Enemies have lots of different attacks and reactions (although I noticed they seemed disappointingly immune to Medusa's freeze attack) and boss fights are creative and funny with a bit of puzzle element to them.
This is all fantastic, but at this point in the game's development its "pocket adventures" could use some work. These are meant to be added value for paid members, and to me they were a little on the underwhelming side. The experience of them was too similar to the main game and the rewards in them weren't quite special enough. I also have doubts about multiplayer. At any given time during the beta, I never saw more than three other players, and none of them joined up with me or anyone else. What exactly is intended? It's hard to say.
Still, I'm encouraged by what Funcom told us they've yet to do with the game (their PR said that LMO will have “Much more content (more worlds, more minifigures etc.), and there will be entire new gameplay systems such as PvP, a deeper loot system etc.” That's highly reassuring, and considering what's in there now is so much fun, I'd say the game is shaping up to be really great.
Though during my time in beta I only made it to level 10 (and the start of a new medieval world I'm totally excited to explore), LEGO Minifigures Online has me hooked. Its cute visuals, clever dialog, and frenetic combat have totally grabbed me, and my love of LEGO (combined with my OCD need to collect every last Minifigure) has ensured that come launch day I'll be at the PC with my hand on the mouse, ready to click Play.