We all knew NetDevil was making a LEGO MMORPG, but it wasn't until we traveled down to San Francisco to take in a demonstration that we finally got to see what LEGO Universe is actually about.
What NetDevil has created is a game the combines elements of traditional MMOs, the Traveler's Tales LEGO console games (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc.), and old-fashioned real-world LEGO block building.
The game begins just like most other MMOs: Players create a surprisingly detailed little LEGO man, complete with the round yellow head, and enter into the MMO world. Their perspective is the same third person, over the shoulder MMO experience that players should be used to by now.
One of the first things players will notice is that the graphics are much more detailed and high-end than one might assume they would be.
The opening tutorial does what is asked of it; it teaches players the basics of the game in the most entertaining way possible, taking players aboard a space ship that has been damaged by a black hole. The goal is to gather pieces and assemble a rocket ship to escape.
As players learn how to play the game, the little differences between LEGO Universe and regular MMOs begin to become apparent. For example, there are boxes everywhere that players can just smash for loot in the form of little blocks and tokens. Player who are looking for something a little bit different in terms of game design will find jumping puzzles and other platform-style elements mixes in with some of the more traditional MMO fare.
Quests will play a role in the game and at the start at least, remain very simple: Fetch three of these, gather four of those. There are no walls of text, just quick blurbs from the quest giver. This is partly because the game is obviously open to a younger audience, and partly because the goal of the quest and its quick completion really isn't the fun part. The fun is smashing things along the way or figuring out how to get up to some high platform to get that last piece.
Eventually, in the tutorial, the player gets the three pieces of the rocket and is taught how to apply a "thinking cap," which in a specific area of the level lets them then try and put the ship together by entering build mode.
Once the player enters build mode, the rest of the world around them is somewhat visually obscured while they focus on what they're doing. There is an outline of what they were assigned to build, and they can grab various pieces from their inventory and drop them into the build area. Once they find the right pieces, it's just a matter of snapping them into the right spots to complete the assigned model for the character's inventory.
The completed space rocket can then be used to exit the tutorial and take the player's mini-fig off to their first LEGO world.
"[LEGO Universe is] the first time we're going to bring lots of LEGO worlds together," said Creative Director Ryan Seabury.
The Many Worlds of LU
There are many, many worlds inside LEGO Universe, much like the product itself, each one designed around a different theme.
That doesn't necessarily mean each "world" will correspond specifically to a real life LEGO box set, but they will each have their own style. For example, the first zone that players jump into is full of robots on a rather green planet while a later area pits Pirates against Ninjas in a jungle backdrop.
The developers specifically said that they do not just want to make LEGO Universe a walking advertisement for whatever theme LEGO is shipping in a given month. At the same time though, they want to make sure to hit the chords people expect and bring in many of the classic LEGO themes.
The core story is a simple one for players to progress through individually or with friends. "You are trying to save imagination from the forces of chaos and destruction," said Seabury, summing it up nicely.