For Christmas I was allowed to pick my own gifts. You’d think this would happen more often as a middle-aged man, but as a man married to a woman who does not share many of my interests, I tend to get clothes. I happen to wear clothes, so this does work out, but it’s not what I want of course. Need and want are two different things.
One of my 3 gifts was Lego Universe. I found it for 50% off on a Black Friday sale, and for that price it seemed worth it. I find it funny to note it appears that that’s the standard price around the web for the game now. Looks like no one else here (I think Ethic changed his mind on it) has given a review on it, so I figured I would do one for the community at large. I feel that it is important to point out this is a tween-targetted (8-12 years) game, so it’s a bit different from the games I play normally these days. However, I do have a lot of Toontown experience, and several months of Free Realms to compare it to. Both of these games target the same market. I’m guessing Wizard 101 and Club Penguin would also be comparable, but I’ve never given those a run. Enough with the terms and conditions; let’s get to the review.
And for those who don’t want to read the whole thing: For $20, it’s worth it for the Lego fun. If you’ve played another Lego game, on any platform, you will likely enjoy this. I’ve played a week, and feel that it has been a fun play.
Graphics: As a very visual person, I’m going to start off with the graphics. They are fun, bright, and easy on the eyes. You are very obviously in a Lego world. You can see how most things are built, and, like in most Lego games, you can break most of them into those component bits. The graphics associated with the skills you can use are also fun, silly, and well-crafted. My only annoyance, and this likely because of playing so much LoTRO, is that despite literally hundreds of shirts and pants that drop from monsters constantly, you cannot have a different visual appearance than what your equipment is. So dressing different only happens in non-combat areas. For some very interesting graphics, you can go to a place called Starbase 3001 and visit 3 worlds made by non-Lego-employed players and be amazed.
Interface: This is a complex topic. First of all, the skills are using some slightly non-standard keys (ALT to attack, and SHIFT to interact with the world at large, by default) and the normal hot keys to attack. Not a big learning curve, which seems perfect for the target range. Having your interaction, fight and social, big some of the biggest keys on the keyboard is a Good Idea(tm), so I like it. The GUI itself is fairly minimalistic but effective. The chat system is very unique. Like Toontown, you cannot send a tell to someone you have not friended, however friending is a matter of a few clicks. That said, the chat system has a built-in spell and grammar checker that I loved. This is because it always drives me crazy when people type “any1 here kan help me?” and so forth in games. You cannot do this in Lego Universe. You cannot type number words (“two”), and it will check your type after you enter it, but before you say it, to be sure it is appropriate. Love it. Great way to shield kids without making everything pure quickchat. Also, it’s like a small spelling lesson.
Playability: I don’t want to start off negative, but I have to say I hate the in-game camera with nearly every fiber of my being. It caused more of my destructions (you cannot die, you are broken into pieces and then rebuilt) and confusion. The camera often is over the shoulder, in a standard third person view. However, once in a while, it decides to be off to the side, or swing around randomly mid-fight, or other such stuff. Drove me crazy. Beyond that, the game right now only has six zones. Each zone has a number of quests, a housing zone, and many deeds to grind. The deeds range from fairly easy to annoyingly long, but except for a few that are obviously extreme challenges (hitting 30+ targets without missing in shooting game was allegedly only done a few times in Beta), they are all within reason and you can do them over time. The game does seem to go pretty quick though, as of this point I have completed almost all of the challenges and can solo the end-game dragons without much issue.
There’s also a faction/class system that is explained poorly in the game. You pick a faction and that opens 2 (soon to be 3) paths you can follow. If you play long enough, or end up grinding the achievements, you will likely open all of your paths in your faction system. So far, all this does is get you a bit more imagination (power/mana) but as there’s no other use for the tokens, most do this. I went assembler for my first char, which was listed to be the buff/support type. I had no issue soloing anything in the game however, despite this.
One last major element in the game is a racing subgame. I found it to be very similar to Toontown’s racing game, although with some Lego twists like very customizable cars. The tracks were fairly simple, but again perfect for the age level this is targetted to.
Big winners: The game is fun to play. It’s easy to play, but not super simple. Some creatures, mostly late game, require a bit of strategy rather than simply run at and kill. Even that isn’t too hard.
The chat system, while a bit clunky, is a great compromise for those parents who want to protect their kids without having to completely censor them.
The pet system is unique, fun, and again challenging without being too hard. I have to say I enjoyed the heck out of it despite being about 30 years over the target demographic.
The housing space is a fun solution to “I have too much stuff and not enough space”. Also, the building interface itself, once you get used to it, is crazy flexible. It made me once again get mad at LoTRO’s housing system.
What’s missing: It’s a new game, and so it’s hard to really say it’s not good, but there are some things that I found to be missing that hampered my enjoyment.
First of all, a bank or some sort of storage, perhaps on my numerous housing properties. This is a very popular topic on the official boards, and the devs have said something is coming.
Lego monsters also drop massive amounts of items that are fun or look visually fun, but ultimately will be rarely used because of the lack of a wardrobe or non-combat clothes look. I have 12 shirts and hats I carry around because they look great but I do not use them when I fight. My nieces (6 & 8) who watched me play a few times asked about this a lot.
There are also some annoyances in the inventory system. Several items you use once, or upgrade quickly, are bound and unable to be destroyed or sold. Despite being no longer needed, they permanently waste a valuable inventory space.
Summary: Worth the $20 initial investment. The $10 monthly cost I’m not sure I can justify. For me, this will basically be a 1 month game. As I’ve completed almost everything within a single week, my only reason to play more would be to grind up characters to max on the other factions, but I don’t feel inclined to do so. Thinking back to Toontown, there was no initial investment and only the monthly subscription. Freerealms is free to play, except for all the microtransactions of course. In my opinion, Lego Universe will really need to come out with a lot more content to keep subscribers content for more than a few months at most, which is a shame since it is really a fun/visually exciting game to play.