upon the success of single-player titles like LEGO Star Wars
and LEGO Batman
NetDevil's LEGO Universe
promises a massive online world filled with imagination and mayhem for
children and adults. The developers have endeavored to create an online
experience that takes the fun and quirkiness of previous LEGO titles
and infuses it with the social interaction and limitless possibilities
of an MMOG.
So, how'd they do? Is such a feat even possible, or will the addition
of an online experience to LEGO
somehow interfere with the overall enjoyment?
game marketed toward children and their parents, and every mechanic is
developed in a way that allows kids to safely enjoy their online time
without fear of inappropriate behavior from other players. It's also
not quite as deep or content-rich as many premium MMOGs simply because
it is aiming for an audience with a different type of attention span
Despite this fact, I'm going to be reviewing the game from my own
perspective as an adult and veteran MMOG player, similar to the bulk of
Ten Ton Hammer’s audience. So, while the LEGO brand definitely spans
generations, it may be best to keep in mind that I am not LEGO Universe
primary target demographic.
It's safe to break this game down into two sub-types of gameplay within
the program as a whole: building (which takes place on your private
property) and adventuring (which is done everywhere else).
very little to say against the Building side of this game, which really
shouldn't come as a surprise given that it bears the LEGO brand.
Sorting through the large number of bricks you'll obtain during your
adventures can be quite a task, but NetDevil recently implemented a few
sorting options to ease this pain (though they take a little getting
used-to). The actual act of snapping together three-dimensional blocks
while utilizing a two-dimensional interface represents a unique set of
challenges, but there's really not much alternative to this method.
Despite these minor inconveniences, the practically infinite amount of
content that LEGO
’s Brick Build system offers is more than enough
to make up for a few lumps. It really does capture the joy and wonder
of creating things with your own two hands, even if the results only
exist in a virtual space.
Sadly, I can't say anything remotely as nice about the adventuring side
of the game. Combat in particular comes up short, with the outcome
determined basically by how fast you can click, and how lucky you get
with the interface. It probably would have been a lot easier, and ended
up making more sense, if NetDevil had implemented some form of standard
MMOG “target and hotkey” system, instead of the action-oriented “hit
what's in front of you” system they've used. The controls for combat
are occasionally unintuitive, and ranged combat is so frustrating that
I ditched my guns within hours of first receiving them. When I want to
shoot a pirate, I don't want to suddenly turn 90-degrees and fire at a
nearby banana tree. That's not how you win battles. Furthermore there's
very little feedback on whether or not the tactics you are using are
effective in any way – no traditional numbers scrolling up over the bad
guys' heads, and no combat log.
Ultimately the main drawback of adventuring in LEGO U
there's simply not enough to do. After just two weeks, I felt as though
I'd explored almost all of the content available to me, and was
probably within just a couple dozen hours of having achieved all I
could before the game degenerated into a grind-fest for gear upgrades.
Fortunately, I could always unwind by heading back to one of my
properties and building a pirate ship or a fancy floating house.
I had the pleasure of speaking with a NetDevil developer at PAX 2010
when I first got a hands-on glimpse at LEGO Universe
of the key points in our conversation revolved around keeping the
barrier for entry to a game like this very low, and that meant dialing
back the graphical requirements of the game to ensure that it would run
on systems that are exactly not state-of-the-art.
While I will give NetDevil full marks for achieving this feat and
keeping the game crisp and clean looking on even low-end machines, the
lack of many modern lighting effects and complicated texture and
modeling techniques does stand out in today's world of photo-realistic
scenery and avatars. They're able to get away with cutting quite a few
corners graphically, since LEGO is by definition blocky-looking. But
beyond the avatars and buildings, even the scenery shares a similar
two-dimensional look much of the time. It is by no means an eyesore,
but at the same time not eye candy either.
I get the feeling that NetDevil simply doesn't feel that a LEGO
experience needs to be graphically rich. In a way I agree with them –
after all, that's half the charm of games that fly the LEGO banner –
but at the same time, I was disappointed with jerky animations,
lackluster environments and rendering issues that would sometimes leave
floating objects suspended over strangely misshapen landscapes.
One of the first things new players are treated to when they load up LEGO Universe
cut scene narrated by none other than renowned actor Sir Patrick
Stewart. Accompanying this epic introduction is a score that is heroic
and inspiring, urging you to pick up your sword/hammer/wrench/flowerpot
and slay the nearest Maelstrom critter. The quality of the soundtrack
continues through every zone you visit and not once did I feel the need
to turn the volume down or off the way I might in other games.
Combat sounds and random snapping noises of LEGO bricks getting smashed
and reassembled are all handled perfectly – subtle where needed, and
overwhelming when necessary. Whether snapping a couple bricks together
in Brick Build mode, or doing battle with an enormous
maelstrom-infected gorilla, the sounds you are treated to are always
appropriate and high quality.
The only detractor is that many elements within the game seem to be
missing their sound effects entirely, or simply fail to activate them
on a regular basis. What is in the world is excellent and never fails
to impress me, but I feel as though a lot more needs to be included.