The Lego series was no stranger to gaming, but their break-out role was undeniably with Lego Star Wars. Now we have Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Harry Potter, Lego Batman, Lego Rock Band, and a Lego MMO. As the Lego series tackles genre after genre with its unique, comical nature, is it able to do them justice? Is Lego Universe worth its $10 a month subscription fee?
I recently put several MMOs to the test for research for an article of mine. I put the likes of Dragonica, MapleStory, Runes of Magic, Atlantica Online, and SilkRoad all through their paces in the interest of finding the best (free) World of Warcraft alternatives. For those interested, click here.
While I’d previously flirted with MMOs (Fiesta, Free Realms, Windslayer, etc), it has been in the last month that I’ve really gotten a broader perspective on massively multiplayer PC games. Lego Universe needs not only to contend with WoW, but also its free alternatives.
To start things off, the visuals are very appealing. The characters and environments are, of course, simple Lego creations that come to life on your computer screen. There are places where you’ll wish there would been more polish, but this is hardly a deterrent for those looking for some gratifying Lego-styled MMORPG play. The world is huge, filled with platforming elements, and a ton of fun to explore. Walking into one of the included worlds is like making so many classic Lego play-sets come to life.
The story is a little silly, but it isn’t meant to be taking seriously. It isn’t as cheesy as a plot you might have come up with as a kid for your Legos to act out, but it’s just not very compelling. Long ago, some adventuring Legos were seeking out the last essence of pure imagination. I won’t go much further, but I’ll say that they find it and things go badly. It’s your job to protect the Lego citizens and help save them from… the Maelstrom.
The gameplay is a mix of Lego Batman and Lego Star Wars– it doesn’t really take the recently established Lego Harry Potter path. It’s quirky, somewhat simple and fortified by our love of Legos. While the previous co-op adventure games relied heavily on action sequences and comedic parody, Lego Universe goes back to its Lego roots with a strong emphasis on creation. Three status bars can be found on-screen- Health, Shield, and Imagination. You need Imagination to build, Health to survive, and Shield to block. It’s an easy system to understand, driving home the fact that this is a game more for newcomers to the genre than hardened veterans. The controls and gameplay are both nicely crafted and a lot of fun- hurt only by the limitations of the keyboard as a legitimate gaming controller.
Design-wise, Lego Universe falls prey to a few archaic choices. ‘Quests’ are straightforward and don’t often deviate from what you’d expect. The game can be a lot of fun and quite addictive if you like your personally created character, but it can suffer from a lack of variety in mission structure. Fortunately the emphasis on co-op and imaginative thinking can still be found.
The main aspect that the game can be faulted for is its closer relation to Lego Rock Band than any of the other Lego titles. What do I mean? Whereas the Lego adventure games were all humorous and often forms of parody, Lego Universe is a Lego-based MMO, not a parody of MMOs. Just as Lego Rock Band was really just a Lego-styled Rock Band title.
You won’t find yourself laughing all that much at the games lessened comedic nature- though you will smile with fondness for your creations and the NPCs. This is really where the game could have set itself apart- parodying the MMORPG established tropes and clichés. Gamers found the silly, Lego-styled dramatic moments from Star Wars and Indiana Jones to be hilarious.
While a very fun game and filled with potential, it’s hard to recommend Lego Universe to those looking for a replacement for WoW. It looks great, plays great, and is a celebration of decades of Lego history. You’ll find pirates, aliens, secret spies, and much more in the way of familiar Lego play-sets. The character creation is top-notch and a lot of fun to use and will likely lead to multiple character accounts. The only trouble is, Lego Universe’s subscription fee is a hard sale. Free, it would be a might contender to WoW- but with a subscription it’s merits are less pronounced. Fee or not, it’s a great game and deserves a chance.