LEGO Universe Review
It’s tough to come to an overarching decision about LEGO Universe, because on the one hand, it’s actually kind of addicting in that MMO, keep-doing-quests kind of way. But the game also suffers from a lot of issues, not the least of which are some occasionally game-breaking bugs, that limit its potential as a simplified and diverse alternative to something a little more high-minded such as World of Warcraft.
LEGO Universe (PC [Reviewed])
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Release Date: October 26, 2010
Universe’s greatest strength is the length to which it takes its LEGO theme, and in this way it really nails a style that’s fun to get into. You can smash lots of things in the environment that drop various pick-ups like health and armor to keep you alive in combat, as well as imagination, which is an expendable resource you use to do just about everything. Most everything you do involves building things in one form or another, and all of that requires you to spend imagination. Just about everything is constructed from blocks from top to bottom, which makes the whole game feel like a toy somebody built. It’s a great look and really builds a cool world in which the blocks matter and are key to the gameplay.
With all the smashing and gathering you do, you’ll also accumulate a ton of blocks you can use to build items from scratch yourself. These aren’t actually used in the story portion of the game, but in every different zone you visit (LEGO Universe is set up a lot like Mario Galaxy, in that there are several little worlds you reach via rocket), there’s an opportunity to stake a claim on a personal property where you can set up and build your models for display. You can get sets that are pre-built or just make things yourself, and that gives a lot of freedom. There are thousands of blocks to collect and use — it’s sort of insane, and if you love building things with LEGO, you’ll probably be more willing to slog through all the blocks to find what you need.
If you don’t, however, this is a whole section of the game that gets tedious.
As far as the MMO elements, Universe is solid in some ways and can be fun to play, but is generally underwhelming. The game is geared toward children, which is important to keep in mind, but it can appeal to older players just because Universe has solid quest writing and can be a fun place to wander around. Because it’s made with a younger audience in mind, Universe is a lot simpler than other MMOs. There’s no leveling system or really any sort of talent or point expansion — you can buy and earn new weapons and armor to strengthen your character, and before long you’ll differentiate into one of four factions that diversifies the way you play, but that’s as deep as it gets.
This is both kind of nice and a little disappointing. It’s a decent system for children, and older players might find it refreshing that there aren’t a million things to keep track of as you move through Universe. On the flip side, advancing your character so that you feel strong and capable of handling combat as you move through the game is kept to a minimum — you’re dependent on gathering various kinds of currency to buy new armor and items. Faction armor is really expensive and requires a lot of gathering to afford, so you’ll likely find yourself hacking away for long periods.
Despite the fact that a lot of the quests are engaging and Universe does a great job of rewarding you constantly for everything you do, you’ll still find yourself almost constantly wandering around and doing gathering by smashing objects and enemies. You’re continually gathering health and armor, which are basically the same thing, and since imagination is used for everything from building to firing using certain special weapons, you need to keep refilling it by smashing objects in order to accomplish anything. It gets tedious, especially to do things like tame pets, which will usually sap your total imagination store for every taming attempt, which usually result in failure. It’s an irritating additional waste of time that you need to do so much gathering in order to do almost every single action in the game.
Universe also has a really prohibitive item management system, and this is particularly frustrating because the game is constantly swamping you with items that go in your inventory, and you need to clean it out all the time if you want to finish quests. Completing tasks, earning achievements, smashing objects — everything you do gives you something you can equip or use, and you have to carry them all in your not-very-big backpack. For how much loot you receive, you barely need any of it, and you’ll be stopping frequently to sell or throw away random items.
Meanwhile, Universe has a bunch of items that you need to carry around with you just to do basic things. Reaching certain midpoints in each of the zones awards you with a hat, and when you wear that hat, you can fly directly to the midpoint rather than the zone’s start. But each hat takes up a slot in your inventory, when really you could have just unlocked a menu option to choose where you want to go just as easily. It’s another hiccup that adds a requirement of a lot of effort to do something relatively simple like manage what you’re carrying around, and it seems strange to have to think about the economy of space so much in a game that deliberately avoids other similar systems.
Among the other issues are a hinky targeting system that routinely grabs onto nearby enemies that are not the ones you want to attack, and some painfully severe bugs that will often render you unable to continue playing. Both are irritations that don’t need to be in the game. Targeting is linked heavily to which direction you’re facing even though you have access to a mouse (and therefore the potential for a foolproof ability to pick what you want to hit). It’s lucky that combat is rarely a big deal, and that dying has little or no consequence.
And Universe feels unpolished in a lot of other ways. Encountering a quickbuild (a pile of bricks you can use to make an object for a short period of time, like an elevator or a bridge) or a switch that doesn’t work or breaks midway is sadly common. And the animals you can tame into pets are largely confused and broken, in addition to serving next to no purpose. There are also almost 20 of them with very little distinction outside of the aesthetic between them.
It’s really a shame, because if it were fixed up, longer and a little more involved, Universe would be a fair MMO for all ages and a pretty great one for kids. As it stands, though, this game came out of the microwave still frozen. The bugs can be upsetting, as is the pet taming system, and like with the factions and character development, Universe leaves you wishing you had just a little more to go with.
In fact, the whole game leaves you wanting more, because it’s extremely short. And while the quests keep you rolling through the game in a fairly strong way — you’re always inundated with things to do and while they’re simple, they’re mostly still pretty fun — you’ll run out of content and zones to explore very quickly.
Universe asks a $10 a month subscription after the first free month, but you’ll find little reason to invest in this MMO. Were Universe a stand-alone game without the MMO elements, it probably would be worth the price of admission even with the bugs included, because it can be fun. But rarely are you asked or encouraged to interact with other players in this game, and usually they’re more of an annoyance when they sometimes crowd objectives. You can run most or all of the game on your own, and if you’re not into the slow-and-steady LEGO building system, you’ll be out of things to do within a week or two. That means you’re paying $10 a month to build virtual LEGO toys, and show them off.
With a little more work and a lot more to do, LEGO Universe could actually be quite an inviting game. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a strong market for a game like this, because even though it’s geared toward children, it actually succeeds in being a low-key version of more intense MMOs, and that’s refreshing. Universe would be a great alternative to WoW — but first, it needs more development.
- Simplified MMO is easy to play with a shallow learning curve
- Highly rewarding gameplay means you’re constantly getting achievements and new items
- If you like building stuff with LEGO blocks, you can spend hours doing that here
- Addictive in its own right
- Phenomenal musical score
- Lush, interesting environments and great LEGO aesthetic
- Occasionally game-breaking bugs
- Not nearly enough content to warrant the subscription fee
- Little to no reason to play with others
- Item management system feels like it just wastes your time
- Lack of character leveling or skill points weakens you connection to the game
- Unless you really like building, probably too time-consuming and irritating to search for pieces
- Most of the gameplay amounts to breaking things and picking up consumables