Lego Worlds takes on sandbox gaming with a clickity-click-snap of enthusiasm. Has the game matured enough with it’s time in Early Access?
Genre: Adventure, Sandbox
Developer: TT Games , Traveller’s Tales
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: 7 Mar, 2017
Type: Single-player, Local Co-op, Online Multi-player
An argument could be made that Lego is too late to this dance. Minecraft has existed since 2011 and it single-handedly became one of the most commonly recognizable and referenced games for a whole generation of gamers. Yet, Lego always puts its spin on things. Whether they are re-inventing an attraction of old 1980’s movies for kids with Lego Dimensions, or switching up the Lego Star Wars franchise by adding cover based shooter gameplay in Lego Force Awakens, Lego will always rely on it’s charm to make a new game experience appealing. Lego Worlds is no different. It’s initially addicting and a fun time for Lego fans of every age group.
I bought Lego Worlds the day it was released into Early Access on Steam back in June 2015. At first I was very excited to have a sandbox game of Legos. Essentially, that was always what I wanted from a Lego game to begin with – to play in a virtual Lego playground. The “Free Play” sections of games like Lego Marvel Super Heroes never gave me a real chance to play with Legos compared to what Lego Worlds promised. Unfortunately, those early days were disappointing. There was little to really do other than mess about for a few hours in a few world. I was mildly interested afterwards, but wrote it off as something I’d try again after it was out of alpha. My little boy fell in love with the idea of Lego Worlds too, but he also grew frustrated with the content of the Early Access build. We both moved on to other games and nearly two years went by. So, here comes March 2017 and we see the final release on Steam. The excitement was palpable, we set aside an entire weekend for it.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS AND GAME TOOL BREAKDOWN
Firing up the game, we were met with a very friendly title screen of a giant smiling Lego figure and the usual Lego intro video sequence. The cutscene featured an astronaut travelling in a spaceship who is caught in a meteor shower and then stranded on a planet. That was really the extent of a background story, as the narration was mostly for gameplay tutorials throughout the game. As soon as we crash-landed , I noticed it was not the commonly used story-driven set of linear action puzzles. This boded well for us. Here, we were thrown into a sandbox world of free-to-choose missions to acquire gold Lego bricks. These bricks are the only way to power up our spacecraft for further travel. According to the spaceship, we required exactly three from this world. After exploring a bit we noticed bright lights shining from the ground into the sky that matched areas on the mini-map. Upon investigating them we received our first item, the Discovery Tool, which enables us to carbon copy items for use in the game world. It mostly felt like a Ghostbusters proton pack as it was huge, requiring two hands to hold it. However, the fun of it was being able to quickly copy – as well as projectile shoot – anything I could scan and unlock with it. We immediately filled the screen with as many chickens and pigs as possible.
Atmosphere was everything here. We were in a tiny world of Legos! The visual clarity of the game and shading was exactly like any Lego game we had played before . Yet, the world definitely had a very careful “builder” feel to it. There is a pirate ship you can explore and I swear it feels like I was climbing a demo ship made in a Lego Store. Every area of that ship gave off a feeling of playful guile. I felt a like a kid about to climb up to the roof of his treehouse and scream like Tarzan.
Off to the next world, a tumultuous land of cavemen and volcanoes. Here we have a Jurassic world complete with lava flowing over black charred hills and dinosaur bones scattered throughout. This section involved acquiring our second tool, the landscape tool. With this new tool, you have the option of adding or deleting the landscape. Mostly, I just choose to delete giant chunks in order to finish side quests. If something was out of reach, this tool was handy to build hills and tall areas in the shape of peaks, plateaus, domes and the like. It is also quite helpful in flattening an area down to build on.
Next, was a bright pink candyland world where gingerbread houses and giant ice cream cones lay across the landscape as far as I could see. This place is magical, and probably where you will spend quite a bit of time. Throughout this area you will find four tools that will complete your tool collection, giving you all you need to start stacking legos every which way you desire.
First we found the Copy tool. which allows you to select portions of your game world to save for later. This was by far the most interesting tool. Want to keep that rainbow colored lollipop for a garden in the sky, this is your tool. It’s ideal for saving much larger things than the Discovery tool can find. I grabbed a candy house and moved on to explore.
Next, came the Paint tool. This was straight forward, you pretty much use a pressurized hose of paint to add some color to items for quests. Keep in mind that changing the color of something can affect its properties, like glowing lollipop trees or lava covered candy canes.
Shortly afterwards, you find the Build Tool. This tool I used very little a first, mostly because you have to unlock the items it uses by chasing down “Troublemakers”. These little beings essentially look like Lego Gumby with crazy eyes added. You run after it and once a button prompt appears- “B” on my xbox controller – you can automatically tackle it and snatch it’s block. This little creature also holds gold bricks from time to time, which are the sole items that level you up. Building with the Build Tool is where the truly interesting part of Lego Worlds comes into play. With this, you can lay down small blocks of Legos to make whole sections of buildings, doors, or anything else you can imagine. With a layout in mind, this is what you’ll be using to make your own creations.
The Free Build Tool is the last thing we uncovered. It is a combination of all the other tools combined, so you can easily switch between each specific tool within one menu. By this time, my little girl decided to join our game and she enjoyed using the Free Build Tool quite a lot. She would cover gaps, lay roofs on houses, stack up blocks, and much more. For her, it was the easiest way to build and I followed along with her. For some odd reason I was using one tool at a time before then. At this point the tutorial section of Lego Worlds was finally at an end and the actual meat of the game was beginning.
GAMEPLAY -THE QUEST FOR GOLD BRICKS
The main focus of Lego Worlds is to become a master builder by collecting one hundred gold bricks. Achieving this goal will will allow you to free build entire worlds. Now that we have all the tools available, the next step was to generate a new random world to explore and get the bricks we needed. I clicked on the next area in the map, and had three random choices: another candyland world, a pirate playground, and a junkyard. We opted for the junkyard.
Off we went into this car-stacked toss-up of a world. It was a bit hodge-podged, with candyland bits of cakes and gingerbread thrown in with paintball players, monkeys, and thieves free-roaming around piles of stacked cars that went up high into the sky. The first thing you will want to do is complete a few quests and locate all the gold bricks you can. Not all the quests can be completed, and truthfully even the ones I did complete mostly gave me studs with no items. Treasure chests are hidden virtually everywhere, so we both went about looking around towers and buildings to get to them. At some point I found a pneumatic jackhammer. This totally changed the entire gameplay, because this one simple tool can burrow down into the ground with a fairly large imprint.
At this point we were no longer trying to complete the quests that gave us no items, but were more concentrated on digging down to find treasure chests located by the golden light coming from the ground. Essentially, we became Lego gophers that tore apart the world until it looked like swiss cheese. Sometimes we got gold bricks, other times inventory items such as ninja swords or hairdos. Occasionally, we received these Lego Coordinate pieces that seem to resemble a QR code. It looks like four matching pieces are needed to get to that coordinate, but at the moment we have only two of the same type plus several other unmatched pieces with different colors on them. Only time will tell what those do. If we got stuck down in the ground, it is a simple matter of selecting the Skydive function and jump out of the sky back to the surface.
After decimating a few random worlds, we got up to 25 gold bricks. Enough to unlock medium sized worlds. I really feel that until you get to 25 bricks, the gameplay can get very boring. Yes, it is fun digging down and looking for treasure, exploring the deep underworld of caves. However, the repetition of the game elements gets to you. Once we had 25 gold bricks and generated a medium sized world, I fully understood what Lego biomes were. Before, I had seen candylands, junkyards, pirate ships, and a “Fruit Ninjaed” version of all those combined. Now, I found swamps with full sized buildings and characters in a Swamp biome. Travel over the mountain and there are pyramids with A large Sphinx and some Lego mummies roaming about an Egyptian biome. A Wild West biome was a short swim away and this time there were vehicles worth keeping. No more bikes – which actually are slower than walking – but airplanes and jeeps can be unlocked with the Discovery tool. I was down for this, finally Lego Worlds was getting interesting again. We headed into the wild west first, with horses and cowboys following us through the deserts and cactus-laden hills.
Still, we pretty much went about looking for gold bricks. Over and over, we did this. It’s was a gold brick hunting game for several hours. We got past the magical fifty gold brick number and all we got as a bright level nine badge for five seconds on the screen. Everyone in the room was expecting more, and that was where Lego Worlds kept falling short. Expectations did not match up with the in-game achievements. This occurred over and over. While the premise of the game world is fantastic, and the editing/building aspect enjoyable, we would lose interest in the game with time. After constantly looking for gold bricks, the less than appealing side quests, and the underwhelming achievements, we honestly quit with all the questing and just played with legos after sixty-five bricks.
The usual Lego game controls are present here with the added ability to create and edit the environment. Moving the character was no issue really, climbing trees and traversing terrain feels nimble and effortless. Where I got into issues was with the camera angles. With randomly generated content, I often got too close to an object while another character was nearby, tilting the camera angle out of position to the point of literally playing without any vision at all. This happened quite a lot with treasure chests, digging deep into the earth only to find a Cyclops stuck on it where you would have to fight him blindly or give up the treasure. Other times, entire vehicles would be melded into the chest, meaning I had to smooth out the area and drive it off in order to get to a gold brick. Some side quests had the same effect. Two or more NPC’s would be vying for attention and blurring all their word bubbles into each other. These camera issues are annoying. Playable, but annoying nonetheless.
There was also an issue when playing in local co-op. The option to drop out is either well hidden or included with the game. This is really frustrating for young kids when one of them wants to go play something else and the other wants to keep playing. Instead of being able to play in full screen, you are stuck in split screen. For now, we have to save and quit if someone leaves the game. Dropping out has been in every other Lego game, it makes no sense to omit it from Lego Worlds during local co-op.
Building and editing lego structures is a bit of a mixed bag. None of us could really build more than a wall or door to be honest. While I could destroy to my heart’s content, using a controller or keyboard controls felt a bit like operating a claw machine at an arcade. I’d think everything was just fine, lay down my bricks and miss by just enough to make the end result look like I made a wall blindfolded. Painting can be done in giant sections or slight dabs, it depends how you toggle the controls. Overall, we just relied on splattering paint everywhere like painting with a ketchup bottle on a canvas. While it is certainly possible to design vast feats of architecture and visual eye-candy with Lego Worlds, more than likely you will flounder a bit using either a controller or keyboard.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
If you are used to Lego games in the past, expect nothing too different. What you will get with Lego Worlds are a lot more blended color hues in the landscape, extra shadows, and some reflections. What is hard to describe is the way in which these all meld together. The way the sun hits the bricks while climbing a tree, or the first time you come across fireflies is something that stands out in your mind. Game transitions are seamless. You could be spelunking the caves by lantern-light until a cyclops and skeleton chase you into the ocean and immediately start swimming through the murky depths among sharks and stingrays. Each one of those drastic environmental changes comes off very smooth from one section to the next. On PC, I had little to no slowdown at 60 FPS using a mid-level card. With all settings on high and draw distance at medium, the graphics would blend from one biome to the next with zero effort. From the plasticy feel of the blocks to the perfect hint of lighting, Lego World’s graphics deliver in a way that exceeded all my expectations.
Where I saw some slowdowns were in local co-op play. The mini-map would be so small as to be completely useless even on a large 55” display. Occasionally, I’d get frame drops in the volcanic areas. Nothing major, but down from 60 FPS to 45 FPS here and there. There were some major software crashes which I will describe in the next section, though.
Sonically, the music score is adventuresome yet light-hearted. I was never noticeably annoyed by repeated sections. If i turned the sound off I found myself wanting it back on. It generally informed me of when things were going on in game as well, so I’d say it’s a good soundtrack for the Lego genre. Sound effects are so-so, with many guns sounding underpowered and swords lacking is metallic swishing and clanging. I felt it could have some added weight to those sounds, but overall acceptable with no serious deficiencies.
I’ll size up the situation before coming to the bad parts. There are not one, but two kids in my living room. Since Early Access, my daughter had finally grown up enough to play Lego Worlds and she decided to come along for the ride with my son once we had ten bricks between us. Two elementary age kids with controllers in hand, having fun building and exploring with one of their favorite and most familiar franchises. A co-op gameplay with smiles and laughs all around.
Then, the game suddenly died. I hear, “What!!? I spent forever building that!” coming from both of them at the same time. I try to calm them down and say we can do it again. They listen, and we reboot to start over. It is going well and they are playing from where they roughly left off.
The the game died again. This time I hear, “For crying out loud!” and “ You have got to be kidding me!”. Once again, we reboot and try again. As a matter of fact, it happened five times in total. By the fifth time, I had two weeping kids who were frazzled and not able to take it anymore. “I want to play Minecraft, at least it works.” I hear my daughter say through her sniffles. My son throws his hands up and runs to his room to watch a YouTube of Tomodachi Life instead.
I looked at the game, which for all I knew was working fine. My framerate was looking steady, nothing was overheating, I wasn’t sure what was going on. After some best guesses, I discovered that the FPS was the culprit. While the framerate looked okay on my screen, in reality it was jumping all over the place from 90-250 FPS, sometimes 1500 FPS, and during world loads it was 2000-3500 FPS. I needed V-Sync on. Once enabled, Lego Worlds stopped crashing during 18 hours of gameplay. I have still had two crashes since then, so there are likely some stability issues that need to be addressed.
So, I sit back and ask my kids, “Is this better than Minecraft?”. “No!”, both of them reply in unison. My 2nd grader answers, “It’s like a friendly Minecraft.”. It struck a chord with me. It seriously is a friendly Minecraft. I mean even down to the nighttime appearance of zombie cheerleaders and skeletons, they are seriously less scary than creepers. At least they are to my 2nd grader who has had a few bad nightmares about creepers.
The quests are generally the same repetitive quests with only a half chance of getting anything back in return. At least, I haven’t come across any interesting ones yet. Each biome seems filled with lots of fetch quests, a few coloring quests, and some basic building and copy quests. I would literally kill for some Lego platforming puzzles quests right now followed by a funny cutscene. There are supposed to some regular updates for new items to unlock and I found a nifty dungeon last night that looked like a lot of fun to explore.
Just like Minecraft, after a while we were mostly resource hunting. If you have played Minecraft and are burnt out from digging for resources, you will get even more burnt out. However, there are quite a lot of game objects that are plain fun to use. Want to kill someone with a glow-gun, go ahead. Got stuck in a hole? Well, a jet pack will take care of that. It’s the magic of these items that defines Lego Worlds. You could even say that playing with these cool tools and gizmos is the best part of the game, despite the focus on exploration. Even though I have a need to dive deep into the sea and dig for the treasure chests underneath, I’d rather try to make a replica of Castle Greyskull on top of a candy-cane mountain with all the stuff I unlocked. The downside is that the actual application of the tools within Lego Worlds can be frustrating. Try to make a house, and you will feel how inaccurate the placing of single bricks really works. I kept thinking, “If only this wasn’t quite so frustrating.”. My kids thought otherwise, haphazard construction or not, playing house with Legos is still playing house with Legos.
My last thoughts are that despite the game crashes, repetitive quests, constant digging for gold bricks, excessive menus, and fumbly building controls the game is still quite engaging for anyone who enjoys sandbox games. Minecraft is still Minecraft, there is no huge rivalry to be made here with Lego Worlds. There are definitely comparisons to be made, but you won’t find yourself saying , “This is such a Minecraft ripoff.”, if you are wondering that. It’s a Lego sandbox that is perhaps the truest version of that idea that has ever existed. As a gamer and a parent, I’ve got no qualms recommending this game. I don’t feel like you should rush out and buy it right now, perhaps at a modest discount. For the Early Access price of $15 I paid, I totally feel we got our money’s worth. There is still more for us to unlock and I am having a great time both by myself and with my kids playing this game. Now excuse me while I ride a land shark and chase down a Yeti.
(click on the image to see the rating explanation)