Friday, July 23, 2010

Lego Universe in Beta

We've been participating in the beta for the upcoming Lego Universe game, and it's already looking spectacular. NetDevil is creating a massively multiplayer online game based on several of Legos product lines, such as city, pirate, space, and jungle, with more to come. So far, several worlds have been built around a core spaceport: Avant Gardens, Gnarled Forest, Pet Cove and Forbidden Valley. We probably won't be seeing licensed lines like Star Wars, Batman, or Harry Potter (those gaming rights are owned by others), but all of Lego's original lines should be grist for the mill.

Gamers begin in a spaceport, which acts as both hub and training ground. They learn the controls, assembled a rocket, and then blast off to explore worlds and have adventures. Because the game is not finished (and still not quite stable), we remain under press embargo. That means I can't talk too much about our experience with the software, or run my own screen shots.

However, I can say that it's already shaping up to be the most exciting PC release of the year.

Building will be a big part of the gameplay, with various options for adding things to the world. Universe will include the one-button “quick build” interface found in Lego video games, but it’s also promising more complex options. There will be not only building “choice,” in which you can modify and customize quick build models, but also a completely free-ranging custom build option where anything goes. Previous Lego design software has been fairly sophisticated, allowing users to build items brick by brick. If NetDevil finds a way to integrate these tools into a massively multiplayer online world, then they will succeed in making the most customizable online game ever.

Gameplay appears to be pretty far ranging, with multiple choices and paths to follow. Characters develop over time, advancing in levels as they achieve goals and earn treasure. The early previews depict a Lego version of classic co-op MMORPG gameplay. Characters group their minifigs into teams in order to complete adventures, with all the fighting taking place against a common foe. Gamers can fill various roles depending upon their preferences, whether that means being a fighter, builder, treasure hunter, or something else.

Lego also wants to become a social destination, however, which means that conversation, minigames, and non-combat competitions are also being planned. It become an effective “lobby” destination like Club Penguin, allowing younger gamers to pop in for some light gameplay without engaging in serious adventuring.  

My Lego-addicted son is absolutely quivering with anticipation based on his early time in the game world. I never, EVER participate in Betas, so you can tell how excited we are by this release. (Although I used to cover beta software in my early years with PC Gamer, I no longer have the desire or patience to mess about with unfinished code.)

When this thing is released in October, kids all over the world are going to be saying "Club What?" and leaving their virtual WebKinz pets to starve.

Actually, the prospect of a kiddie World of Warcraft may not be such a great thing after all. We have enough adult MMO gaming addicts already.


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