Beginning an MMO can be difficult, especially for children. There’s no easy way to approach a big, complicated world that’s likely filled to the brim with content — most of which demands some sort of progression to experience. On the other hand, Lego is a franchise that’s proven safe for both adults and those smaller human-folk, long establishing its agelessness through streams of kid-friendly video games, collectible toys and an often nostalgic assortment of building blocks for parents to share with their young ones. But Lego Minifigures Online is different. It’s best described as a combination of Diablo III and the classic TT Games Lego series, featuring a fast-paced, strategic combat system, a wide assortment of characters — each coupled with unique abilities — and a massive world to explore.
While the Lego franchise has been a staple in gaming for quite some time, and has likely introduced many-a-kiddies to the wonders of digital fun, there’s one slice of video game pie that hasn’t been shared with the tot-lot until now: the massive multiplayer online game, also known as the MMO. Funcom, the masterminds behind titles such as The Secret World and Age of Conan have finally launched the Lego universe into the plains of online entertainment. The combination of the two is, without a hint of hyperbole, unexpectedly brilliant.
The greatest challenge in having a game that’s fit for both experienced players and children alike is, without a doubt, ensuring that it’s both accessible enough for youngins to understand, while retaining a certain complexity that can capture — and hold onto — the attention of gamers not currently in possession of a Justin Bieber thermos. It would have been too easy for Lego Minifigures Online to become a mindless click-fest, peppered with just enough minor incentives to encourage return visits (à la Club Penguin). Instead, Funcom opted for a system that encourages various playstyles, with an emphasis on teamwork through group-based dungeon crawling and questing.
In Lego Minifigures Online, younger players aren’t forced to rush through content in order to “succeed.” Likewise, adept players aren’t restricted to tip-toeing through the world, either. There’s plenty on offer to keep both camps invested, including the enticing collectible aspect of the Minifigures themselves. Experienced players can dive into raids with up to 4 players, making the Lego universe their female-dog and taking no names in the process, while newer enthusiasts can simply find a realm they enjoy best, relax with some comfortably paced objectives and explore the world in baby-steps.
It features incredible crossplay capabilities.
There’s nothing quite like beginning a session on your laptop, questing until your eyes are too heavy to care that your group has logged off, and continuing your journey on the iPad, nestled safety beside your increasingly aggravated fiance; or teddy bear; or bottle of Johnnie Walker; or whatever best suits your personal situation. That’s something you can do, too. There’re no restrictions, so long as your connection is speedy enough. Having tested the game on both devices, I can safety say that, as far as game show testing goes, it runs smoothly and without a hint of lag.
It features an abundance of non-licensed construction sets from the Lego universe.
It’d be easier to tell you what isn’t included in Lego Minifigures Online. For example, you won’t be riding shotgun with Jedi’s, or jumping over any snake pits with ol’ Indie, but nearly every non-licensed construction set from the Lego universe is on offer, including those piratical pirates, the medieval setting chock-full of knights, armor, horses and dragons, the vast and infinitely expansive space set, and much, much more. I was told the areas in the world are segmented, separated by an overworld of sorts. In my demo, I was only able to explore a single dungeon in the pirate world, but there’s certainly potential in digging through the near-endless toy box of Lego. Funcom has spared no expense in bring the world to life, either. Aesthetically, every set is brimming with colorful imagination and feels like an extension of the Lego universe.
It features 100 Minifigures, which are a nifty collectible in and out of the game.
One of the main goals in Lego Minifigures Online is to — you guessed it — collect Minifigures. These tiny adventurers can be purchased in physical or digital form, as well as discovered in the game world at random. It’s not often that a toy comes around and instantly appeals to both children and adults, however. Outside of McDonald’s Happy Meal offerings, I haven’t been so compelled to own all of anything since the late 90′s. Lego Minifigures are, for lack of a better word, addictive. You can’t just own one, because it’s unlikely to be your absolutely-must-have-favorite. Instead, you’ll gather a pile of dozens before you reach your goal, falling in love with the entire collection in the process. It’s expensive, but it’s also tangible. Mix that up with a digital incentive, and you have yourself a version of Skylanders for adults to dig into.
I had a good hour to tinker with Lego Minifigures Online, most of which was spent in a pirate-themed dungeon with 3 additional players whom I was introduced to at the start of the session. I beat down various enemies, cleverly switched between characters as they were unlocked, managed health while experimenting with different powers in the process, searched every inch of the gorgeous map for treasures, and accidentally sabotaged my groups progress by pulling a large mob of enemies during a particularly hectic encounter. It was, by all accounts, fun.
While exploration alone didn’t yield any exceptional discoveries, and the combat system is quite simple on the surface, it’s the teaming up with strangers and the facing off against increasingly trickier groups of baddies that drew me in. There was even an instance where my careless frolicking attracted an unwanted brigade of skeletons — to many to handle for my novice team of heroes — and essentially demanded my group rush to my rescue. They did, and watching them duke it out with my abusers was incredible — especially considering the lack of chat implementation, and thus my inability to call for their assistance.
With that said, no battle was ever rage-quit worthy, nor did any encounter require any specific strategy to defeat. Mixing and matching powers at random seemed to do the trick in most situations, and those that demanded something more were infrequent, and usually required some sort of snaring ability to comfortably conquer. Death, too, wasn’t an issue, as it has very little penalty. It’s inconvenient, and it pulls you away from the action long enough to encourage improving your strategy, but those new to video games won’t be soured by facing the axe.
It’s the end of the dungeon that was perhaps most surprising. As we entered the ‘instance within an instance,’ we were greeted by a large, kraken like creature. Not long after the meet-and-greet, we were dodging tentacles, constructing miniature traps in which to capture said tentacles, and slashing away at the squid-like-being. It’s a battle that proved to be slightly more challenging than the happy-go-lucky theme would suggest, but that was a welcome layer of depth in an otherwise almost-too-friendly experience.
After the boss was defeated, and the treasure room was thoroughly collected (by me), we were introduced to another slice of the game’s mechanics: objectives. Despite the world being pieced together by everyone’s favorite building blocks, Lego Minifigures Online doesn’t emphasize construction. For that matter, you’ll be doing less building than in the TT Games titles, though much of the core “click until it’s built without being interrupted” makes it’s way into the games many tasks. The focus, instead, is on combat and exploration; two aspects that it nails in both design and playability.
In addition to the world brimming with content, there’s plenty variation to the characters, too. As I mentioned earlier, character aesthetics aren’t limited to looks alone, but rather indicative of unique powers they posses. My team, for example, consisted of a Knight, a Bumble Bee Girl and a DJ. While my choices were based a tad on external features, there was some careful consideration as well. Bumble Bee Girl, for instance, is a long-range attacker, while the DJ stuns enemies long enough for the Knight to sweep them. The game’s simplicity makes controlling and managing characters a breeze, and there are no consequences in switching between them on the fly. Actually, it’s encouraged during particularly congested encounters.
There’s no denying that those who benefit most from Lego Minifigures Onlines’ simple mechanics are the younsters. It’s clear, even from my hour long demo, that children were the target demographic during research and development. That’s not to say that older gamers can’t enjoy the game as well, though. It offers a robust world, rich with Lego’s finest craftables, all bundled in a messy, charming, creative and visually impressive package. It’s a collectible game, an MMO, a parent-child bonding experience and a game that everyone — even those reluctant to sample the tame-end of the video gaming pool — should jump into when the game launches this summer. It may not be able to hold an adult’s attention over extended periods, but it’s definitely a fun way to adventure through an afternoon. Being as it’s free-to-play, and massively enjoyable, there’s nothing to lose — except for a few hours in its blocky world.