Lego Worlds seems like a no-brainer. Everyone loves Minecraft, Minecraft is a bit like Lego, make a Lego game a bit like Minecraft and watch the dollars roll in! Except I’ve been playing it for a couple of hours now, and it feels like a directionless sprawl of empty content. I’m going to stick with it and give it time to grow on me, but here are the current concerns I’m having.
Creating your own world is locked behind a HUGE progress wall.
This is the biggest issue. Lego Worlds is, at its core, a procedurally generated construction game. Picking a seed and generating a random world and then setting out to shape it is fundamental to the genre, but for some reason, Lego Worlds places this central feature behind a sort of loose, randomly generated campaign to collect Golden Bricks. You don’t get to just make a game of your choosing from scratch until you get 100 golden bricks. I’ve been playing for a few hours now, and I have 20. Assuming this pace continues, one would need to play Lego Worlds for the length of some games’ entire campaigns just to unlock the ability to make your own worlds.
Prior to this, you have to gradually unlock larger and larger procedurally generated worlds that will usually be conceived around a theme (Junkyard area or Prehistoric, for example.) Each of these worlds will feature quests you need to undertake to get your precious Gold Bricks. Which leads me to my next point…
Gameplay prior to finding 100 Gold Bricks neither requires nor rewards, creative building.
Sure, there’s plenty of game to play before you can create your own worlds, and as you unlock larger maps the variety increases. A play could easily just plant themselves on a map they like and go at it. The problem with this is that free building on one of the maps the game makes for you means getting off the road to progression and delaying unlocking future features. It also goes against what the game itself seems to be pushing you to do; unlock new tools, get new gold bricks, rank up. You can start using your skills immediately, but it means consciously taking yourself out of the gameplay loop established. It’s awkward and the knowledge that you’re prolonging your stay in a limbo between tutorial level and full access to the game’s features is a miserable experience.
Worse still, none of the quests needed to progress really require much building. Occasionally you will be asked and encouraged to build something creative to progress but more often than not most quests for bricks involve leading a bunch of cows to a lonely woodsman or give monkeys fruit until they cough up the bling. You can hunt down chests or more lucrative quests, but progressing faster means hopping from world to world, leaving behind any builds, and reinforcing the idea that each world is essentially transitory and unimportant. You never really feel like you inhabit any of these spaces.
Ultimately you’re left with the worrying question of who would like this setup? People who want to build will feel frustrated and delayed. People who like the early gameplay loop are investing all their early game time into unlocking a game mode that abandons this structure. It feels symptomatic of a game that wanted to be one thing but decided very late in the show that it needed to be something else.
Even if you choose to build, you won’t have a lot of bricks for a while.
You can build brick by brick as soon as you finish the first tutorials. Technically it is possible to let loose and build away, even if you don’t find the game’s progression structure and limited early worlds off-putting. You probably won’t be building too much of interest, however, because the early selection of bricks is incredibly small, and quite an odd arsenal. You are given, for example, a smooth circular tile, but no variety of decent sized rectangular bricks. If you’d like more, you need to find them by hunting down little monsters who appear randomly, or by finding hidden chests. Doing so will allow you to unlock the vast array of Lego bricks available in this game… one at a time.
It’s a baffling choice that seems to conflict with everything the game sells itself on and is totally at odds with the more limited early levels. Restricting space might make sense, restricting bricks might too, restricting both leaves you scratching your head, wondering exactly what fun develop Traveller’s Tales expects anyone to have.
It has Minecraft stuff in it… but in a really half arsed sort of way.
TT shouldn’t need to pretend Minecraft has had an influence here, we’re seeing Mojang’s monster influence all kinds of established franchises lately. (See Dragon Quest Builders, another game that tried to be Minecraft but not enough.) It’s hard to move into the Procedurally Generated Construction genre without addressing the comparison, but Lego Worlds feels like a game that started off a lot more like Minecraft and then got scared at the last minute. I didn’t play it in early access, but the word was it started much more like Minecraft’s creative mode and received complaints that the game was too empty, like it was just a big toy box.
Throughout the game, however, there are design choices I like to call “Like Minecraft, but pointless.” My favourite examples are the Skeletons and Zombies that pop up on certain worlds at night. They’re here, just like Minecraft they spawn in once the sun goes down and attack, and just like Minecraft you can get a variety of equipment to take them down easier. Except there’s no wider goal.
Mobs in Minecraft force you to adapt to the day and night cycle. You’ll need food to heal, shelter to protect yourself from the monsters, a bed to sleep through the night, and armour to keep going. You are in the world, and if you die, you might lose some progress. Monsters might always destroy your home or interrupt a vital build that will make the next day more difficult.
Lego Worlds has no continuous presence. If a world has too many skeletons at night, I can hop to the next one. Or I can just run around in a circle faster than them and do all my quests at that speed. Who cares, I’ll never need to stop and eat or work. Worlds isn’t a survival game, and I’m not suggesting it should be, but it seems to think it should be. As if “be a bit like Minecraft” was such a brilliant guiding philosophy that pinching the night-spawning mobs works even with the rest of the survival mechanics. I guess that brings me to my final point…
It’s a good core game but feels very insecure about itself.
I like the game… a bit. I know I just rambled on about everything frustrating, but it’s hard to put it down and hate the game. It’s well polished, it feels like a big budget title even if it’s lacking on content, but for every positive, there’s a great big negative that seems to have come from a publisher anxiety.
Lego Worlds wants to be the next big Sandbox game, it wants to take the Lego name and make it as associated with creativity in video games as it is in toys, and it had an engine that is almost good enough to do that. Then, step by step, feature by feature, layer by layer, it works to lead you away from this vision. Tries to squeeze over a tight and agonisingly dull structure that seems more like Little Big Planet than Lego. It wants you to hop from little one self-contained bubble to another, sharing little builds and swapping bricks. Not necessarily a bad structure, but a poorly executed one, that comes at the expense of everything Worlds does right.
But Little Big Planet was never very successful, and never really very much fun.