Preview: LEGO Universe Focuses on Creativity

Editor-in-Chief Darryl Gangloff shares his thoughts on LEGO Universe just in time for the game's early access launch on Oct. 8.

When I first logged into the LEGO Universe closed beta, I immediately felt like the game was built using physical LEGO bricks. That's the best way to describe it. From creating a mini-figure to running through the zones, it honestly seemed like every piece was pulled from a huge box of assorted LEGO pieces. The level of detail in the game is perfect. While I did notice some minor flaws in the new MMO, it certainly succeeds in offering a fun LEGO world that fosters creativity in players of all ages.

Upon entering the closed beta, I completed a quick tutorial level that gave me a small taste of the main aspects of the game. All characters have three main stats: health, armor, and imagination. Health and armor should be pretty self-explanatory, and imagination is similar to mana in fantasy MMOs since it allows you to use abilities and build items. You can replenish these stats at any time by smashing objects around you. See that bench over there? If you break it, all sorts of icons will fly out, from hearts to Imagination Points. You can also collect items in this fashion, such as LEGO bricks that you can use to build your own creations.

Character advancement is based entirely around gear and completing achievements rather than the standard leveling system found in other MMOs. A shield may give you one extra armor point, while a hat may add two Imagination Points to your pool. Full armor sets give a wealth of bonuses and even let you perform special attacks. Collecting all of the hidden flags in a specific zone will grant you an extra heart or add some space to your inventory, and finding the elusive Imagination Bricks will add points to your imagination bar. I was a little wary of this advancement system at first, but it quickly grew on me once I realized it actually makes sense. If you take all the armor off your mini-figure, you're left with just an odd yellow character instead of a samurai or a sorcerer. I went from feeling incredibly weak in the game to taking on tougher enemies once I joined the Sentinel faction and earned the first tier of my Knight armor set.

Ah, the factions. This is a good time to get into the game's story. A group of explorers went on a journey to find the Imagination Nexus, which is the only source of Pure Imagination in the entire universe. Naturally, one of them gets greedy and is pulled into the Nexus, creating the evil Maelstrom. The remaining mini-figures form the Nexus Force to combat the Maelstrom, and you'll get to join one of its factions once you make your way to the Nimbus Station and complete a bunch of quests. You can go with the creative Assembly, the mysterious Paradox, the chivalrous Sentinel, or the daring Venture League. Each faction will let you specialize in a specific role. For example, members of the Sentinel faction can become a Knight or Samurai. Once you pick a faction, you're stuck with it. Choose wisely!

Since it's your job to battle the Maelstrom, you're going to see a lot of combat. The fighting system in LEGO Universe mainly involves mashing buttons or clicking your mouse to perform attacks. There is no auto-attack feature, so you're not going to be able to start a fight and walk away from your computer. The enemies can also be surprisingly difficult, especially if you face more than one at a time. As you earn new gear and items, you'll gain access to extra abilities. I did notice some minor glitches where my abilities would activate at the wrong time, but it's important to remember that the game was in the midst of beta testing at the time. Overall, the battles add an enjoyable action aspect to the game.

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