It’s nearly impossible not to compare LEGO Worlds with Minecraft - Mojang’s cult classic block building game which came out in 2011. Which makes sense, considering how influenced Minecraft was by the plastic brick toy in the first place. Now it appears they have set out to try and capture some of the creative sandbox market. But despite the obvious head start the toy brick company has, Worlds still doesn’t quite hit the mark.
The reason stems, ironically, from LEGO’s own success. They have grown to be a multi-headed beast, with thousands of diverse sets and dozens of million dollar franchises. You would assume that this allows for an infinite amount of variation, just like what the brick-based toys have on offer. But Minecraft on the other hand has a minimalistic approach, where the appeal lies in the simplicity of very limited building blocks and tools. LEGO Worlds’ undoing is in the overwhelming diversity.
It’s not all bad news though, because thanks to this, the game offers a decent story with a great cast of characters - which is something Minecraft has never been able to deliver well. LEGO Worlds revolves around the 'mythology' set up in the LEGO movie, with the end goal of becoming a coveted Master Builder. The game's opening moments involve a spacecraft soaring through the galaxy which crash lands in an open sandbox world, giving the player their first objective of repairing their ship.
Unlike Minecraft’s wilderness, LEGO Worlds is based around biomes - or environments - that are procedurally-generated and include different challenges and available resources for use. Each one is themed around LEGO sets (for example a pirate, city, castle, or a jurassic biome), and delightfully brought to life in a digital space. It really does feel like you’re dropped into a world entirely crafted out of little LEGO bricks.
However LEGO Worlds isn’t purely a sandbox game. In order to unlock different biomes, players must follow mini-quests to collect Golden Bricks, which then start to open up different parts of the world. There is quite a bit of exploration required before players will be able to build even simple structures as well. It’s the awkward balance of trying to give players the freedom and creative play that has made LEGO so successful, but not throwing players into the deep end and expecting them to find their own way.
For anyone who’s played one of the many earlier LEGO titles by TT Games, the gameplay will be instantly familiar – with players needing to explore, smash, and then build objects as friendly mini-puzzles. LEGO Worlds adds in a few new tools though, such as a scanner to allow you to discover new pre-built sets to add to your library, and of course a builder tool which allows you to re-create them whenever you want.
You’ll also get a tool which allows you to reshape the LEGO environment by adding or removing bricks with ease. Say for example if you can’t access a castle up in the clouds, you could simply create a massive mountain to clamber up using your terrain tool; or maybe build a series of staircases with the build tool.
The game is accessible and the basic mechanics are easy to grasp, but the camera angles are surprisingly clumsy. Despite giving players a lot of control over the camera (including a very cool first person vantage point so you can explore your own LEGO creations first hand) the game suffers from an irritatingly tight viewing angle most of the time.
Also the aforementioned massive catalogue of LEGO bricks leads to a clunky build interface. As you explore the multiple worlds and scan LEGO objects, they will be added to your library and able to be constructed at any time. But you’ll need to scroll through dozens of pages and sub-menus it order to find a particular vehicle or structure first.
With enough patience players will be able to create whatever their heart desires, but just like sifting through your LEGO brick collection as a kid, trying to find the exact thing you're looking for can be a frustrating experience. Kudos to the developers that they managed to create a digital LEGO catalogue which works, but after unlocking a vast library, the prospect of building objects gets slowly more and more intimidating.
Vehicles, which obviously help with getting around the different biomes, include nearly every imaginable mode of transport. You’ll be able to create cars, boats, planes, submarines, massive drills and spaceships (SPACESHIP!). You can even just hop on a living beastie like a horse, dragon, or a dinosaur; and if that sounds too mundane, you could simply reshape the “brick-scape” around you to get rid of mountains or lakes that might be in your way.
Ultimately LEGO Worlds suffers from its own lofty ambitions. The open-world sandbox approach means it lacks the polish (or storytelling) of say a LEGO Star Wars title. While it gives players the creative freedom of Minecraft, it doesn’t attempt to simplify the building limitations which made its competitor so successful. Often having restrictions or limited resources can force you to find other practical, creative ways to bring your world to life. Instead LEGO Worlds has every brick and building tool at your disposal, which means it’s an experience that rewards creativity, but also demands patience due to an awkward interface.
Angus received a physical copy of LEGO Worlds from Warner Bros. for review.