I was there in the beginning — to watch the first bricks laid at the great foundation of the Lego Universe experiment. I never thought I would be there to see it all come crashing down. But I saw it — the horror, the end of something so great. Then I realized, “Eh, not really.”
You see, Lego Universe was bound to fail. It was pretty much doomed to fail. And I could see it all — from its inception, to each month that it evolved, down into the horrid mess we were left with. This review will, hopefully, stand as both testimony — and a warning — to the fine developers, so that, in the future, they can correct what went wrong, and if they ever redo the game, they can fix those errors.
So, what exactly went wrong? Well, there were quite a number of problems, to be fair, but I’ll save time and just break it down, piece by piece, and hopefully you’ll understand. No, I won’t waste your time with “bug errors,” “loading problems” and that sort of hash. Instead, I’ll go to what made Lego Universe a unique MMO failure.
1. Remember your target audience!
We all know there are two distinct people who like Legos: the little kids who tell their parents to buy them the really cool sets and the adults who buy the really cool sets for themselves.
This is an extremely important distinction, but one worth noting. As an adult, I’ve watched other adults spend hours in the stores sorting through anonymous Minifigure Kits, trying to discover by touch alone if inside the bag was the figure they wanted. I’ve seen Lego sets on eBay in which rare bricks can range anywhere from $3.00 to $50.00 for a Minifigure or brick — no, not a set, but an actual single “brick” or Minifigure.
So, if you’re making a game that demands a “Pay-to-Play” format, you can assume that either adults who are eager to play the game will yank out a credit card and put in the information for a monthly subscription, or you can assume that a 7-year-old kid will be able to convince his parents (who may or may not be a Ludite with their computer-phobia) to use their credit cards online for a videogame they already got their kid last month!
That means you can’t make a game that is so easy that an adult can beat all the new material in two days simply to placate the little kid who is trying to figure things out.
Why? Because the little kid isn’t paying for it, and chances are, neither are his parents. People like me paid for it — and the game was made for 7-year-olds. It was too easy, too boring, and if a person with a credit card is paying for this feature, the developers should be making the game fun for me. The little kid can catch up in time, but I’m the one they need to satisfy, because I’m the one with the money.
2. Where did all the Legos go?
OK, I can’t stress this enough: For all the hoo-ha about how much fun you can have with “Imagination,” I was staggered at how limited my options were.
Where to begin? Well, first, the game only lets you use a certain type of brick. They don’t allow any bricks that are part of propriety rights, because if LucasArts cut ties with Lego Universe, then that would ruin the game years from now, if they allowed us to use Star Wars Legos, which would then have to be removed from the game, and so on.
Still, Lego has had huge diversity in the past, but hardly any of it was used in the game. With all the crazy innovations Lego has had over the years, I expected so much more. Where was the world for CASTLE Lego, or the world for FANTASY Lego, or the world for the hardly remember COWBOY Legos, etc.? We had a lot of stuff with samurai and pirates, and a few unusual CITY and abstract SPACE settings, but nothing too spectacular.
I wanted to see so many options on classic settings, but again, I was limited to very basic options that were very frustrating. I wanted to see more and ended up seeing little.
3. What’s the difference in the bricks?
As the game advances, you are able to get special cool ad-ons or features for your character. But, I quickly realized most of these features were more than useless. For example, I was very excited at the opportunity to gain a Lego “pet.” I saw different types, from dragons to lions, and was eager to see what they could do to help me.
They did nothing — nothing!
You quickly assemble your pet, and it runs along after you. If you see a treasure chest on the ground, the pet can dig it up. Who cares? The treasure is nothing but a loose brick you can buy at a shop.
You can’t ride the pet, the pet doesn’t fight enemies and, regarding pets in general, there is absolutely nothing different from a Red Dragon, a Skunk, a Robotic Dog, a Cat or a Triceratops! They are all the same, except for the basic look and feel. Why bother?
They give you dozens of different “Rocket Ships” to get between worlds. Who cares? They look different but have no special power or unique ability. You can get a car — one you build and design on your own — to race on a race track for certain games. Who cares? In the end, the cars all do the same thing, the same speed, the same chance to crash, and they are all pretty much the same.
How about a Red Dragon who can burn your enemies? Or a Robotic Dog who can “shock” your enemies? Maybe you could get special tires for your car that help it handle turns, or special engines that make you go faster or special armor that make you less likely to crash?
4. Too low of a bar
As your character advances in the game, he unlocks the ability to have more and more powers — each of them giving him more Shields, Hearts or Imagination. Your weapons having three basic power levels, one rating for each “hit” you can do against an enemy in a row.
Your weapon damage all tops-off at “3”. Not until the game was almost finished did the developers raise the bar to “4” for any of your weapon damage. I called the company and asked about it and was informed if the weapons did more damage then “3,” it would be too easy to destroy enemies.
So, um, why don’t you make harder enemies?
Oh, because then it would be too hard for the 7-year-olds who are paying for the subscription. Except that no 7-year-old was paying for the subscription. They can’t pay for it; they’re too young to have a credit card. But I wasn’t too young. I was old enough to pay for it and DID pay for it, and I was bored with the results.
The developers figured that if they made it harder, they’d scare off the kids who can’t pay anyway — they forgot that if they made it too easy, they’d end up boring people with credit cards and too much time on their hands.
Nice going, team!
5. What exactly is the story?
Kind of a dumb question, but for some reason Lego Universe tried to give you a story. Enemy Legos infused with corrupted Imagination, important characters you needed to meet and interact with to save the day or go on quests, and a whole host of other things. But you know what? Who cares?
And why? Because if you go that route, you need to go the nine. Either give me a cool story, or don’t waste my time. Don’t drop me into an exciting quest when I have to literally escape an exploding ship to freedom then, slow the story down to “quests” such as seeing how many Lego pipes I could build. Where’s the story? Where’s the plot? And what’s the point?
Either give me bad guys to destroy and free build with no story or give me a story and make it fun.
6. Too “kid friendly!
This is probably the biggest pet peeve of the game for all players. The game was so watered down I wanted to scream half the time.
You couldn’t write a number, or spell a number, or USE a number in “chat mode,” because they don’t want stalkers to get little kids’ phone numbers. Fine, so if you wanted to meet a friend at “4 o’clock,” you were out of luck, unless you knew a code to figure out how to tell time (i.e., one, to, tree, for, I’ve, sicks, heaven, ate, fine, hen — now you can count in Lego Universe code!).
You couldn’t do Player vs. Player — not even for fun in a challenge room. What a waste! They let you get teams eventually, but imagine a setting where you can play a crazy level only using your Lego characters and friends against another group. Only in THIS situation, you build your own level!
You were SO CENSORED! You couldn’t “kill” the Lego dragon; you had to “smash it,” because killing is wrong. You couldn’t tell someone to check their in-game “mail box,” because you can’t use the word “Mail.” You couldn’t ask a person what time zone they were in to figure out when a good time to quest would be, because you can’t ask such questions.
Sure, you can get past the censors if you are able to be a “best friends” with someone (only you have to fill out a permission form online to prove this), but even then you can make a mistake with a “Best Friend” and say the wrong thing and get in trouble.
I made Lego Gladiator Arena, and there were little red bricks on the ground that held the Lego skeleton to the sand. So yes, my property was censored until I removed the red bricks, which (apparently) looked too much like blood. And that is a big no-no in such a “kid-friendly game.”
And, as we already covered, the game that requires you to pay-to-play with a credit card is built for 7-year-olds, and NOT people with credit cards!
7. Why in brick’s sake was free build so STUPID?
OK, that’s not really a statement, but a question, but I mean, come on!
Anyone who likes Legos at one point liked to build things with them. I was so eager to build an awesome Lego city, I didn’t even want to quest. In fact, I routinely ignored my friends online who asked me to quest with them to build. However, it was such a stupid matrix for building, I can hardly decide why I bothered.
First, you have an open space to build on, but the area is not marked out with a grid. If you are trying to build something and count out the spaces for the perfect model, good luck! You’ll need to go out and buy graph paper, sketch the thing out, then measure it out by eye, because you aren’t going to be able to do it otherwise. Trust me; that’s exactly how I did it!
Next, you can only “build things” on a property. But when you’re on the property, you can only build “models.” A model, it seems, has a VERY finite amount of bricks you can use in it. So, if you want to build a very detailed city, you’ll need to build it each city “block,” one block at a time, then move the model around on the property until it is exactly adjacent to each other, so it looks like a single unit.
I ended up using one “property” as a place to build extremely detailed models, store them in my bag, carry them to my cool property, and dump them next to each other one at a time. Because the game would crash in the middle of me building something, and I would lose 10 or 12 hours of building, which really didn’t please me.
Next, a draconian fiend must have designed the style of how you store your bricks. The “bag” that contains your bricks has brick icons that are in black and white, and so small I had to (no joke) see an eye doctor for straining my eyes to decipher the bricks on the screen. You couldn’t enlarge the bricks, or change the color, or anything. It was small and black and white, that’s it.
And there was no order to the brick arrangement. Whenever you bought something, it would just fall into your bag, and you’d have to scroll through hundreds of bricks trying to find a specific piece, simply because they didn’t bother to make an easier system for sorting it.
Next, bought something? Yeah, you heard me: You had to “buy” the bricks you wanted by crushing your enemies, getting coin, then going to shops to buy bricks to build things. This was time-consuming and annoying, especially as only certain shops had certain bricks, and no shops had certain bricks I wanted at all.
For example, you want a Lego horseman on your property? Good luck: They don’t sell the Lego horse brick. You can find them on VERY random drops in the game, and I was forced to trade more than 1,000,000 coins over the course of the game just to get seven of those stupid horse bricks! And why? Because the game would not let me just go and buy them so I could quietly build my happy little Lego city!
Next — never mind the fact that I felt like creativity was almost discouraged at this point — when you built something with a lot of neat detail, what’s the point? You could barely enjoy it. The game didn’t give you the chance for “point-of-view” from your character’s perspective. Oh sure, I know they couldn’t do this easily for when you were running around the universe, but why couldn’t I have a point-of-view camera angle for my character when I was checking out my own models? I wanted to walk inside a room and check out what I did. Too bad I couldn’t.
When I was finally done with (literally) more than 500 hours of model building and discovered the game was going to be canceled, I frantically scrambled to take screenshots of all my models and hard work before the game was deleted. The entire time I kept calling the company begging them for a way that I could save my models to my desktop or computer so they wouldn’t be lost!
In short, the building on the property was clunky without a grid to build on, the method of finding the bricks you already had was extremely poorly designed, the models you could build were so limited in terms of size that you were forced to take shortcuts to make something look very impressive, you couldn’t get all the bricks you wanted because they wouldn’t make them available, even in the shops in the game, and finally, it was very difficult to see what you built when you were done.
And when it was gone. It was completely gone!
Look, to do this game right needs money. I get it. I don’t mind paying for it, but think! If you’re going to get someone to use their credit card to make purchases for Legos, it won’t be the parents of a 7-year-old kid. It will be adults who like Legos and have money — like me. That being said, keep it in mind when you make the game; adults spend big money for Legos because they like to.
Make harder levels for adult players. If it’s too hard for the kids, then they will just have to step up or give up until they can grow up!
Make bricks and things you get in the game more diverse. I don’t want to see the same item with a different “color.” I want unique weapons, unique armor and unique special items. I want “Faction Gear” to be the coolest stuff in the game, not the lame second-string item I have to use until I get lucky and find a “Cool Drop” from some random enemy I destroy.
Make “Pets,” “Rocket Ships” and “Race Cars” have something worthwhile in their differences. Don’t just give me the same item with a different shape; give me a pet that can attack a bad guy, or scare a bad guy, or that I can ride, or whatever! And as for race cars? Give “sticky wheels,” or “tough armor” or “faster engines” or something to make it special.
Give the story a little more “meat.” Make me want to go on quests, because the quests are kind of cool, and I want to see what happens next — or don’t even waste me time.
Give me the chance to run amuck and have fun with the game without worrying that some 5-year-old is going to be upset. Give me a special setting so I can automatically be filtered to play with people “18+” and if a person doesn’t have that setting, I won’t be able to interact with them.
So please, please, please remember: I have the money, I have the means and I have the desire to pay for the game when it comes out again. Remember me — not the 5-year-old who has none of those things — when you do a reboot!