LEGO MMOs: You’re Doing it Wrong

3 years ago by  

Remember LEGO Universe? When that game was announced the Game Rant team was excited at the potential. We were ultimately let down as LEGO Universe failed to offer the sort of creation we desire from LEGO, while at the same time struggled to define itself as an action-adventure MMO. After adding a free-to-play version of the game late last summer, the LEGO Universe servers were shut down in January.

In its wake comes a new LEGO MMO from Funcom, the creators of Age of Conan. This one is based on LEGO Minifigures – the LEGO characters we all customized, know and love, but we don’t know yet if this game will solve the problem inherent in all LEGO games to date.

The point of LEGO is to encourage and allow for creativity in two ways:

  1. Let players place blocks to craft whatever they desire.
  2. Use their creations in any way they desire.

The second point has limitations of course – you can’t build a cube and expect to fly with it, but you get what we mean.  To date, there hasn’t been a LEGO game that lets players do these things. And to see why, take a look at Minecraft – a better LEGO game than all of the actual LEGO games to date. For some odd reason, LEGO hasn’t pushed to embrace a similar design in any of their video game products. Because they can, and they can do it better if they wanted to. They have the money, the brand recognition and there a ton of Minecraft clones and mods to mine ideas from. Proof of concept:

Instead of LEGO games embracing the actual fun of playing with LEGO blocks, we have big branded licenses for Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. all being realized as super simplified adventure games by Traveller’s Tales with little to no actual LEGO building. These are fun co-op games for everyone in the family – and we play them a lot – but at their core, they’re simplified adventure games that use LEGO as a gimmick and a brand rather than embrace what LEGO is really about: creativity.

LEGO Batman 2 just came out, and Lego City Uncover – the upcoming game for the Wii U and 3DS – suffers the same problem. Both games and their predecessors put players in the shoes of a LEGO Minifigure character and throw them in a non-LEGO world.

And this is where LEGO Universe failed as well. Overlooking the extreme censorship of the game, while there was fun to be had exploring the themed worlds and using the brick-builder on your own lot, the game was very limited from a creation and gameplay standpoint. There were more blocks, more interactive items and more freedom in Minecraft, a game where players are not required to pay a monthly subscription for, and instead of going that route, LEGO games to date attempt to offer action-adventure experiences that don’t quite compare to the triple-A genre games out there.

Why isn’t the focus on creation? Why are the worlds of these games not made of LEGO? It doesn’t have to be if a LEGO game were to take the LittleBigPlanet route and make the LEGO Minifigures and bricks and place them in the real world to scale, but to have LEGO Minifigures the size of real people relative to their environment, but not have the environment made of LEGO entirely misses the point and prevents any interaction.

The press release for Funcom’s LEGO MMO emphasizes the family-friendly targeted demographic and reads that the product “will focus on maximum accessibility.” The world “accessibility” is a negative connotation for most core gamers and hearing keyword that combo’d with “maximum” when talking about LEGO – an already simple concept – hints that this game isn’t going to offer very deep gameplay or creation.

Instead, let’s imagine a world designed from actual LEGO pieces, where you can attach a bunch together in the water and float down the river to a LEGO castle loaded with LEGO knights fighting a LEGO dragon, or a LEGO town with bright red LEGO firetrucks putting out a LEGO house that’s on fire at the corner of the LEGO intersection. And imagine you could grab any of the blocks – from the dirt below your Minifigure’s feet to the stone walls of the castle – and build whatever you want to avoid the fire or help rescue the people inside the burning house.

Too dynamic? Why not embrace the Minecraft model with a randomized open world built on a new game engine where the player can collect blocks and build away. The cities in an MMO environment would build themselves. Look at Active Worlds as an example.

Everyone loves LEGO, not just little kids. Let the players build.

Follow me on Twitter @rob_keyes.