Ever since I played the first #Lego Star Wars game, I’ve been impressed by the ability of the franchise to merge intuitiveness, humor and interesting gameplay mechanics into recognized IP, while simultaneously building up their own brand to toddlers and adults alike. I’m also a big advocate of making sure the “big business” of video games doesn’t forget about kids it it’s quest for the almighty dollar. So it was with great excitement that I opened my inbox to find an invitation to the new Lego #Minifigures Online closed beta this past weekend.
Minifigures is an attempt to inject some online and MMO elements into the Lego franchise. When you start up the game, you are given a choice to pick a group of three minifigures to play. It seems that one specializes in damage, one in defense and control, and one on building. At least that was the case with my minifigures that includes a centurion, a gypsy, and a bumblebee girl. While I didn’t see a noticeable difference between the three figures (other than the gypsy, who was obviously faster at building Lego contraptions), perhaps those differences become more pronounced as figures are upgraded along the way.
The tutorial blended fairly seamlessly into the open world where I started to encounter other players, all attempting to complete the same quests as me. All of the players in LMO have funny names, as Funcom has wisely allowed a first name/middle name/surname combination of names that are chosen from a predetermined list of each. While seasoned MMO players will balk at not being able to choose their favorite character name, keep in mind that this is a game aimed at children and this naming convention goes a long way in protecting them from both seeing undesirable names and accidentally giving potential predators personal information via their own character name.
The game itself plays as an isometric, diablo-style click to move/click to attack game. Each mini figure has two attacks (right mouse and left mouse button) with the left button being the common attack and the right button being the special attack. Special attacks do have cooldowns so they cannot be spammed. Two skills may not seem to provide much variety, but one of the unique features in this game is the ability to switch between minifigures at any time, in or outside of combat, to give the player access to the skills to all three of his/her slotted figures at any time. While not active, a previously damaged figure will regenerate health over time, albeit somewhat slowly. This mechanic adds an interesting dynamic to the game where seasoned players will be able to switch between a cc and a damage character (for example) dynamically during a battle, or manage the health/cooldowns of all three figures while facing a difficult boss. If one of the slotted figures loses all health, the game will switch to one of the other figures automatically. “Dead” minifigures will become available again after a certain amount of time, so it is possible to get one of your dead figures back during the course of a fight if other minifigures can stay alive long enough. A player does not respawn completely until all three of his/her figures are “dead” at the same time.
While fairly mashy, I was surprised to find that the game is actually quite challenging on-level. It is very easy to aggro large numbers of trash mobs that are hidden from view due to the isometric camera angle. Likewise, it’s also easy to accidentally pull the next group while moving around fighting the current group. I also found the respawn point several times during boss fights, especially when adds were involved. I never quite figured out the minifigure switching mechanic described in the paragraph above, but I did get to the point where I could switch over to the next figure when my health got low in order to prolong the fight a bit. Potions can also be used in-combat to restore health. Potions can be found in-game (rarely, in my experience) or purchased with “stars”, which are earned through destroying Lego structures in the game, similar to stud collection in the single-player titles
Progression in the game comes in the form of gaining XP via quest completion and mob kills and spending stars on minifigure upgrades. Additional figures can also be purchased by spending “diamonds”, which can be purchased with real money or earned in-game. LMO will be free-to-play, so expect several ways to spend diamonds in the cash store as the game matures. I never utilized any formal grouping mechanic (nor did I notice one, but I might have missed it), but I did see that when running around with an informal group of players, everybody was getting XP credit and drops from mobs they tapped.
Fun/Not so Fun
Following is a list of things that stood out to me as fun, and not so fun:
- Different minifigures with different abilities, can be slotted to customize your experience
- Easy to learn, intuitive
- Unique minifigure switching mechanic
- In-game currency can be earned or purchased
- Brilliant Lego worlds (pirate world, etc.)
- Designed with #kids in mind. We seriously need more MMO’s that do this
Not so fun:
- Very mashy controls
- Click-to-move can at times make combat targeting difficult
- Not enough puzzle elements. This is one thing that makes the single-player games extremely fun
- More rewards for destruction than creativity
- No recognizable IP (No Star Wars, Lord of the Rings characters)
- Completely on-rails. No exploration to speak of. A little “off the beaten path” would be nice
In all, I enjoyed my time in this game, and I think my kids will eat it up. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Lego is really big with the younger crowd. I mean REALLY big. I was surprised to do some forum searches and find so many trashing the early builds of this title. I attribute that to the “ESO Effect”. These players are either hard-core MMO fans who expected more MMO-ness in the title, or they’re hard-core Lego fans who want to play “Lego Star Wars” with friends (in other words, they want the single-player experience replicated online). Personally, I think Funcom and Lego have done a great job designing a game that kids will enjoy: one that will introduce them to many MMO mechanics without inundating them with too much MMO complexity.
Featured image by Bill Toenjes on Flickr Creative Commons