Available on PC through Steam Early Access
It’s not Lego Minecraft: The Game, but it might as well be. While Lego Worlds isn’t the first game to be, ahem, ‘inspired’ by Mojang’s classic, it’s the first from a high-profile name to be so bloomin’ obvious about it. While its shiny plastic surfaces and familiar blocks and figures give TT Games’ effort a distinctive Lego feel, the whole style of the game, the way the world is constructed and the emphasis on sculpting landscapes shows a potent strain of Minecraft in its DNA. Still, if any franchise is a natural fit for a Minecraft makeover, then Lego is the one, and this particular homage is already looking good.
Now available via Steam Early Access, it’s clearly not the finished article. There are no cut-scenes or tutorials to ease you in, just a choice of procedurally generated worlds and two characters to explore them with. You can flick between the Explorer and the Palaeontologist in an instant, and you start with a ready-made selection of buildings – towers, castles and houses – you can place in the environment. Otherwise, you can unlock new characters, creatures, vehicles and buildings by encountering them as you explore.
Lego Worlds isn’t without echoes of existing Lego titles. You still collect Lego studs by smashing objects and discovering chests, and you’ll need these to purchase the various people and props you encounter and unlock. Once purchased, you can call these in at any time.
The controls and overall feel will also be familiar to anyone who’s played a Lego Star Wars or Lego Marvel Super Heroes – or roughly any other Lego game. Characters run around with a characteristic spring, and can jump and clamber around on the scenery. They can even climb sheer surfaces or swing from branch to branch in the trees, while pressing the ride button near a friendly creature will have you leaping on its back and riding around.
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As in the other Lego games, each critter has its own characteristic way of moving, and there’s a lot of fun to be had racing around on horseback, stampeding on a bull or hopping and clambering on the back of an over-exuberant little mountain goat. The latter appears to be a different class of creature, as they appear on the screen as a pet and can be summoned with a whistle.
One way Lego Worlds differentiates itself from Minecraft is in its greater emphasis on mounts and vehicles. Not only do you get to speed around on the aforementioned steeds, but you can fly around on the back of flying mounts, like eagles. Meanwhile, ground-based vehicles like steamrollers and buggies are joined by helicopters, boats and submarines. We haven’t been able to get the latter underwater so far – in fact the whole sub-aqua world seems off-limits – but we’re either doing something wrong or this is something to be implemented later. Some vehicles also have special functions. The steamroller, for example, can roll out flat roads, though you need a fairly flat area to make them usable.
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More tellingly, Lego Worlds isn’t so much about mining, crafting and surviving as it is about building and exploring. Systems for gathering materials and crafting tools and objects are either non-existent or not yet implemented, while the patrolling mobs of skeletons and mummies don’t make for much of a threat. Engage them in fisticuffs or find and swing a sword and they’ll soon collapse into a pile of bones.
Instead of carving chunks out of the landscape, you sculpt it using raising, lowering and flattening tools. This isn’t perhaps as simple or easy to grasp as Minecraft’s system, but it does make widespread changes that much easier. And while you can manufacture buildings Lego block by Lego block, it’s simpler to use pre-made sets instead. Select a house, a castle or another structure, and your current character pulls out a device and sprays them into place brick by brick. It’s a cool effect, even if it doesn’t feel like you’re creating your own thing.
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It’ll be interesting to see how the creative process goes down with Minecraft fans, and whether it evolves with time and feedback. At the moment, building anything brick by brick is incredibly laborious, involving flicking back and forth between a brick selection and colour window and the positioning interface, where you place each brick within the 3D space. There are guides to help you, but the camera isn’t always helpful and even something as simple as completing a half-finished ladder seems to take an age. At the same time, simply spraying a ready-made house or castle onto the landscape isn’t all that satisfying, though we suspect there may be more room to customise later on. Characters, for instance, are fully customisable already.
This Early Access version is really just a slice of the game, and while at first it seems limited, it grows in scope the more you play. A landscape that at first seems small and cramped seems to open up, revealing new islands and areas you didn’t know existed. You’ll meet more characters and enemies, which you can play as once you meet or defeat them. You’ll find new props, buildings, creatures and vehicles, and find studs and unlockables in secret places. You’ll enjoy flinging fireballs as a warlock or driving tractors as a farmer, and you’ll uncover whole new environments. There’s more to discover than you might expect, and that discovery turns out to be the game’s biggest joy.
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There’s also more to the visuals than immediately meets the eye. The Lego characters and objects and plastic scenery seem pretty simple, but there’s some clever stuff going on with the rendering system and light sources which reminds us of the techniques being used in Q-Game’s The Tomorrow Children. The plastic surfaces reflect light realistically and you can see dynamic shadows being cast, while bloom and blur effects give the world an oddly tangible feel. Perhaps this is why frame rates aren’t always perfect even on our solid quad-core Xeon/Radeon 285 PC, and why screen tearing creeps in from time to time. As we’ve said, though, it’s early days.
As with most Early Access releases, this is a slice of a new game in a mostly unfinished state. All the same, we’re excited about Lego Minecra….., oops, Lego Worlds. While it might not have the crafting or survival hooks of its inspiration, there’s a flexibility and polish in the movement and animation that Minecraft, for all its charms, lacks, while the accessibility of vehicles and buildings could be a real plus. We’d like to see more differentiation between playable characters in terms of abilities – it’s a hallmark of the series, after all – but we love the sense of exploration and discovery that Lego Worlds brings. It’s something we’re eager to see TT Games build-on as the game moves on towards a proper launch next year.