Once we arrive on the first of the planet’s many floating islands (each with its own LEGO theme) it becomes clear how NetDevil intend to integrate the disparate styles. “Once you land in Avant Gardens,” Seabury says, “you realise that this malevolent force has spread throughout the planet.” A nearby research area has been destroyed, and broken cages show that a few beasts have escaped in the confusion. Going up to one of the intact cages, we see a LEGO beastie lurking at the back. Click on him, and he’ll slam against the bars aggressively.
It’s just one of the many little environmental touches that bring the world to life. During our time with the game we also spotted organs that can be played, tiki torches that can be extinguished and treasure maps etched into the side of trees that can actually be followed to find pirate treasure. The level of incidental detail is startling.
We’re quickly ushered to a nearby warrior, who gives us our first big choice: our lo-fi starting weapon. We can pick from a sword, a spear or a claw hammer. The sword is the obvious choice, although there’s something quite awesome about bearing down on baddies with a hammer, Oldboy-style. Nearby is the opening to an instance. Groups of four players can team up to form parties, but larger numbers are also possible. You’ll need to be on the same server as your pals though. “The EVE guys like to try crazy, impossible things, like single-shard worlds,” Seabury says. “NetDevil respects that, but our crazy impossible goal on LEGO Universe is more about user-generated content, and less about server tech.”
We quickly get into our first fight. Smashing up a malfunctioning mech leaves a pile of jostling blocks which, with enough Imagination, can be quickly built into a gun turret. Health is measured with hearts in the top left of the screen, similar to Nintendo’s Zelda games. Hearts can be increased by finding the ten flags hidden on each island, or by equipping certain items.
There are no character classes in LEGO Universe. Instead, classes are dictated by equipment, meaning that players can have multiple loadouts for different situations. “It’s inspired by a WarCraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients,” Seabury admits. “Your progress there is measured more by equipment and items than anything else. It’s a fun dynamic, and we thought it would help differentiate LEGO Universe from some of the more obvious WoW clones out there.”
The first major quest in Avant Gardens is climbing a nearby mountain. You can use platforming skills to leap over the lasers and industrial fans that litter the path, or you can destroy them, or build switches to shut them down. There are multiple routes up the mountain, and once you reach the top it becomes a racecourse, meaning your times up the mountain will be recorded in your passport for friends to beat.