Within the first 15 minutes, Lego Dimensions rips its characters out of their worlds, smashes them together, and dumps them inside The Wizard Of Oz. During this intro I laugh about three or four times - not polite “I see what you're doing” chuckles, but some genuine and unflattering snorts. Lego Dimensions is a very funny game, and one that, throughout its story, keeps those laughs coming by constantly surprising you. Because, despite some very problematic issues with the pricing and content, Dimensions’ main quest is the best Lego game I’ve ever played.
It’s also the most original. Dimensions is the latest in the toy-to-game craze and not only are you getting another Traveller’s Tales Lego-em-up (surely that’s a genre now?), you’re also getting a real-world Lego portal to build, along with three characters and a Batmobile. Rather than letting you just place characters in the game as/when you want (like in Skylanders), the portal is integral to the experience and something the gameplay truly benefits from. In an early encounter with The Wicked Witch of the West, I was mildly Kojima’d when she cast a spell that restricted the movement of a character on a specific block of the portal. Move the afflicted, real-world minifig to a different section on the portal and her spell is broken. It adds an extra dimensi… sorry, element to the game’s puzzles and keeps the game a lot fresher than if it was a bog-standard platformer.
Plus, its story isn’t exactly bog-standard either. To talk too much about where you go throughout the adventure would simply be unfair, so I’ll tread as lightly as possible. Batman, Wyldstyle and Gandalf end up together because if they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a game. Some timey-wimey stuff is set up and they’re propelled to an astonishing number of differently licensed Lego worlds. I can (pretty much) guarantee you’ll love at least one of them. The staggering attention to detail in the writing helps to elevate this above previous Lego entries. Each, very disparate, world feels like a part of the same universe. Jokes that work for both Batman enthusiasts and Wizard of Oz fans are very rare, but somehow Dimensions manages to pull it off.
Take the Doctor Who level for instance. In classic Whovian fashion, the Doctor bursts in and seems to be two steps ahead of everyone else - and like any episode, the audience will get to where he was by the end - before leaving them in greater peril than they realise. As you venture through the level, classic enemies like the Cybermen, Angels and Daleks all crop up, but the gameplay doesn’t just trot them for the sake of it, it understands why these characters work in their original format. So, when the lights stutter and the Angels grab you, you’ll be just as unsettled as the first time you saw them in the show. It’s fan service of the highest order, but not at all prohibitive even if you’ve never seen the show, thanks to the giddy, universally accessible goofiness that kicks in when the different realities come crashing together. The game takes great delight in mashing everything together while clearly understanding what made these worlds so loved to begin with.
Have you ever sat down and thought “You know what, The Batmobile is decent, but it would be better if it was bright pink”? Same. But Lego Dimensions lets you deal with exactly that matter! This time out, the collectible studs mainly go on giving the Batmobile a bit of pizzazz. Unlock enough skills and the game will give you a manual to rebuild the actual Batmobile model in your living room. Just don’t expect it to change colour in the real world as well though…
What also helps propel this absurdly lovely main quest is the vast array of voiceover talent assembled here. I won’t list all the names - you can check IMDB for that. Though Gary Oldman steals the show from the moment you realise that it actually is Gary “Everyoneee” Oldman voicing the big bad. He sounds hammier than Brian Blessed running a butchers, but it’s exactly what you want if you’re getting him to voice a moustache-twirler called Lord Vortech.
So yes, I’m a huge fan of the story, but the main quest is only a half the game. The other half is the Adventure World, which is a free roam with a focus on hammering through tasks rather than following a story. With the starter kit, you get access to three worlds - Lord Of The Rings, DC Comics and The Lego Movie - with a further 11 that can be unlocked via packs (more on those later). Built like a squashed together - in DC’s case, very literally - tourist’s view, where every major landmark is a barely a minute away, there is hardly any time to get bored, as a variety of tasks extend the game in a looser way. You talk to a stranger, they give you a quick quest, you go off and tick that box. Sounds fine, until you start to realise that a sizeable number of tasks are only unlocked with expansion pack content.
So, the £100 question: Is it actually worth it? If you shop around, some retailers currently have it at £79.99/$99.99 which is a more palatable, but still incredibly steep. Dimensions is worth that lower price, if you love enough of the franchises involved... and as long as you can stomach the game constantly reminding you what you’re missing (in both modes). Even the cheapest packs will unlock adventure worlds, but, unlike previous Lego games where you could unlock a character with a specific attribute, this time you have to go out and buy them. So when you see a horde of ghosts early on in the first mission that only Dr. Peter Venkman can deal with, that area of the game is locked off ‘til that particular Ghostbusters pack gets released. Early next year.
It’s a massive disappointment that the game goes to great lengths to connect all these universes in the story and then reminds you that to unlock areas you can already see, you’ll need to spend more. The entire collection at launch is worth around £385, and while the game does give you guides to figure out how to cover all the specific skills without buying them all - plus, Warner says that this will be the only portal needed for the game - it will still cost an eye-wateringly large amount to expand on the starter kit and unlock big chunks of the game.
Furthermore, problems that have hindered previous Lego games crop up again. The jumping can be imprecise, friendly AI has a tendency to wander away from where you need it to stay for puzzles, and at certain times the game is too obtuse in what it wants you to do. None of these are truly devastating - dying is never a concern and the game has got better at giving you just a hint of a clue in places - but nevertheless, it nicks a bit of the sheen that has been so carefully applied.
Overall, the starter kit is a qualified recommendation. Even as a self-contained game, it’s delightfully bizarre in a way few will expect but many will appreciate, and the use of the portal is genuinely clever throughout the core gameplay. But, on the flipside, if you don’t want to commit to any other purchases, know that throughout your adventure you’ll suffer a disappointing pattern of spotting cool, exciting new stuff only to find that you’re resolutely locked out of it... and that will grate more than the eye-watering initial price.