Everyone in the office has their forte. Nick is the resident videogame veteran, Deon is the go-to guy for PCs, Charlie gets excited by hacking and government foolery, Lungelo is on top of what is happening in the country, and me? Well, as the new guy I’m something of the office grunt, so I’m doing a bit of everything until I find my niche. But, if you ask me, I know far, far too much about Lego.

While this is a tech site, and I do help cover games, I’ve never been a fan of the Lego games. All the games based on the plastic bricks from Denmark that were released past the 90’s have followed the samey formula of kid-friendly puzzles, simple humour and obsessive stud collecting (the games’ currency).

Not even an injection of super-powered shennanigans from Marvel could sway me with Lego Marvel Superheroes. It seems Lego and the games’ developers TT Games have fallen into a rut that is printing too much money to climb out of.

So colour us surprised when Lego Worlds quietly slipped onto Steam in June this year. Breaking almost every pattern the previous games created, Lego Worlds is at this moment still an Early Access game which you can play right now for the reasonable sum of $15 (R191).

Booting it up, and even at the world generation screen it was clear: this looks more than a little like Minecraft.

The game's worlds are randomly generated from a seed ("Gallactic Coordinate") that you can enter
The game’s worlds are randomly generated from a seed (“Gallactic Coordinate”) that you can enter

With our world built for us during the loading screen, we’re literally dropped into the game. We’ll later find out that the “skydive” option is a catch-all from the developers to let you escape any situations you may get trapped in by either your own misguidedness or by the game’s early bugs.

Every world is comprised of various biomes, the first one we landed on was a junk world (think WALL·E). Before we got a chance to explore freely various objects around us glinted in the typical “come touch me!” way that videogames have taught us. 

This taught us the first rule of Lego Worlds; exploration is king here. While Minecraft may have (initially) focused more on survival, Worlds wants you to go full-on Dora.

Touching new objects in the game will add them to your inventory. Once purchased you can spawn an infinite amount of them.

Keeping one of the mechanics of previous games, Lego studs (or 1×1 Round Plates if you’re a nerd like me) are your currency. Unfortunately running up to a tree and punching it wont net you any, but attacking those placeable objects will.

You won’t need to punch a lot to get enough studs (the most expensive item we could purchase was a dragon at ten thousand studs), you will be irritated by the fact that there is so much to find and purchase and so little objects that will yield studs.

There are two kinds of treasure chests to help you out: one will require some force to open and will yield studs, and the other can be opened to give you a new object for your character. The former isn’t worth seeking out, though, as you’ll be able to earn as much by simply knocking down a forest.

When you're not riding a dragon or some other such thing, there are "regular" vehicles too
When you’re not riding a dragon or some other such thing, there are “regular” vehicles too

We had more than a little fun exploring the world. Every time I came across something new I’d let out a little burst of excitement that had everyone come check out what was happening. “Oh, I found a dragon!”, “I found an entire underground biome!” and “holy s**t! I actually own that set in real life!”.

What was unanimously decided was that Lego Worlds, even in this early Alpha stage, has Minecraft licked in terms of giddy-excitement-inducing exploration.

But, as we all know, the adventuring is only one half of this kind of game, and Lego Worlds will need to be exceptional in user creation if it hopes to ever leave Early Access with any success.

On a macro level you’re given quite a few tools to change up the environment. If you’ve ever played a simulation game with environment tools you’ll be at home here. Heck, if you’ve ever create a fancy garden in The Sims you shouldn’t have much of a problem here.

Your tools are: paint (broad colour changes), add, remove, flatten, smooth, lower and heighten terrain.

The last tool is especially awesome. Named “Select and Explore”, this will allow you to choose any part of the world, and then examine it up close.

In-game this will allow you to edit specific parts of the world and eventually save it. Doing so will allow you to place that part of the world anywhere you want, at any time. This had a habit of crashing the game, though.

Out of the game, this will allow you to find cool parts of the game and look at it up close if you’d want to build it with real Lego.

On a micro level, you can use individual bricks with the “Brick Building” set of tools.

If we haven’t made it clear before, every single Lego brick in this game is rendered. As far as we could see, everything that comprises the game (apart from air and water) is made up of bricks that exist in Lego’s catalogue.

Not only are the implications for real world building massive (if you have a spare lifetime and a few million Rand), but this is what Lego fans have been pining for ever since Lego expanded into videogames. We were so often burnt by the recent Lego games only using brick builds for certain objects, but you’ll find no such cheating in Worlds.

2015-08-05_00034Besides the random glitch and crashes, this is where Lego Worlds is really lacking. The available bricks that you can build with represents an absolutely minute fraction of what actually exists. We’re hoping this gets expanded in the future.

On another negative note, while moving around large amounts of bricks was easy, trying to build exact constructs with the individual bricks was a nightmare. There is no constrained area for your builds, so the game will try and place a brick a few kilometres away in the ocean instead of next to the brick you previously placed. The fidgety camera didn’t help either, and we would get half way through building something before throwing our hands in the air and wondering off to fight a polar bear against and brown bear while we drop thousands of monkeys in the background.

Your final set of tools is called “Models”, where you’ll be able to purchase and place all the items you’ve discovered, which includes player characters (customisable through a different menu). One of the more interesting menu options here is “Sets”, which will let you drop down an entire set that Lego has for sale in real life.

The only one available to you right now is called “Changing Seasons”, a simple set featuring a house and some smaller builds which accompany it. You can’t explore the inside of the main house, or change any of its individual pieces, but you can interact with it with some animations.

The real set on the left and its in game representation on the right
The real set on the left and its in game representation on the right

We’re going to put on our tinfoil hats now, because the existence of this feature opens up a can of worms for the potential monetization of the game. While it was equally bizarre and amazing digitally exploring a toy set we built in real life, we can’t help but feel that Lego could hold future sets hostage behind paywalls. Aside from “traditional” DLC, these sets may only be unlockable by purchasing them in real life, just as Lego is doing with its other game, Lego Dimensions.

On the other hand, Lego could use this game as a kind of “try before you buy” setup for its sets, letting people actually interact with them before buying. While Lego does do this to some degree with built-in 3D functions in its catalogues using an app, this takes it to a whole new level.

We’ll have to see where this game goes with the sets, we did find one more full set in the game – a drilling vehicle that let us get pretty deep into the levels. But we feel this was included more as an exploration tool than an actual set or feature.

It’s very easy to get excited by Lego Worlds. It promises absolutely everything we’ve ever wanted from a Lego game. It’s writing so many cheques that we sincerely hope it will be able to honour.

It initially seems a bit strange that a company as big as Lego would need to rely on Early Access as game QA, but we think this type of endeavour requires as much testing as it can get. And its nature means the more people contributing, the better it will become (which is why we hope the ability to share creations and worlds will be added at some point).

You can bet we’ll have more stories on this game as it develops, and a full review when it is released in earnest.

For now, it’s in a strange place to recommend. If you really love your Lego, go right ahead. We got far more enjoyment out of this game than a similarly priced Lego set. If you love Minecraft and want to give the new kid on the block a thorough up and down,we can also suggest you pick it up. For everyone else; wait a while for more content to be added, and more bugs to be squashed before jumping in.

Finally, I think I should be rewarded for not once mentioning “that phrase”. But yes, all is fantastic.