When it comes to the LEGO games, you usually know what you're letting yourself in for - some light-hearted, slapstick humour; a world stuffed with collectables; and, of course, the ability to play along with a friend, whether you're fighting off Voldemort, piloting your way through the Death Star or HULK SMASHing through the streets of Manhattan. When it comes to the imminently released LEGO Worlds, however, things actually feel rather different - at least partially because this is a LEGO game without a tie-in film license, but mostly because it's a very different kind of LEGO game - one with an emphasis on creation.
It was a little over six months ago when we sat down with LEGO Worlds for the first time, at which point it was a very different game. Essentially a LEGO-ised sandbox, Worlds essentially provided a giant empty canvas, and hundreds of different types of LEGO bricks, before essentially letting you go nuts. Much like Minecraft's creative tools, it was the kind of open-ended game where you could feel free to experiment, making whatever popped into your head.
However, a lack of structure can also be a tad daunting for some, especially for younger players - but that's where Steam's Early Access program came in. Essentially letting studios release unfinished, mid-development versions of games - at a discounted price - this was the first game that developers TT Games have released on Early Access, with the studio explaining that the feedback has been incredibly helpful when it comes to refining what LEGO Worlds actually is. As such, the LEGO Worlds we got our paws on earlier this week ended up being a whole different animal to the one we'd played mere months earlier - and it was all the better for it.
Thankfully, all the LEGO pillars are still here. There's plenty of daft humour, and, most importantly, a full split-screen co-op mode, where you and a friend can get stuck into creating a world together. But arguably the biggest difference between the demo we saw at gamescom, and the version we're playing now, is the LEGO Worlds now has that important bit of structure - and with a story mode of sorts to play through first, getting going with LEGO Worlds doesn't seem quite as daunting.
Stepping into the space suit of a completely customisable astronaut, you first arrive in LEGO Worlds with a bit of a bang - more specifically, a crash-landing on an unknown planet that's left your rocket in desperate need of repair. In order to fix your ride and head home, you'll need to find (or, more specifically, earn) three gold bricks - and what better source of bricks than the island's indigenous pirate population, all of which have a little something you can help them with!
After crash landing on a planet though, there is an official protocol you need to follow - first, make sure you close gates behind you, and second, make sure you loot everything that isn't nailed down. As coincidence would have it, not too long after you awake from your fall with a bit of a bump on the old noggin, you notice a meteor come crashing down not too far away from your own crash site - and after a hop, skip and a jump over to the crater, we found our first important piece of equipment, the Discovery Tool. A gun-like device, the Discovery Tool is key to LEGO Worlds, and lets you scan any and all LEGO-y models in the environment, be they animal, vegetable or mineral, and add them to an inventory, where you can call on them for all your LEGO creation needs later. Once you've scanned in an item, it'll cost you a nominal stud fee to unlock it forever, at which point you can spawn as many leafy bushes, kittens and drumkits as you like - and mastery of the Discovery Tool is key to progressing through LEGO Worlds.
The first native we came across on the small island is a lady pirate who really wants a Pirate Clock Tower, but can't get into the chest where she keeps the plans because a thorny bush has grown over it, holding it shut. Fortunately, foliage is no match for our new Discovery Tool, as along with letting you discover things, the Discovery Tool also lets you remove them at the touch of a button. A quick zap with the tool, and the offending bush was zapped into oblivion, freeing up the chest and nabbing us the blueprint for the Pirate Clock Tower. Blueprints can be found scattered almost anywhere, in and around the LEGO Worlds, and are essentially fancy pre-made structures that you can plonk down wherever and whenever you please, whether its as part of a particular quest, as with the clock tower, or just because you want to jazz up the place. With the all important instructions in our possession, all that remained was to build the clock tower (as simple as selecting it from the list, and pointing your gun where you wanted it to go) for our piratey friend, who was only too keen to reward us with a gold brick - and suddenly, we were well on the way to fixing our busted rocket.
And it's this quest system that's at the heart of LEGO World's storyline - essentially working as one giant tutorial that very, very gradually, over the course of more than 150 quests, introduces you to the tools you can use, and the tricks of the trade. With one gold brick down and two to go, we decided to head over to our next pirate in need - a pirate farmer whose animals have gone AWOL.
As you may expect for a game about creation, some of the quests in LEGO Worlds can be solved in more ways than one - and while this early quest was pretty basic, it's still nice to see the game encourage experimentation. The most obvious way to finish the quest is to simply leg it round the island, pick up the missing chickens and pigs, and bring them back to their pen. But, thanks to the Discovery Tool, there's a rather clever short cut - scanning the single remaining chicken and pig lets you add them to your inventory, at which point you can summon a few clones to bring you up to the quota for the farm - et voila, one easy gold brick.
For our final brick, we had a meeting with the big boss man, the pirate captain himself, who really wanted to be able to lord it over his piratey subjects with a pirate throne. Luckily, he didn't want us to put our building skills to the test to create a new throne (we say luckily, because if he sat on a throne we'd tried to build, it'd probably just instantly break, and we'd end up walking the plank) - instead, all we had to do was track down a pre-existing throne, which he assured us we'd be able to find somewhere on the island. Somewhere being the operative word, because in LEGO Worlds, each planet is procedurally generated, so your pirate island will look different to ours, which will have everything in a different place. Fortunately, in our demo, the throne was located just over a nearby hill, next to a campfire, and it was a simple matter of scanning and cloning the throne for the Pirate Captain to complete the quest.
With three gold bricks under our plastic belt, it was time to put our ship back together and hot foot it off this 'orrible island, blasting off the to the next tutorial-esque planet to learn more about the ins and outs of LEGO Worlds. With a persistent ranking system, the more you play, and the more quests you complete, the higher your builder rank will grow to be, and the more goodies you'll unlock, whether it's more planets to explore, tools to play around with, or other fun stuff. In total, there's around a hundred gold bricks to collect, and over 150 different quests - which take in everything from feeding pet polar bears, to building a house and much, much more - and completing them all will net you the illustrious rank of Master Builder, where you can go nuts and create whatever you like.
Getting in with the spirit of LEGO Worlds, team Everybody Plays decided the easiest way to get a feel for the creation tools was to build ourselves a little house - after all, it's the kind of thing we spent much of our childhood doing, sprawled out on the bedroom floor surrounded by a sea of bricks. In fact, building in LEGO Worlds isn't all that dissimilar to your average LEGO kit, as the Build Tool, another decidedly gun-like device, essentially gives you access to a huge list of different LEGO bricks, from standard chubby 2x4s to flat tiles and simple studs galore. Using a mixture of 'masonry bricks' (red LEGO bricks with a brickwork pattern on), and the premade door and window pieces, we were pretty chuffed with our little house, even if it was a bit poky inside, and decidedly square. We even did a spot of interior design too, with a pair of thrones, a lava pit in the centre for warmth, and a drum kit in the corner for fun - and of course, a couple of pet kittens for company, although one did get stuck in the wall somehow, following a slight misfire of the Discovery Tool.
It's nice to see how much LEGO Worlds has come on in the past few months, and how it's evolved from being a clever creation tool to becoming much more of a structured game, with missions, collectables and a story of sorts. With a healthy dose of humour, whether it's the hilariously happy swagger on a ridable ostrich, the way some skeleton enemies will start break dancing as you play the guitar, or simply the ability to fire chickens into the sky willy nilly, LEGO Worlds epitomises the light-hearted fun we've come to know and love from the LEGO series - and the fact you can do it all in two player co-operative makes it all the better. We don't know about you, but we can't wait until it hits the Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC in just a few short weeks time, on the 10th March!