When Minecraft first hit the scene years back, many likened playing it to building with LEGOs, which wasn’t an entirely amiss comparison to be made. The charmingly blocky sandbox game went on to effectively create a whole new genre of its own, and while LEGO games did exist they were more focused on action platforming than creating our own adventures. So, when LEGO Worlds was announced, it seemed logical that finally we were receiving a LEGO game that’s actually about building things. Unfortunately the end product doesn’t work quite as well as you’d expect it to, but it’s still an enjoyable game in its own right.
The gameplay of LEGO Worlds is similar to that of previous LEGO games, but rather than combing through relatively linear levels while looking for secrets, you’re tasked with running around procedurally generated worlds solving generic quests for characters. The focus, though, is less on the abilities of your avatar and more on the creation tools that are quickly given to you. How you choose to shape the world around you is largely the focus here, and it’s done well at some points, and not so well on others.
For one thing, the game’s free build mode — which is arguably the main selling point — is pretty confusing until you make a great deal of progress in the rather flimsy story mode. The story mode acts essentially as a massive tutorial; you control an astronaut traveling between worlds as he or she comes across various tools that allow you to terraform and shape the world as you wish. For its part, the tools are introduced to you at a pace that ensures you understand how each one works before the next one is put into your arsenal. By the time you have everything unlocked it’s a bit staggering how much you’re capable of doing to the world — it feels a lot like switching on a “God Mode” — but it doesn’t feel like there’s too much to handle.
The meat of the gameplay in story mode is found in the various quests that you can undertake, and it’s here that the first cracks begin to show in the game’s foundation. Simply put, the quests are largely repetitive and simple fetch quests that require very little thought or skill on the part of the player. Later on, things do get a little bit more complex, but the abilities available to your character greatly sugarcoat the challenge. After all, why climb that beanstalk to reach a castle in the clouds when you can just spawn a dragon or other flying vehicle to take you there? Why scour the surface of the planet for an entrance to a winding cave that ends in treasure when you can literally just dig straight to the chest?
Of course, you can just choose not to use the abilities available to you, but this goes against the whole design philosophy of the game. The point being, the quests often feel as though they would belong in a conventional LEGO game; here, they feel ill-fitting and tossed in to give players something to do just for the sake of it. Additionally, the game often fails to communicate the parameters and requirements needed to complete quests. A character may be asking you for a particular item, but unbeknownst to you that item itself is a reward for an entirely different quest which requires another item to complete. It’s expected that you figure this all out on your own, and that can lead to frustrating bottlenecks in the game's flow.
Yet with all that being said, there’s something quite compelling about exploration in LEGO Worlds. There’s other things to do on the side — such as ‘discovering’ items in the environment which you can then begin spawning into the world after paying a one-time stud fee — that nicely pad out the experience and give you a reason to scour every corner of every world. And the random generation aspect leads to quite a bit of diversity in what kind of world you might find yourself in; the different biomes range from sugarcoated candy lands to hellish, Mordor-like landscapes. You never know what you’re getting into each time, and while the gameplay may be a bit surface-level, it nonetheless can keep you hooked for a while.
The game’s main strength comes in when you play in sandbox mode, where you’re given total control and can build whatever your heart desires. There’s a massive amount of unique LEGO pieces that you can utilize here — you don’t need to ‘discover' stuff in this mode, it’s all unlocked from the get-go — and part of the fun is that many builds which work in real life can be replicated in-game, too. There’s a virtually limitless amount of content on offer, then, but it does largely depend on the creative tendencies of the player. The toolbox is incredibly deep, but there’s not much to do if constructing your own cities and structures isn’t your cup of tea. Sure, it can be fun to goof around on the back of a dinosaur and ravage villages with laser cannons, but that kind of thing can only entertain for so long.
That seems to be the biggest flaw with LEGO Worlds. While the creative tools are deep and the possibilities are endless, the game fails to offer a compelling argument to keep coming back. Unlocks in the story mode are hidden behind a frustrating and unrewarding quest system, and the sandbox mode, while expansive, feels a bit empty. The point being, there’s a sense that something is missing here; everything that you do in the game feels rather pointless, like you’re just doing it for the sake of it. Minecraft managed to sidestep this by introducing survival elements which created a sense of prevailing over the odds and of conquering the landscape around you, and this gave a form of meaning to your progress in-game. You’d build a structure because it took a great deal of time and resources to make, but that sense of accomplishment is greatly diminished when almost all resistances are removed.
And though sandbox mode fares better, the controls are a little too complex for a controller. It can be frustrating having to navigate dozens of menus to find the element you’re looking for, and maneuvering the cursor to the right place can take a little more time and precision than is needed. Now, Tt Games did the best possible job that it could to translate the game’s controls to a controller, but this feels like a game that requires a keyboard and mouse for it to be a seamless experience.
And none of this is helped by the wonky camera, which seems to have a mind of its own as it moves this way and that. It’s not always terrible, but the second that you start entering enclosed spaces or getting into more details on a build it becomes finicky and difficult to handle. With the player having terraforming abilities on this scale it's difficult to keep up regardless of how you approach the camera, but it’s another nuisance that lessens one’s enjoyment of the experience.
From a performance perspective, LEGO Worlds is definitely not a showcase of the Switch’s capabilities. Docked or undocked, the draw distance occasionally calls to mind the age of the N64 as not-too-distant mountains disappear into a grey fog. And the framerate is as prone to change as the landscapes that you spend your time shaping; the framerate is probably set somewhere around 30 FPS, but it oscillates so madly that you’d be hard pressed to see it hit that bar. Granted, the draw distance and framerate are at the very least manageable for most of the game, but this plays more like an early demo build of a game than a finished product.
The game seemed to perform at a consistently poor level when a second player was thrown in, but it does add much to the experience to have a friend helping out with exploration and construction. Also, though there’s an advertised online mode that allows you to visit other players’ worlds and cooperate with them, it seems that it is simply absent at the time of writing. This is expected in an update, but we can’t imagine that the game will perform all too well over an internet connection, given that it wheezes when there are two local players. We will update this review once the feature goes live.
And that’s not even including the bugs. We had the game just outright crash on us a few times, perhaps because there was just too much onscreen at once, and problems with hit detection and clipping are rampant. Text boxes won’t display or will be half obscured behind a nearby wall, creatures will sometimes be walking on surfaces that aren’t there, and whole structures will pop into your field of view rather unexpectedly. Of course, there’s a lot to keep track of in a game as modular as this, but for something that’s been on the market for over half a year we expect better.
On the whole, that mostly describes our experience with LEGO Worlds. There are lots of great ideas here, and every now and then you can see glimpses of what kind of potential those ideas have, but this is a gaming equivalent of what happens when you pull a tray of cookies out of the oven too early, leaving you underdone treats. The core concept behind LEGO Worlds isn’t the problem, but the execution is. Perhaps in future updates (or sequels) Tt Games will figure out how to better refine it, but we would advise you to hold off on this one for now. Creative players will get a little more utility out of this game due to its sandbox mode, but on the whole there’s not much here that you’ll be missing out on by passing.
*Editor's note: rather like the equivalent scenario with NBA Playgrounds, we'll apply a score once the expected online mode goes live. Once that happens the relevant information will be added and a final score applied.