The best times I had with Lego Worlds were when I was allowed to let my imagination take control. The game excels in providing a robust toolkit that’s absolutely bursting with options, which means that if you can picture it, you can probably build it (well, a slightly blockier version of it, anyway). The game has been talked about as a competitor to that other block-building behemoth, Minecraft, and there are obvious comparisons to make. In truth the games are dissimilar in some key ways, with Lego Worlds taking a subtly different approach to the subgenre, favoring fun over complexity. As purely a creation tool, though, it lacks for little, and it's hard to imagine anyone playing it without a smile on their face.
The ability to use Lego Worlds as a bottomless bucket of bricks is probably the main reason why many will buy the game (especially parents of young children, who could potentially save themselves hundreds of dollars with this title), but once you get started, you’re not simply thrown into a sandbox and left to get on with it. There’s a little more direction than that. While this won’t be welcome news to players desperate to get into the free-build portion of the game, the tutorial aspects of the first few worlds are quite necessary, especially for younger gamers. This opening hour-or-so goes through each of the different tools at your disposal then throws some simple puzzles your way so you can pick up the necessary skills needed to tackle the rest of the game.
Each of the tools walks the line between user-friendliness and utility perfectly. They all feel powerful enough to be useful, but never too tricky to get to grips with, and crucially, will feel second-nature to younger gamers in no time. Traditional brick-building is achieved with the Build Tool, where any of your collected bricks can be placed on the landscape in any configuration you like. Can’t decide where best to construct your monstrosity? Why not create somewhere with the surprisingly powerful terrain deformation capabilities of the Landscape Tool. Add to these mainstays the ability to produce perfect facsimiles of anything you find in the world (Copy Tool) and, if you’re feeling like redecorating, the ability to change the color of anything you like (Paint Tool), and you have a pretty capable set. Lastly, the Discovery Tool allows you to zap any item in the world, whether a person, animal, monster, or piece of scenery and add them to your library of discoveries. Anything you’ve collected can be reproduced whenever and wherever you want, once you’ve unlocked them for a few studs (the in-game currency you’ll be collecting along the way).
After the initial hand-holding, the bulk of the game has you traveling between worlds in your gold-brick powered spacecraft. Discovering new worlds is as simple as pressing a button, which generates a new world for you to travel to, each with a different theme. Pretty much everything’s covered here, from the cowboys and cacti of the old west to the more abstract Dessert Desert — a strangely haunting (or is it just me?) landscape populated by grinning gingerbread men and giant sweets. Each world is packed full with all manner of interesting creatures just waiting to make your acquaintance, some just roaming the landscape, going about their business (there’s a rudimentary ecosystem at work here; animals even attack one another and feed periodically), while others are there to offer you quests and reward you with helpful items, studs, or gold bricks, the game’s target collectable. These bricks serve as a way to show your progress. The more of these you unlock, the greater your rank, which opens up more of the game’s story worlds, pre-set destinations that can only be traveled to when you’ve acquired the right amount of gold bricks. The game’s ultimate goal is, of course, to achieve the coveted rank of Master Builder. Most quests are comprised of basic fetch-the-item type tasks, which begin charmingly enough, and are often delivered with an amusing dialogue flourish, but quickly become tedious. More interesting tasks have you build something for a quest giver within certain parameters — the time I was asked to build a tree house within the specific dimensions of a particular tree stands out — but these are less frequent that I’d have liked.
In all, it’s obvious that the gameplay elements of Lego Worlds are intended for younger players, and, even though running about with your Discover Tool and collecting items in the game world is not without its addictive appeal, there’s nothing here that can compete with the sort of structured platforming experience found in developer Traveller’s Tales other Lego titles.
The real draw for many will surely be playing around in the game’s sandbox, a fact the developers seem to understand because, in this area, Lego Worlds does not disappoint. Although you don’t start with every brick type in the Lego catalogue (the ones you lack can be nabbed from Mischief Makers in-game, pesky little oddballs who pop up from the ground and must be chased down before they’ll give up their precious plastic), there’s more than enough available to build some impressive creations, either brick-by-brick, or using pre-defined sets found in the game. And it all works as well as you’d hope: A large project will be painstaking to complete, but if you’re willing to put the time in, anything can be achieved.
This endless plastic playground is crammed with fun stuff to do, too. There are tons of vehicles to try out, like boats, cars, working construction vehicles, and even flying vehicles like helicopters. There are countless items to hunt out, too, from various guns and swords to drum-kits and parachutes. The immensely fun grapple gun is a highlight, as is the amusing camera. Oh, and dragons, too. Obviously.
So, to the obvious comparison. Both Lego Worlds and Minecraft function brilliantly as creation toolkits, so your preference will probably come down to how much of a connection you have to Lego’s plastic-clad world. If you’re looking for actual gameplay, both are pretty lean on that front. Older gamers may find Minecraft’s survival mode more rewarding, while younger gamers may revel in the simple quest mechanics offered by Lego Worlds. In one area, there’s a clear winner: Minecraft’s crafting system is bewildering in its possibilities; there’s nothing at all like it in Lego Worlds.
Whether or not Lego Worlds outshines its competition is less relevant than what it succeeds at, and the main thing is undoubtedly the sheer sense of fun it brings to the genre. It marries elements of last year’s No Man’s Sky with hints of Nintendo classic Super Mario Galaxy and fuses all that to a set of enjoyable and robust creation tools to create a game that’s full of joy. It may never reach the levels of success as Minecraft, but I’ll wager the Lego brand alone will be enough to grab plenty of interest, whether from excited youngsters or grown-up kids looking for a hit of that sweet nostalgia.