'Lego Worlds' Is No 'Minecraft'

'Lego Worlds' Is No 'Minecraft'

'Lego Worlds' fails to deliver on the promise of sheer, creative joy Warner Bros.

Your time is better spent with an honest-to-goodness Lego set instead

Your time is better spent with an honest-to-goodness Lego set instead

Lego may be the canvas of children's imaginations the world over, but licensed works such as The Lego Movie and its Batman-centric sequel prove that even adults can enjoy the charms of the brand's colorful universe. That said, you should just steer clear of this one.

I'm not saying a kid couldn't find something to enjoy here, but its virtual cosmos is less a playground to be explored than a series of dull, repetitive odd jobs to be done as you move from one domed patch of land to the next. You might be forgiven for thinking this is some kind of Minecraft-meets-No-Man's-Sky sandbox set within the Lego universe, given the way it's being marketed and the fact that we'd all love a game as cool as that sounds; no such luck, however. Regardless of what you've thought about previous Lego-branded games, Lego Worlds is a half-baked travesty.

The game begins promisingly enough: Your character, an astronaut, plummets through the atmosphere of an encased patch of a terrain in pursuit of his damaged spacecraft. Once you've touched down on the small procedurally generated world – made entirely of Lego bricks and resembling one of those plastic baseplates or play tables you probably had in your childhood bedroom – a gentlemanly narrator greets you. "Your rocket took a beating," he says, "but a few gold bricks should fix it right up." And so begins your never-ending mission to collect golden Lego bricks by doing increasingly absurd favors for strangers with no discernible purpose beyond getting you from one Lego-textured plane to the next. Once you've gathered enough parts to repair your spacecraft on one world, you proceed to the next, and so on – presumably until either you've collected every gold brick in the game and achieved the rank of "Master Builder" or, far more likely, lose your patience with the whole charade.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the concepts at work here; it's just that there's little joy to be found in the way they're implemented. Almost every time the game presented me with a new tool – it's full of items with names like the "Build Tool," the "Discovery Tool," etc. – I had to pause and ask myself: would a child be able to figure all this stuff out? My suspicion is that they wouldn't bother with the majority of the game's features, simply because it forces you to jump through so many hoops before you can break from the quest structure and actually build something.

In fact, the most interesting moments I experienced during my time with it (I played the Xbox One version) involved doing things the developers probably didn't intend. At one point early on, out of curiosity, I approached the edge of the very first map and climbed down until I'd reached the bottom of the world, then gazed into the ghostly-gray oblivion stretching out below. That, at least, was visually striking.

Another bit of unexpected weirdness happened when I came across a pair of professional thieves staking out a landfill, of all places. After convincing me to free her partner – he'd somehow been imprisoned in a freight container, and I needed her gold brick, after all – the woman enlisted my help in setting up a hideout and several lookout towers. "Am I really traveling the stars," I wrote in my notes, "to help small-time criminals hiding out in junkyards?" Eager to get moving again and make my way to the next world, I obliged, but when she had the nerve to ask for a fourth favor, I lost my cool and murdered them both. Not with the flintlock pistol or sword I'd kept in my bag, but with the yellow semicircles that served me for fists.

Imagine my surprise when, about a minute later, two animated skeletons came shambling toward me, seeking bloody vengeance. Naturally, I slew them yet again – only to then find the same woman, alive and well in her all-black clothes and unmistakable Zorro mask, standing in the very same spot I'd originally met her. The game not only teaches your children to aid and abet career criminals (gasp!); it also gives them a false and decidedly macabre understanding of how the world works.

There are other strange compliments I could pay the game, from the Sims-like voice-over – where you have a word balloon accompanied by recyclable "dialogue" that sounds like the mutterings of a semiconscious drunk – to the fluid movement of the player character as you climb, run, jump, and somersault through its seemingly empty and lifeless worlds. But I don't want to give the wrong impression. Lego Worlds has more performance issues than any current-generation, full-release game I've played on any platform. The screen tearing – where the screen shows partial images from a previous frame – is a constant irritation that you have to fight to ignore; the frame rate drops any time you do more than tiptoe across the terrain. And the game crashed, completely, no fewer than three times while I was reviewing it.

Will a child notice or care about issues like dropped frames or screen tearing? Perhaps not. But they'll definitely let you know how they feel when the game decides to freeze and reboot itself in the middle of working on a half-constructed castle, skyscraper, or some other masterpiece. With that in mind, I'd humbly suggest that your time would be much better spent on an honest-to-goodness Lego set instead. You can thank me later.