There's not much content, but what's there is highly-polished and tight controls mean your children can safely explore this virtual world.
Fortunately, there are other incentives to keep on slashing, mostly in the form of achievements, which provide a smug sense of self-satisfaction, as well as garnering you shiny new equipment and stat bonuses. Eventually, you’ll hit a point where the equipment you get in reward for completing quests outclasses all but the most specialised of your faction’s equipment, which comes as something of a relief. It’s this combat-heavy stage that the very youngest players may need their parents’ help to get through.
Safety is paramount in any online environment aimed at children, and Lego has spared no effort in making Universe as secure as possible. All in-game chat is checked by an automatic censor, which blocks numbers as well as any words not in its extensive dictionary. While this can limit interaction and cause problems in situations where fast communication is required, it’s still an excellent safety precaution. There are also moderators online at all times and quick contact options for reporting problems.
Minors require parental approval to include people in their network of friends, and accounts can only be fully validated by checking against national passport or driving licence databases. The game is designed so that it can be played solo, except for occasionally asking for assistance from other players in the immediate area. This detracts from – but doesn’t eliminate – the guild-based play common to most MMOs, but means that your child won’t have to sign up with a group of strangers just to play certain areas.
A downside for parents who want to play alongside their kids is that you’ll need to have a separate account for each player. You can have four avatars associated with each account, but only one of them can be online at a time. We’re surprised that Lego hasn’t already released family packs.
Lego Universe isn’t perfect; there isn’t enough of it, for a start. Less than 18 hours’ play was enough to see almost every part of the game world as it currently exists. That said, there are already a couple of new areas under construction that Lego promises to reveal before the end of the year. In the mean time, there’s still plenty of fun to be had and it’s great to see a rewarding MMO with a safe environment and gameplay that both children and adults can enjoy.
Despite its flaws – painfully limited backpack space, poor building block sorting and a slightly incomplete feel to the world – we found Lego Universe genuinely compelling. It’s a beautifully crafted game, and we’re giving it four stars in the expectation that it’ll continue to grow and develop.