Each week Marsh Davies squints at the ambitious blueprint that is Early Access and struggles to work out which bit goes where, and how many pieces are missing, before giving up and, most likely, building a big old cock instead. This week he’s been playing Lego Worlds, TT Games’ attempt to channel the charm of Minecraft’s freeform construction at the behest of their brick-wielding Danish overlords.
Finally, Lego have made a game about Lego rather than the Lego brand. Though they quite possibly only managed that because someone else went and did it first. Every dismayingly poor TT Games platformer I’ve played has only further convinced me that Markus Persson already made the best possible Lego game – and as just one facet of that multifaceted monster, Minecraft. Its shadow looms large over this entire enterprise. Though it’s an enterprise that seems to be getting wise to this fact: some of the recent releases under the Lego brand are, I am told, interesting and ambitious in their own right, and not just quirky minifig rehashes of film properties, draped over a crap but childproof platformer framework. So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that Worlds, too, feels interesting and ambitious – albeit extremely early in its development. There’s not much about it at the moment that Minecraft hasn’t covered in mods, but it’s nonetheless immediate, generous and jolly, its focus shifted away from Minecraft’s complex recipes and resources to simple collection and unfettered creation.
There’s no survival element here (regular readers of this column will know this is not a complaint) – your motivation is merely to explore and enjoy the world, discovering new prefabs, minifigs, vehicles and animals and adding them to your ever-swelling library of instantly spawnable items. Spawned items have a cost in studs, however, though these are easily acquired by smashing the shit out of everything you see. You can manually construct things, too, and at no cost, placing individual bricks from a huge library of brick shapes, to build as you please, as well as modifying the terrain with a variety of powerful tools. There’s no multiplayer yet, though it is due in a later Early Access build – so it remains to be seen how TT Games intend to counter the inevitable rash of penises that such tools will facilitate.
After fighting my way through the game’s appalling front-end menus, I freefall into a snowscape – one island of many in this particular procedurally generated world. Horses and huskies roam among the pine trees and snowmen dot the landscape. I wage a brief war upon these snowmen, and use the gathered studs – which I like to think of as a sacrificial offering of their remains – to build a prefab cabin down by the coast. I dick around some more – impressed by the fact I can clamber up almost anything with a fluid animation to rival Ezio. But after I’ve ridden around on the back of a husky, collecting the remaining unique plants that dot the island, there’s not too much else to see here. Periodically the camera will pan off to the horizon as though I’ve spotted something, but more often than not this seems to be beyond the game’s (non-alterable) draw-distance. Nonetheless, I follow up on the cue and swim out into the ocean.
Quickly, I encounter another island, with a dinghy and a miniature submersible bobbing on the water just off its coast. The submersible doesn’t submerge yet, however – it seems submarine gameplay is to be added at a later date – and so I set about exploring this land. I encounter other people here – they too can be collected for your own use. I am stealing these people’s faces, like a monstrous chameleonic demigod. And more monstrous still, in order to acquire some character’s identities you must first beat them to death. I make it my business to tear everyone I meet limb from limb: explorers, vampires, cowboys, skeletons, wizards – I sunder each and every one with the bare yellow claws which represent my hands. Their faces now adorn my gallery – still smiling outwardly, but screaming within – their spirits rasped into the singular terrible entity which is the Devourer, the Abomination, the Uber Marsh.
I will consume all.
And yet, despite my rapaciousness, not all of their components become available in character customisation. I can adopt their full costume, but only some bits of them become available for mix-n-match. I roam around a bit as a skeleton, but the sound samples associated with this are all a variety of hysterical screams which quickly becoming irritating (though props to the voice actor, who is clearly really getting into it).
The variety of biomes I encounter in just a short space of time is impressive, and their individualism is clearly the main draw to explore the world. There are haunted woods of gnarled trees, and jutting graves, roamed by zombies and dapper looking vamps. I ride polar bears across the tundra, find a dragon, and fly him through a desert, chargrilling cowboys to bits amid ruddy outcrops of mesa. The world being made of small, single-stud-sized lego bricks, rather than minecraft’s waist-high cubes, means the game can more easily describe distinct and subtle geographies.
I take to my dragon up into the clouds. There’s a horse up here, standing on a little puff of white bricks. On the off-chance that he is the god of horses, I slay him (there can be no God here but I) before descending to a nice valley of cherry trees where I set about annihilating a tall Japanese-style building with fireballs. Each blast from my dragon sends out a ball of flame that scoops a large spherical chunk out of whatever it hits. It is immensely pleasing, though I’m slightly disappointing nothing catches fire, too.
How else might I inflict my terrible will upon this land? Perhaps a building project is in order – and it seems like I found the perfect, pliable audience for my unchallenged majesty. I’ve landed in a territory occupied by cavemen – and the occasional scientist, who I assume to be studying them. Reason and knowledge have no place in my realm, however. “The only truth is my truth,” I bellow as I exterminate the scientists with flame and fists. There can be no new learning to undermine my authority. But what to build? It must inspire awe. It must inspire worship. It must be terrible and beautiful, a symbol of unassailable power.
No, it’s not a penis.
Instead, I plan to build a giant, demonic screaming face. It worked in Zardoz, right?
I spawn a digger and set about flattening an area of terrain among some cherry trees. I would have preferred a backdrop of volcanic rock and bones, but you have to go to where your audience is. No sooner as I’ve finished and hopped out of my digger to start laying foundations than a surviving scientist steals my vehicle, and uses it to plough a hole right in the middle of my base. She dies quickly, and I take the digger and drive it into a mountain, lodging it deep in a tunnel from whence it cannot be extracted. I patch up her sabotage with the terrain tools, which pan the camera out semi-independently of your character, who levitates above the area under your administration. Using a levelling tool and smoothing tool I pat the ground flat, and get back to work.
It’s quite fiddly to be precise, I find – but then the blocks here are just much smaller than Minecraft’s, so perhaps it’s to be expected. The interface is definitely beyond the gamepad I’ve been using hitherto, however, and I switch the mouse to better aim my clicks. Given the complexity of the task – establishing where in 3D space you desire a block to be placed using only a single 2D viewport, the game does a remarkable job of getting it right. Which is to say it still gets it wrong a lot, and that is immensely annoying, but I see no easy fix.
Unlike in reality, Lego blocks can snap together side by side, which is handy. Less handy is the day-night cycle, which occasionally casts a flat light across your masterpiece which makes it impossible to judge the depth or distinction between blocks, or otherwise throws distracting shadows across them. But I make it work. Blocks can be rotated left and right, but not inverted vertically – meaning my giant screaming demon face has no eyeteeth. Underbite it is. There’s an area select and clone tool, but it’s pretty useless for my purposes in its current state. I want to use it to build a symmetrical horn, but the selection process seems to grab in stuff that I haven’t actually selected, and it’s impossible to specify with any precision where in 3D space you want to place your cloned object thereafter.
At about this point, possibly half an hour into construction, I have about fucking had it with the sounds of horses neighing and whinnying nearby, and so I kill them all. A fitting sacrifice for this monument, I believe. I finish-off the symmetrical horn manually, which takes a lot of time and some considerable swearing.
The screaming demon head ends up looking vaguely apologetic.
Nonetheless, I am pleased that my legacy is complete, and will hopefully lead to the subjugation of a barbarous and superstitious people, cowed into thousands of years of pointless religious self-oppression. And so I set out on my next adventure: I have located a giant drilling machine. It looks like the Batmobile, if the Batmobile was in fact a drill, and it tunnels rapidly through pretty much anything. I say farewell to the dragon, and bore downwards through the rock, spiralling round and round until I hit the indestructible bottom of the world – a flat, obsidian plane of even square tiles. And so I dig back up again, having no idea where i’ll end up. As I explode out of the seabed my car instantly disassembles, leaving me to float to the surface. I swim around for a while before I find an island paradise, ringed by a reef and a sheer wall of rock, inhabited by kings and bikers. I kill them all and take their faces as my own.
I swim out again, and further still, but find no more islands before me, only the open sea. I manually respawn from the menu, hoping to save myself further swimming, but it appears I have swum beyond the bounds of the world’s generation and I fall endlessly through a grey abyss. My power was too great for this world. I have gone beyond the infinite.
Maybe it’d be handy to be able to place respawn points, I think, as I fall forever.
Oh well. I am at least content that I have probably experienced an adequate amount of what Lego Worlds currently offers – and enjoyed nearly all of it. It doesn’t yet threaten the complexity of Minecraft or the variety of ways to repurpose that sandbox. It doesn’t come anywhere near, in fact. But it is so immediate in its appeal that it’s hard not to find something fun to do. The simple provision of prefab vehicles and other delights to find and collect and muck about in makes it a much more accessible playpen than un-modded Minecraft may be. Its building tools are powerful, if fiddly, and the simple fact of that it is constructed of smaller blocks means that we’ll see building projects that rival or exceed Minecraft’s in architectural complexity, and yet exist at a playable scale.
There’s a long list of features to be added in coming builds – more content, caves and AI behaviours are the least of these things. The one bullet-point the game really needs is multiplayer: I can already imagine some of the fun I will have building and assailing a friend’s fort on dragonback, or sacrificing them before a giant screaming red face to the imagined cheers of my cavemen acolytes. The penis problem is a tricky one, but in order to unlock the game’s potential, it may just be something Lego have to swallow.
Lego Worlds is available on Steam for £12. I played the version with the Build ID 647291 on 13/06/2015.