Lego Minifigures Online has just hit open beta. Those of you without wee ‘uns can probably stop reading right about now. It’s not that Lego can’t be enjoyed by adults, but that Minifigures Online only has one demographic in mind, and none of them can buy cigarettes or whisky.
I didn’t take my own advice, however, and dived in for a couple of hours. I’ve enjoyed endless hours of entertainment with TT's Lego series and hoped that Minifigures Online would strike the same balance between simplicity and fun.
Minifigures Online is an action RPG, but watered down to the point where it becomes completely mindless. It’s simple: you just get pointed in a direction and go and hit things. These “things” are made from Lego and the scenery is authentic, evoking messy bedrooms filled with bricks or the kinds of vibrant but detailed scenes that kids make when faced with a mountain of toys. That’s its only real strength: it looks like Lego.
But there’s not much to do. The minifigures just whale on enemies until they explode or build the occasional objects when directed.
The central conceit isn’t so different from the likes of Lego Star Wars or DC, but lacks the nuance or moments of challenge. I think Funcom is seriously underestimating their demographic.
I look at the crazy things my niece or nephew build in Minecraft or recall the hours I spent trying to figure out Ultima as a mite, and I wonder what sort of child would be entertained for more than an hour with Minifigures Online.
It’s a concern that Rob had when he previewed it earlier this year, and now that it’s hit open beta, very little has changed.
There’s a hint of diversity thanks to the different minifigures that come with unique special abilities, but none of them come even close to the personality of their counterparts in the TT's games. There’s a plumber, an actress, a warrior, some old guy… the short list goes on to include not much else of note. I did grow fond of the cyclops, though, who also has the powers of Cyclops from X-Men, which did elicit a chuckle from me, I must confess.
The range of minifigures will increase, since this is only open beta, but quantity won’t make up for the lack of quality.
It’s free-to-play, which also raises a few problems. I am not a fan of F2P games aimed at children; I find that they often border on exploitative. I’m not sure I’d go so far as that with Minifigures Online, but it’s certainly a poor example of the model. You can’t even use chat unless you’re a subscriber. This might be a way to protect kids from people jumping into the game and being obnoxious, but it also creates a paywall.
The biggest problem is that it’s just not fun. It’s like Lego Lord of the Rings (and so on) without the clever puzzles or surprisingly razor sharp wit. The combat is plain and boring, it’s hard to care about the characters and it talks down to a generation that’s been raised surrounded by increasingly complex and creative video games.
If you want a Lego game to play with your kids, or even just by yourself, look elsewhere. At least until launch, though I doubt that the design of the game will change much.