Before we start, I should perhaps explain a bit about the game's known back-story for those who haven't been watching too closely. The idea is that this dark force known as Maelstrom Energy (that's the weird purple glowy funk you see spread throughout these screenshots) has corrupted certain parts of the LEGO universe, and it's your job to help stop it. In the case of the Gnarled Forest, ships full of pirates touched down on the nearby beach and after adventuring into the forest, found large cracks in the ground that contained glowing purple crystals. Being pirates, they figured the glowing purple crystals were probably valuable gems. So, they greedily stuffed them into their pockets and treasure chests, only to wind up witless, mutated minions of this dark force.
Curious? Join me for more on LEGO Universe's Gnarled Forest behind the break, and be sure to check out the screenshots in the gallery below too!
We'll skip off telling you exactly where the rest of them are, since this is First Impressions, and not Huge Spoilers.
From there, you run into the primary denizens of the Gnarled Forest: pirates! The ones who aren't glowing purple and trying to kill you are largely scared out of their minds and in need of a hand from you. These pirates have also managed to trap a handful of ninjas, leading us to wonder if there was some type of Pirates-vs-Ninjas battle at NetDevil when they were dreaming up the game. These ninjas also have a craving for a special food that we don't quite understand, but made us laugh nonetheless.
Throughout the zone there are the normal "kill ten rats" and "fed-ex" type quests that we've all become accustomed to in MMOs. Beyond that, there are also "go perform this quick-build" (more on that later) tasks, and interesting combined obstacle-course and platforming elements to either race through, or puzzle through.
But when we get down to it, it's a LEGO game -- and it wouldn't be LEGO without building! Many elements incorporated in the quests and platforming use "quick-build" items, like static and moving platforms, gates, and things of that nature. Most of these operate roughly like you see in the trailer, sans the cool Matrixy-bullet-time elements. Building -- essentially much of the game -- requires players to gather little sparkly blue orbs which represent imagination. The earliest parts of Gnarled Forest are fairly full of crates to smash, so at first, you'll be swimming in the stuff. Later, you'll be on the lookout for less obvious sources like banana trees you can shake, mushrooms, and really cool LEGO skull tiki torches that can be spun for a few imagination -- and a laugh when they make silly faces at you for getting them dizzy.
This monkey is one of "those" NPCs: the ones you hunt down later for the sheer joy of killing them. Repeatedly.
Traveling further into the zone, you'll likely run into a particularly large (and very grumpy) monkey. One thing I can tell you with absolute certainty about said monkey is that I have died many, many horrible deaths at its blocky hands, and that it remained impervious to my white flag and peace offering of a banana-shaped LEGO brick. That said, higher-level characters can plow over him fairly simply, and often do. However, at lower-levels, that monkey is a real tyrant, meting out a quick death for any low-level character who isn't prepared to deal with -- or simply run from -- him.
With that said, death penalties in LEGO Universe really aren't all that bad. The worst thing that death costs you currently is a percentage of your coins, which drop out once you've been mashed into blocks. One quick click of the button, though, and you're reassembled into your normal minifig self, ready to tear around the zone once again. For that matter, If you're really quick (and didn't die in a bad place, such as launching yourself off a ledge and winding up in a river far below), you can even generally recoup the coins you dropped. Overall, death is largely painless and the numerous, well thought out respawn points contribute to the fun, since you can get right back into the action in nothing flat.