The world of LEGO is being destroyed by the mighty Maelstrom. Imagination is being sucked into its evil vortex, and only you and your friends can stop it! Customize your minifig to fit your personality, choose your favorite faction, and launch into battle against Maelstrom and its minions. Save imagination!

LEGO Universe Online
is the LEGO brand's first leap into the MMO genre. After LEGO's success with single-player games, such as the extremely popular Star Wars and Indiana Jones series, it only seems natural for the company to jump into the massively multiplayer universe. The design team of over 150 people has built a wild and whimsical world, Brick and Knob by Brick and Knob, and the crazy thing is, you can add to this world, too.

At PAX, LEGO was kind enough to give me a personal guided tour through this universe of adventure and creativity. Follow me after the break as I guide you through my hands-on with LEGO Universe Online. The adventure

As with any MMO, the first place we stop is the character creation screen. We didn't say here too long, but it was quite entertaining to see the number of different and odd expressions a player could use for a minifigure. We chose something pretty basic because we wanted get to the action, and we also knew his head and clothes would be covered for most of our adventure today. When I test out the beta, this is certainly a place I will spend a lot of time so I can get my character just right. Plus, I find it really funny to see eyebrows and lips flying around in a huge circle. I had to laugh when I saw it.

The next stop was choosing a faction. In LEGO Universe there are four different factions. Venture characters are the explorers and archaeologists of LEGO. If there is an ancient mystery to be solved, you will find a Venture there. The Assembly faction is the builder and summoner group. Based on how your armor is tricked out, your Assembly minifig can call on explosive battle turrets or giant LEGO monsters. Sentinels are the next faction. If you're in trouble, you want to have a Sentinel at your back. They are the physical power in the LEGOverse. Lastly, the mysterious ninja-like factionmates of Paradox are sneaky and dishonorable on the battlefield. Perhaps they'd be a good faction to have on your side in a fight -- but not as an opponent.

We geared up as an assembler, who reminded me of Team Fortress 2's engineer. We would set down turrets of various sizes and strength to take out gangs of Maelstrom baddies. I half expected the character to pipe, "The answer is a gun, and if that don't work: use more gun," as he just laid the purple and black soldiers to waste. Good times.

DIY world-building

The second and possibly most exciting spot on our tour de LEGO was the player's personal space. In the average MMO, this would be considered player housing, but this is LEGO. It goes far, far beyond simple player housing. You can literally build whatever you want here. This is your space to do with as you like.

As you smash minions of the Maelstrom, they will drop blocks which will be placed in storage for you to use later for brick-by-brick building, or you may possibly get pre-built models. The pre-built model I was shown was a house. It had all the pieces and play areas a house would need: two floors, a dining room, kitchen, bedroom, etc. This particular model came in two parts similar to a doll's house. From this point, I could recolor or move pieces around so the house became unique to me.

The tour guide took the controls to show off the brick-by-brick building. She built this obscure little shape out of five or six bricks and colored each brick to show the color versatility. Then, to my surprise, she started adding what could be best described as widgets to the object. The object was next assigned actions. In the demonstration, she hopped the character onto the brick-by-brick object and hit the shift key while moused over it. We were now riding a LEGO elevator which raised high in the air, then back down a bit, to the right a couple of paces, then exploded. I laughed at this as the character fell to the ground as elevator disassembled.

I was told that this was the part the designers would be looking at most closely to see what their playerbase was building. The designers want to find out what the players are building so they know how to progress the game in the best direction. In fact, I was told the story of one designer building a gorgeous miniature city. He'd go all Godzilla on the poor buildings of the city, smashing them to bits using these widgets. And then, as if nothing had happened, the city would reassemble itself.


ZOOM ZOOM!

My favorite part had to be the race tracks. I have no idea why these are so appealing to me. I'm not very good at racing, and I'm really a story-type player. I guess there is nothing like the zooming of cars around a track trying to pass, dodge, or wreck the others. With LEGO Universe racing, you get to build your own car. What's better than that? So, I built a shiny red one.

All LEGO Universe tracks are PvP. The goal is to, obviously, be the first to cross the finish line, but there are obstacles in your way. In this particular track there were loops and jumps as well as splits in the track to help confuse the player. If you have played the original LEGO Racers, you'd recognize the orbs which allow you to boost. You can boost as soon as you retrieve an orb or build up the boost to be faster and longer using up to six orbs.

Per usual, I did not win the race, but that's not to say it was not fun. I was very impressed with the physics. If I dare compare it to another children's online racing game in Free Realms, I would say the handling is 10 times better, and there is no uncontrollable drift like in the former game. The attention to detail is another thing that struck me. Things like the characters' shouting and making fists at each other as they passed, or the seat tricks as the car would jump. I know these are not new things in racing games, but I'm glad LEGO hasn't forgotten to put them in its game.

First impression

Although this was a demo, I did get a very good first impression of the game. It seemed as if I was only able to scratch the surface of the game, but it has enticed me enough to help beta test it. I hope that gives me a more rounded view of the whole game. The combat and racing mechanics seem to be very polished and ready for launch, I would like to see how complete the world is and know more about "endgame" as it applies here.

The lore doesn't seem to be as in-depth as LEGO Star Wars and others, but I don't think we can fault LEGO Universe here, because you don't exactly play LEGO for lore -- you play for the fun. And this game has fun in spades. The best thing about its being an MMO is the ever-evolving game world, so there is plenty of potential. For example, right now, the team doesn't have a way for you to acquire physical versions of your in-game creations, but it is something the producers are definitely looking into since it is a part of another existing LEGO game.

If you haven't signed up for the beta or pre-ordered the game, head over to universe.lego.com now! Then, stay tuned to Massively for the latest on this and the ever-growing genre of child-focused MMOs.

This article was originally published on Massively.