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First Impressions: LEGO Universe's Gnarled Forest

Yarr matey, are ye lookin' for more information on NetDevil's upcomin' MMO, LEGO Universe, then we've got a treat for you today! In an interesting move, the team at NetDevil has decided to drop the NDA one zone at a time, thereby allowing us to give you some early impressions of the game while it's still in beta. With that said, I must reinforce that due to the game being in beta, some of this may well change. Nonetheless, the story should still hold true -- and it's a story chock full of pirates, monkeys, bananas and other bizarre things you might expect to find in a place called the Gnarled Forest.

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!

Gallery: First Impressions: LEGO Universe | 23 Photos

Immediately after zoning in, players will notice a set of binoculars and a placard giving a bit more information about the area. These are two of the various collection-type quests that players can either choose to chase down for achievements, or skip and go on without. Being one of the types of people who loves these kinds of little collection quests, I dove for them, and made it a point of hunting the rest of them down throughout the level.

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.

In some games it might seem like major overkill to have wide-ranging gameplay elements together in such a tight space -- and indeed often together in the same quests. However, in LEGO Universe, they make sense. As opposed to just giving you the quests and expecting you to run five feet to talk to an NPC, the quests incorporate obstacle courses, requiring you to stop and think about how you'll accomplish the task. The other benefit to successfully navigating these oddball platform paths is that doing so is likely to net you other collection items not already mentioned, such as the gold brick, or flag collection achievements.

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.

Should you manage to survive and win past the obstacles in the way, you'll eventually end up on the beach where the rest of the pirates appear to be living out a rather happy, piratical existence. You'll have a chance to pick up a great pirate hat that will allow you to enter the zone from the beach in the future, a useful hook from the ornery captain, or kit yourself out in pirate garb from an ornery merchant if that be yer idea of fun, matey! There are other surprises there as well, but we'll leave you to figure those out for yourself -- again, we don't want to spoil all the fun! Finally, there's also a fun shooting-galley minigame, giving you a chance to win special LEGO goodies for when you're building your very own creations.

Of course, since the personal building portion of the game isn't inside the Gnarled Forest, we will have to save that for the NDA lift on that area -- when we'll be back with another LEGO Universe First Impressions!

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