Lego Universe has been in development for a couple years now, but we finally got the first hands on and impressions of the MMO for both kid and adult LEGO fans. It is time-sinkingly fantastic.
There are two components of the game that are pretty tightly interweaved: the more traditional MMO portions where you use your skills and interact with other players to achieve goals and defeat monsters, and the building bit, where you have your own territory and can build anything you want out of Lego pieces.
Since everyone's more interested about the building part, we'll cover that first. Lego says you have access to pretty much every part they have, from many of the unique Lego sets over the years (pirates, space, etc). You have your own "home" area that you can build castles or whatever inside, invite your friends to visit and customise however you like. You can also assign behaviours and actions to what you build as well, by dragging and dropping actions onto easily-connectible UI segments. It's intuitive enough for kids, since Lego has been doing research into that segment for years.
The MMO part comes from the fact that it costs pieces (obviously) and in-game money to build, so you have to go out into the MMO world and adventure in order to earn both.
As for the MMO part, it's similar to a standard MMO, but instead of grinding for experience, you do certain tasks in order to earn achievements (like Xbox 360's). And when you earn achievements, you earn new items and abilities in order to access other parts - which are based on those traditional Lego sets.
Lego stressed that the game is going to be accessible to kids as well as adults, which is pretty great for parents who are looking for ways to relate to their children beyond yelling. And adults, like us, who are Lego fans, will get in on this game hardcore, making it an easy contender to top World of Warcraft in the MMO space.
This is a logical evolution in the Lego series. They already have Mindstorms, which has the programming aspect, and the set-design online tool, which lets you build your own sets and order them from Lego. Lego Universe integrates all of that into one cohesive (and fun!) product.
The best bit is the promise that you'll be able to take digital creations you make in the game and make a custom set, complete with constructions, in meatspace. Lego will figure out which pieces are necessary to build your masterpiece, give you a price list, and ship you a custom box with everything inside. It won't be available at launch, but it is coming soon. The game will ship in 2010. [Lego Universe]