Saturday, 31 October 2015

Lego Dimensions - First Impressions

Hey guys, I know it has been a loooooong time since my last update. I've still been going with the Lego collecting, but there has just been less time than I'd like to blog. However, I've been wanting to get back to it for a while and Lego Dimensions presents a good opportunity, as I'm also covering it over on my Youtube channel. Here on the blog, I'll be focusing more on the physical side of things; the sets, the models, the minifigures etc. but I'll be playing the game in full over there. 

So, on with the show.

So what is Lego Dimensions

Lego Dimensions is the latest game in the "Toys to Life" genre. This includes games like Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Nintendo's Amiibo compatible games, which allow you to place separately bought toys onto a USB "portal" and bring the characters to life within the game. Industry analysts have been predicting a Lego entry for some time now, and it has finally arrived. Merging the business model of Skylanders, the high quality toys of Lego, and the excellent gameplay from Traveller's Tales Lego video games.  

Sounds Great, What's the catch?

Price, basically. To get in on it you'll need to buy the Lego Dimensions Starter Kit. This gets you the game itself, the USB Portal (which is also a decent sized Lego model), three mini figures, and a vehicle. Lego doesn't come cheap, and so the game costs about twice a normal video game. I stumped up the cash for the PS4 edition and it set me back nearly £100. (Lego VIP card, I could kiss you.)

If you want to see the contents of the Starter Kit in more detail, check out the video below. 

And that's it right? 

Well, no... See, the whole thing about Toys-to-Life games is that they unlock more content with every new toy you buy, so if you want to unlock every little bit of content the game has to offer, you're going to need to buy some new toys. Currently you can buy Fun Packs which come with a character and vehicle for around £15, Team Packs which come with two characters and two vehicles for £30, and Level Packs, which come with a character and two vehicles, but also unlock new story missions, also for £30. Sounds complicated? It is, but it makes a lot more sense when you play the game. Buying every Wave 1 Lego Dimensions set new would set you back around £600.

Wait, so I need to spend £600 to play everything in this crazy game?

No, not really. That's just for completionists. The unlock most of the content in the main game, really all you need is one character from each franchise. This will unlock each of the game's "Worlds", free roam areas that can only be unlocked if you own a character from that specific franchise. (For example, buying one of the Simpsons sets, gives you access to the Simpsons' World.) Each world is a large, free roam area with missions, unlockables, characters and easter eggs. You can take any of your other characters in and they're great sandboxes to play with all your other toys. There are obstacles you'll need specific characters to pass if you want to collect everything in the game, but once you've unlocked a World you'll be able to hire characters for short periods of time using the collectable in-game currency (studs).  

So how much "game" do I get if I just buy the starter kit?

I know this was a big concern for me before buying Dimensions. Just how substantial is the Starter Kit? It's a lot of money to put down in one go on a game, and while I love the TT Lego Games, even my wallet has a limit? So, if you just buy the Starter Kit with nothing else, what do you get? 

Quite a lot actually. The Starter Kit comes with the Portal, of course, but it also comes with Batman, Gandalf, and Wildstyle figures. Batman has also brought along his Batmobile. Between them, these four models essentially cover all the game's base mechanics and you'll play them in every single level. Unlike previous Lego games, however, you won't unlock any new characters to keep. 

The game doesn't skimp on content, however. As expensive as the Starter Kit is, I never felt shortchanged with the game itself. Included is a pretty decent story mode that takes around 13 hours to complete, and involves a dimension twisting, mishmash plot evocative of the Lego Movie's story. Even if you don't buy any of the other sets, this story takes you through most of the franchises that have signed up to Lego Dimensions. That means you'll spend time in a lot of different locations. Some are better than others. The Ninjago dimension, for example, relies on a lot of knowledge for the franchise and went right over my head. Fair enough, it's for the fans after all, but the gameplay is pretty dull too. The Doctor Who level, however, was a miracle of fan service and gameplay balance that probably entertained me more than the show has recently. Special mention of course for the Portal story level, which is almost as great as masterpiece as the original Portal game was. What this means is, if the reason you're hankering for this game is for a taste of Lego Scooby-Doo or Ghostbusters, you'll get a meaty taste of it without actually buying any of the extra sets. Plus you'll get the bizarre joy of watching Gandalf powering up Doc Brown's DeLorean using the Batmobile as a motor. 

If you'd like to see a little in-depth gameplay, check it out below. 

On top of that, your three starter kit characters will also give you access to three of the game's Worlds. Those being DC Universe, Lord of the Rings, and The Lego Movie. Again, some are better than others. The Lord of the Rings world, for example, was a touching and nostalgic tour through all the sights of Middle Earth that played familiar music and hidden secrets while giving me all the joy of exploration that the old Lego Lord of the Rings game did. The DC Universe world is a poorly thought out hodgepodge that's hard to navigate and not all that fun. Lego Movie world? Somewhere in the middle. There is, however, a lot to do and see that will keep you going with content long after the story mode is complete. 

Like a lot of people, I'm just working with a Starter Kit at this stage, and I won't lie. There are times when it feels like they started with your usual £40 Lego Game and then walled off content until you spend more money, but these moments don't come as often as you'd expect them to and only time will tell if buying the extra sets feels like opening the door to a bigger and better game or being given the key to content you should have had from the beginning. This is an expensive proposition, and a lot of its success going forward is going to be based on how its value is perceived by consumers, particularly parents. Personally, I think it's going to be a tough sell, but I hope it succeeds. Perhaps with a price drop on those Wave 2 sets. 

So what do the sets do?

Like I say, I just have the Starter Kit so I can't speak to much beyond that in detail, but I'll do my best. 

Let's ignore the team packs for a second, because they're basically just bigger fun packs and their existence sort of muddies the water and makes the whole thing more complicated than it should be. (I'm certain the Team Packs only exist because franchises like Jurassic World are big enough to scoop up extra sales right now, but not big enough to justify making new story missions for in time for Wave 1, but anyway...)

Essentially there are two types of set, Fun Packs and Level Packs. 

Let's say after you bought the starter kit and played everything in there was in it and you got a hankering for more Lego, you went out and bought the Wicked Witch of West Fun Pack. This set costs £15 and comes with a Wicked Witch mini figure and a Flying Monkey model that I assume is a vehicle but might be some sort of special item or something. I don't know. (It's not a minifigure and the model is ugly as sin but it's the most useful example because god knows what the Chima stuff is supposed to be.) This set allows you to place the Witch and the Monkey on the Toypad and use them in-game. Then you can replay story missions, and every so often you might come across an obstacle that only these two models can overcome, letting you access collectable and hidden secrets. However, because the Wicked Witch is a Wizard of Oz character, this also lets you unlock the Wizard of OZ hub-world with a HUGE amount of extra content. That makes the Fun Packs surprisingly good value as the cheaper sets available. The only downside is that, should Lego release another Wizard of Oz fun pack in the future, the Hub-World is already unlocked and so it becomes a much less valuable proposition. 

And the Level Packs?

Basically the same, but with an added story mission. Take the Simpsons Level Pack, for example. This comes with a Homer mini figure, Homer's Car and the Simpsons' classic TV. These are all, I assume, useable in game items, and accessing Homer will also let you into the Simpsons's world, but once you're in there you'll also gain access to a new Story Mission, presumably with cutscenes and voice acting etc. that you can only access with that specific set. That means they unlock a good bit of extra content to the Level Packs, and come with a little more Lego,  but they do cost twice as much. The value here is going to depend on how much you enjoy the individual franchises and how much you enjoyed the story compared to exploring the hubs. 

So how is the Lego?

Fairly good, if a little simple. The minifigures in the starter kit are all pretty decent from a Lego fan's point of view. Both Batman and Wildstyle have printing on the front and back of the heads. Wildstlye also have extensive body printing and they're definitely hight quality figs. Only Gandalf seems to be short changed and seems no different to the Lego Gandalf I picked up with 30213-1. (And I got that set FREE with a copy of the Daily Mail. Now some would say paying money for the Daily Mail is a greater cost that all the Dimensions sets put together but I REALLY wanted that free Lego.) Perhaps all the Minifigures in the Starter Kits are culled from previous sets but that's pretty cheap if so.  Most people will be in it for the little models, and I can only really judge the Batmobile. It's not bad, it gets a lot of detail into the small scale and makes good use of some batarangs to the car's traditional scalloped fins. However, it's a little too simple for my tastes (and the cost) and despite the characters riding around in the car on-screen, the model itself doesn't actually fit anywhere for characters to sit. A sad omission that renders the whole "Play On Screen, Play Off Screen" selling point a little hollow. Once the illusion is broken there's no getting away from the fact that we could play the whole game with the little blue stands and put the Lego on the shelf. 

Final Thoughts?

Lego Dimensions certainly isn't bad. If you're a fan of the TT games, then you'll probably enjoy the 12-14 hours of story included in the Starter Kit alone. Once that's over, you have access to three hub worlds that offer a lot of extra content. 

Funnily enough, it's the physical Lego side of things that starts to let things down. The starter kit is too expensive by far. It sort of makes sense if you tot up all the individual components and value them at Lego prices, but this is a different sort of proposition to buying Lego sets alone. The Portal set without the game would be an incredibly dull Lego set, and the simplistic nature of the vehicles means the playability is a little reduce. The figures themselves are fun but presented without accessories. 

It's Lego, but it's all a bit muted to make it work with the game, and yet it comes with no concession to cost. Instead the NFC chips are used as an excuse to bump the price even higher, but consumers (again, especially parents) don't make value judgements on the technical prowess of the product, but what it offers to the user in terms of fun, creativity and value going forward. As much as I've enjoyed the game, and as much as I love Lego and the Lego Dimensions concept, I can't help but feel Lego has overvalued itself in almost every area here. As great as the idea of a Toys-to-Life Lego game is, at some stage someone needed to point out that turning Lego into NFC models inhibits the playability of the Lego. By clinging too hard to this perceived value of "oooh, REAL Lego" they have significantly overvalued these models. Somewhere along the line, a price concession needed to be made. Either the expansion sets needed to be a lot cheaper, or a hit needed to be taken on the Starter Kit. Dropping the Kit to £60-£70, even if it meant taking a loss, would have made it a much easier sell.

Monday, 28 October 2013

See You In December!

This is just a quick announcement to let you know that updates are going to be a little thin on the ground this November. I've been keeping this place fairly well updated in the last couple of months, but the outside world still intervenes sometimes. As some of you will know, November is National Novel Writing Month, a time in which hopeful fiction writers attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It's a challenging, exciting event for those brave scribblers who enter, and was absolutely my favourite month of 2012. I'm participating again this year, but the down side is that it leaves little time for other pastimes. If I'm going to be spending any time at a keyboard, it'll be best spent on my novel. I'll still be dabbling with the Lego, I'm sure, and if I get chance to snap then I'll be back with updates, but until then I'm at the Writer's Desk until December.

You can follow my NaNoWriMo updates at my main blog here: The Owen Adams Project

Monday, 21 October 2013

Lego City - 30225 - Coast Guard Seaplane - Review

The Coast Guard Seaplane is another small Polybag set available as part of the Lego Mini Builds range, currently available at WHSmith. A lot of these sets were Lego City models, including the Fire Car and the Police Helicopter, but this One-Man Aeroplane is easily the best set of the bunch.

The Coast Guard is a fairly new part of the Lego City range. Individual Coast Guard sets have been around since the Lego Town days, but the modern incarnation of Coast Guard only became a regular appearance in 2008. A lot of sets that year fleshed out some of the gaps in Lego City's Fire and Police crammed shelves, but there were no more until this year. The Coast Guard Seaplane contains only 37 pieces and is one of the smallest Coast Guard sets, but it's one of the best polybag vehicles I've seen in ages.

The Minifigure is nice, if a little generic. He comes with a Coast Guard printed torso (back and front) and the same face with sunglasses you'll find on a lot of these figures. He also comes with a plain baseball cap and lifejacket. If you're in this for collecting minifigures, he's nothing to shout about, but it's nice to have someone to fly the plane.

The pieces included in this set are quite handy, and much better than the usual polybag fare. Small white wing tiles are a nice addition, as well as two propellers with axles, some nice orange detailing pieces, a tail/rudder piece that will be great on any small plane models and a couple of the hinged plates you'll probably recognise from the old Podrace sets standing in for the plane's floats.

The pieces come together to make a model that is larger and more complex than you'd expect from a polybag set. The trade off is that it does look a little flimsy, and not really like any craft you'd really want to brave the seas or skies in. Still, it looks functional and fits in fairly well with some of the other Coast Guard sets. It's always nice to see ambition in smaller models.

If you live near a WHSmith selling the Mini Builds, they're all worth picking up if only for the building practice and spare pieces, but if you only have enough change for one model, it has to be the Coast Guard Seaplane. It really balances creativity, design, solid construction and fun well and it does it all with remarkably few pieces. It's a great little set.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Making your own Lego Christmas Decorations. Part 1: Basic Tree Decorations.

I know it's a little early for Christmas posts. We've still Halloween to get out of the way, and a whole month before we're reach the season to be jolly, but making the best out of your Lego takes time and preparation. I'd like to incorporate a little Lego into the Christmas decorations this year, so I've started working on a few ideas. Here's a simple one to start with that is fairly easy to pull off and can be made from fairly common Lego pieces.

The first step to making a Christmas tree decoration is to make a fitting. I have a few ideas for this, but I thought I'd start with a simple one for this post.

This fitting is made by combining to common 1x1 Brick with a stud on the side and the 1x1 Plate with Clip, another common piece. These two pieces fit together fairly firmly, and will fit hold tight enough to reasonably light decorations. While the 1x1 Brick with Stud is hollow, rather than threading this brick directly, adding the plate lets you build the brick into the body of your decoration if it starts to get a little too heavy.

Now you've made your fitting, you need to work on the model itself. You don't need a lot of building experience to make something nice, you just need to make something that won't fall apart when it's left to dangle. A good approach to begin with is to make a flat shape out of one stud wide bricks. This will create a simple, chunky mosaic that will be light and colourful on your tree. When building up, be sure to use bricks of different sizes and stagger them. Try not to have many of the vertical joins between bricks lining up, like a brick wall. This will make the shape stronger than one without staggered bricks, which will pull apart very easily.

For my bauble, I made a Christmas Pudding. I used basic bricks for the body, with slopes and inverted sloped to smooth out the corners and top it off with a garnish of holly. I also built in a few bricks with holes into the body, a few 1x1 Round Tiles make a few cherries to sweeten up the pudding. When you're done, just tie a loop of thread through your fitting and you're done. It's probably a good idea to hang your decoration somewhere safe for a while and make sure it's truly gravity proof. If it lasts until December, it's ready for the tree.

Ideas for more complex Lego Christmas Decorations coming soon!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Lego Star Wars - 30242 - Republic Frigate - Review

I spent my childhood madly obsessed with Star Wars. I devoured the films over and over before moving on to the Expanded Universe, but I haven't picked up many of Lego's Star Wars sets. This is partly because of the bumped up price of licensed sets and partly because since Lucasfilm hitched the hitched the fortune of the franchise onto the dire Clone Wars series, the models really haven't been my kind of thing. I am lucky enough to own an incomplete 7142 X-Wing, but the Republic Frigate is the first set Star Wars set I've bought new since I got back into the Lego game.

The Republic Frigate is a mini-build based on a craft from the Prequel Trilogy and Clone Wars series. It is probably not the most recognisable ship in the canon, but it's probably best remembered as the ship that brings the two Jedi Knights to the trade negotiation in the opening scenes of Episode I. (Exciting stuff, eh?) Visually, this has a lot in common with the Original Trilogy's Rebel Blockade Runner,  but with the colouring and style later associated with the Old Republic. It's a fairly original ship design that balances a style between Hard Sci-Fi ship design and the Star Wars universe's more fantastic flair. The result is a vessel that looks realistic and usable but captures the spirit of a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. 

The polybag was originally a promo set available with orders from the Lego Store online, but I was fortunate enough to pick it up as part of the Mini-Builds line available at WHSmith. I've reviewed several of these sets, but this one is a little bit different. It is the only Star Wars set in the line, as well as the only Mini version of another Lego model. I believe it is also the only set not to include a Minifigure. This is understandable as the Star Wars license skims of some of the profits, but the brand name and the higher piece count of 45 pieces softens the blow a little. 

While the model has less function and moving parts than other small polybag sets, it's much less disappointing than others I've complained about like the Fire Car. It's only fair to judge this set on what it sets out to achieve, and it is a satisfyingly accurate depiction of a small piece of the Star Wars universe. It's not the most exciting Star Wars set around, but it does offer a bit of authentic Star Wars Lego for a rock bottom price. 

There are some different and quite uncommon sets in this piece. A few trans-green discs borrowed from the more gaudy space sets give the engines a nice sci-fi touch and the various burgundy tiles give the set a surprisingly high class look. There also a few spacey shaped tiles and bricks that have lots of uses. I wanted to try out using the pieces to a different sort of effect and so I recombined the elements into a stubby Starfighter that I think would fit in well in Old Republic era Star Wars. 

This set isn't the most exciting of the polybags currently being sold at WHSmiths, it comes with no minifigures and it's not the most swooshy, exciting of vehicles, but the license has been put to good use and it should please Star Wars fans and Lego builders well enough for their small investment. 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

40054 - Summer Scene - Review

One of my favourite sets this year was Lego's beautiful Springtime Scene. That pastoral diorama looked a little mundane on the shelves with 2013's fire engines, helicopters and Death Stars, but when assembled it was one of the most colourful and charming sets I've seen in a long time. I've always been drawn to sets that fill in the gaps left by the more mainstream lines, and the seasonal sets fit this need perfectly. I couldn't resist picking up the Summer Scene to accompany it. The set is smaller than its predecessor, but no less charming. Depicting a day at the beach, the set includes a sunbathing minifigure and sandcastle model. 

The minifigure is a nice one. He looks a lot like an old town figure, clad in a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, a plain cheerful face and the classic male hairpiece. He looks every inch the icon Lego Man of my childhood and it was a pleasure to see him come together. Once his tidy little sun recliner was assembled, I'd decided the set had paid for itself. It's not the most exciting combination of pieces, but seeing the little guy taking it easy on dainty Lego bed took me right back to a childhood spent making tiny pieces of Lego furniture. 

The sandcastle is effectively made from a small number of pieces. Tan plates, a couple of bricks, cylinders and cheese slices come together to form the basic shape. A red bucket and flag add a touch of colour to really complete the picture. A sunshade and crab complete what is a small but effective beach scene that is every bit as charming as the Springtime Scene. 

This set was exclusive to the Lego store and was still available on the online store until recently. It could be hard to find now, but if you get the chance then this is a really nice set to own. It will make a good addition to the coastline of your Lego City or a nice vignette on its own. It's only 40 pieces and won't bulk up your collection very much, but it does have a nice minifigure and a Lego crab that hasn't been around much since the Pirates of the Caribbean theme finished. It won't be exciting enough for a lot of people, but for those who want to expand their range of scenes and themes, it's a nice addition.

Lego City - 30221 - Fire Car - Review

It's hard to be down on polybag sets, they're usually given away as promos or sold cheap to shift the stock, and they're usually surprisingly good value despite being Lego on an absolute minimum budget. However, I picked up the Fire Car at the same time as the Ride On Lawnmower and I couldn't help being disappointed. Both sets cost £2.99 as part of Lego's Mini-Builds range exclusive to WHSmiths. All the models in the collection a previously released polybags, and so far the all seem to offer much more for your money than this particular set.

The Fire Car isn't a bad set. It lives up to its name, offering a vehicle and 2013 Lego City Firefighter minifigure. The firefighter only comes in one other set, so he'll make a valuable contribution to your Fire Department if you buy a lot of City sets, but otherwise, the car is just too simple and uninspired to really make it worth seeking out. The design is a lot like the old Lego Town cars, and will probably inspire a pang of nostalgia for anyone who remembers 80s and 90s Lego well, but compared to more recent sets like the Fire Chief's car or the Patrol Car, it looks more like a compact Go-Kart.

Obviously, I don't expect the complexity of a £10 set in a polybag, but what I've enjoyed in the other Mini-Build and Promo Sets has been the originality and detail produced from a relatively small collection of pieces. This is no more complex than the Lego Cars I built for myself as a kid, and it just doesn't capture the imagination. The body is made up of a small black undercarriage piece, small axles and wheels are fitted straight on to the bottom and wheel arches placed above. There are no surprises or clever use of pieces. Trans-blue cheese slices make some basic sirens with the Fireman's tools clipped to the back to give it the basic details needed to make it more than just a red car.

Maybe I'm being too harsh on such a cheap, small set, but this really is a basic model. It's the most primitive Lego Car I've built in years, and it does have the charm and clever use of pieces I've seen in other polybags like the Ride On Lawnmower or the Coast Guard Seaplane. The only real appeal here is in the firefighter minifigure, and while he's not a common printing, firefighters are hardly the rarest inhabitants of Lego City. I realise the designers had limitations here, but this feels like the laziest way to meet them.

I can't really recommend this set. It's still Lego, all the pieces are of good quality and it doesn't cost a lot of money. If you see it and you want to grab it then it's not going to break the bank, but there's so little here to take any joy from and put next to other City sets from 2013, it just looks amateurish.

P.S I know there will be people reading this who think I shouldn't be so harsh on a £2.99, 33 piece set, but just compare this to some of those other Fire Department polybags we've seen in the last few years:
The Fire Chief, the Fire Speedboat and the 2005 Fire Chief's Car.