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.
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.