Gamers of all ages have been enjoying Traveller's Tales' Lego games for years now, but now they can finally play with real Lego bricks as a part of the game. With the runaway success of the toys-to-life trendsetter, Skylanders, it's a mystery why it's taken this long for the Lego games to jump into the genre.
Rather than focus on one IP, this new series is a mashup of multiple franchises and movie licenses. In the box, you'll find dinky NFC-chipped Lego minifigs for Batman, Gandalf and WyldStyle. Together they must take on evil forces across dimensions to save the day by beating up goons, smashing up environments and holding the Circle button to rebuild odd yet useful tools. So far, so Lego, right?
Except, in order to use the inter-dimensional gateway, you'll have to build it first. With actual Lego, with your own hands. This is your docking station where you place character and vehicle models. You can use the manual, or follow the on-screen version to put it together. It took us (a couple who hasn't touched a Lego brick in many years) about an hour to build along with the other characters and a car. Don't worry if you're rubbish at Lego or if you're buying for a younger child who isn't quite there yet, the game can't actually tell what you've built, so you can't 'get it wrong.'
The docking unit itself comes ready to use, you're just building the fancy gateway bit on top. And yes, it's easy to pull it off if you want to pack it away when not in use. The dock has room for seven items, three on each side and a central one. You'll only really want three or four things on there at a time though as you will be moving them a lot. Moving characters around is an integral part of gameplay, so you'll want to have everything right beside you throughout. Thankfully, the devs have been smart enough to include a long cable on the dock so it'll easily reach across most rooms.
The trio of characters can interact with portal switches in levels via the dock which illuminates its panels in different colours. Coloured rifts can be opened to send characters through if you place them on the corresponding colour, allowing them access to hidden areas for switches and keys. You'll even use it to mix colours to get through colour-coded locks.
Other dock functions include shrinking/growing characters, or activating elemental properties like fire, water, earth and electricity. With these skills you'll be able to put out fires, charge power stations, grow plants and so on. Think Lego Batman's interchangeable suits and you're there.
Boss battles get involved too as the baddies like Robo-Joker or Mr. Business will trap you in a force field until you move the toy out of a glowing red zone. Generally though, boss fights are the familiar clueless clashes that you generally just have to ride out rather than actually do anything.
In the starter box you'll also find a buildable Batmobile, which can be used to activate treadmills or just get places faster. The handling is awful though and I got quite used to driving around backwards as it often struggled to reorientate itself. I usually left it off the dock as it can get crowded on there.
I found the docking station works well, but there were a few instances, activating elemental powers especially, where I found I had to place the toy multiple times before the power would activate. The more times you have to do it, the more likely Gandalf's hat is going to go flying.
One frequent puzzle really got on my nerves too. Rift searches have you wandering around a large part of the stage waiting for a rift to appear. These are in random places and often won't appear the first time you go there. There's no tracking route to follow like similar puzzles in Lego Jurassic World.
Let's talk about the levels themselves. There are 14 levels in the story mode, compared to the usual twenty-ish I've found in recent Lego entries. They really pack in the franchises though. Expect to see environmental mashups from the likes of Wizard of Oz, Simpsons, Ninjago, Dr. Who, Metropolis, Portal, Lord of the Rings, Ghostbusters and more.
The meta-readings go through the roof in the stages too, with plenty of in-jokes for fans and watching different worlds collide absolutely nails that childhood aspect of having a box of different toys and having them all play together. It's amazing to think that Warner Bros managed to get so many licenses playing together under one roof - you'll never see this much co-branding in movies.
What is disappointing though is that your trio of characters almost never interact with a world's characters. You always seem to be just behind them after yet another interruptive mid-level cutscene. I only really recall Dr. Who stopping to chat with the trio.
More shockingly for a Lego game, you never play as any different characters (with the base game's boxed contents). Which brings us to the money side of this review. Lego Dimensions is already up against it when you consider you can buy the latest starter packs for established rivals Skylanders and Disney Infinity for about £40. Lego Dimensions is £80 and you essentially get the same content (base game, dock, three characters and a vehicle/item). I know regular Lego is already something of a pricey brand for what it is, but that price is so out of touch. Naturally, there are loads more characters and even levels to buy separately - Back to the Future or Portal expansions are out now and priced around £30 each. But they're all optional right? Sort of.
If you're a Lego game veteran, there's a good chance you're a bit of a completionist. Well, TT have been a bit naughty in the build up to the game, by telling us we wouldn't need to spend any extra money to Platinum the game. And they're right, you don't. But that's because they've changed the usual Trophy requirements to just a fraction of what they used to be. You no longer have to grab all of the collectibles in the game.
Actually, without buying new characters, you can barely collect anything. Freeplay mode has gone. Instead, you'll need to buy, let's say Oz's Witch, and put her on the dock if you want to break any silver items. There are loads of interactions blocked by popup windows telling you who to buy, none are unlocked to select via a character wheel by playing the game. You probably won't have to buy every character to unlock the range of abilities needed to 100% the game, but you're going to spend a shitload. And you thought DLC was a racket?
If you're not willing to spend any extra money then Lego Dimension's replay value is terrible. Playing two-player throughout, it only took us 10 hours to finish the campaign. Usually you'd be able to extend this to 30 hours with a standard freeplay mode. There are small themed hub worlds to explore for gold bricks and so on with any characters you own in that franchise, but again you can't unlock everything in them. I haven't played any of the £30 level packs, but from what I've read elsewhere, the BTF and Portal ones don't even last an hour.
Warner and TT really should have at least included enough characters to access the puzzles in the game you're already paying £80 for. In addition to being exceptionally tight-fisted, this locked-down approach doesn't do the game any favours as it's easy to get bored of playing as the same three characters throughout the story.
It's a frustrating end to what is actually a very good Lego game. I've been plagued by glitches for years when reviewing these games and Lego Dimensions doesn't have any of note at all. The story is frequently laugh out loud funny and the creativity on display in the levels, with multiple franchises smashing into each other, is great fun for players of all ages. Hitting that paywall after just ten hours for £80 is just plain wrong though.
- Inventive uses for docking station
- Build items with real Lego. Finally!
- Entertaining campaign
- Post-game 'Freeplay' collectibles require additional purchases
- Boss fights are vague or require little action
- Rift searching puzzles are a chore
The Short Version: This is one of the best Lego games in years and the toy-to-life interactions are fantastically handled via inventive uses for the docking station and the three characters. Not being able to tick off all the usual in-game collectibles without paying a fortune for extra characters is a poorly judged slap in the face for fans of the series though.
Formats: PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox One | PS3 | Xbox 360 | Wii U
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Publisher: Warner Bros.