Disclaimers: This review is not based on a free review copy. I pre-ordered it from Amazon and bought it with my own money. The review covers the Xbox One version of the game. While there are references to other characters not included with the Starter Pack, this article should by and large be considered a review of the Starter Pack only, and whether choosing to buy it alone (with no plan to buy any additional packs) is worth your time and money.
Lego Dimensions is a game about shaking things up. It was marketed with a #BreakTheRules hashtag, and this mantra is persistent throughout: not just in terms of its storyline, but also the game’s structure itself.
You see, at the heart of Lego Dimensions lies a massive inner struggle, one that questions a fundamental part of what makes Lego games so well-loved.
But we’ll get to that.
The game’s story revolves around Lord Vortech, an evil sod who decides he wants to control not just the universe, but the entire bloody multiverse. There’s ambition and then there’s taking the piss a wee bit.
Vortech has the power to open a vortex into any universe he chooses, so he sets about doing this in an attempt to steal all the ‘foundation elements’ that help keep the universe stable.
Conveniently, these foundation elements are key props from numerous franchises: the ruby slippers from The Wizard Of Oz, the One Ring from The Lord Of The Rings, the cake from Portal, the Flux Capacitor from Back To The Future and so on.
While nabbing all these goodies, Vortech also kidnaps Frodo from Middle-Earth, Robin from Gotham and Metalbeard from the Lego Movie world, along with a bunch of other supporting characters.
It’s therefore up to their respective pals – Gandalf, Batman and Wyldstyle – to travel through the Lego multiverse in search of their partners and give Lord Vortech a stiff kick up his own one ring in the process.
The result of this set-up is the most ridiculous crossover I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve seen a lot.
You see, I’m a sucker for crossovers. Whether it’s the obvious ones (Freddy vs Jason, Alien vs Predator), the unexpected ones (Tatsunoko vs Capcom, Superman vs Muhammad Ali) or the massive multi-character ones (Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, Project X Zone) I love them all.
And Lego Dimensions is the best by miles. It’s actually jaw-dropping to consider how Traveller’s Tales and Warner have managed to bring together 14 completely different brands – from Doctor Who to Scooby Doo – and weave them together in endless combinations.
You’ll see the Ghostbusters taking on General Zod. You’ll play through brilliant Lego versions of classic Midway games like Gauntlet and Robotron. You’ll even see GLaDOS from Portal meet her match in the shape of a surprise cameo that isn’t from any of the 14 advertised franchises (and there’s another amazing surprise later in the game for Portal fans).
This all naturally leads to some brilliant dialogue too. Even the weakest Lego games are still funny (deal with it, Lego Pirates Of The Caribbean), but when Traveller’s Tales is given such a wide remit and such outrageous freedom to do what it likes with it, the resulting banter between unlikely pairings is brilliant.
An early highlight happens when your heroic trio are teleported to the land of Oz and encounter Dorothy and chums, causing a confused Batman to square up to the Scarecrow, thinking he’s the same evil one from Gotham.
The plot and the countless funnies that emerge from it are spot on, then, and the basic gameplay is solid too. Anyone who’s ever played a Lego game will know what to expect here for the most part, with the added feature of the Lego Toy Pad.
This physical platform acts like those in Disney Infinity and Skylanders, in that you can place your little Lego minifig versions of Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle (included with the Starter Pack) on it to spawn them in the game.
Where it differs from its rivals’ portals though is in the other ways it can be used. There are five different abilities that can be unlocked as you play through the adventure, and through a combination of the portal’s three different sections and some clever use of LED lighting these abilities have you moving the toys around the base to help them grow, shrink, gain elemental powers, travel through portals and the like to solve a myriad of puzzles.
It’s a brilliant idea and one that really makes the portal feel like a unique controller that’s part of the adventure, rather than just a necessary way of getting physical DLC into the game.
Which, ultimately, brings us to the game’s main controversy and that huge internal struggle mentioned above.
You see, the Starter Pack for Lego Dimensions comes with the Lego Toy Pad base (which you have to build, brilliantly), the game, a Batmobile and those three hero characters: Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle. And that could be a problem for some.
Ever since the first Lego Star Wars launched a decade ago, one of the main selling points in every one of Traveller’s Tales’ Lego titles has been a host of unlockable characters.
The ability to eventually gain access to practically every enemy, niche character and alternative outfit is such an important part of a Lego game, it’s the groundwork on which the series’ entire replay factor is built.
Every level in a Lego game – be it Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Jurassic Park, Lego Harry Potter or what have you – is traditionally packed with items and obstacles that lead to optional goodies but can’t be reached with the default characters.
Only by replaying completed levels with newly unlocked characters can all the bonus treats be collected. It’s a Metroidvania concept placed into linear stages, and it’s always worked brilliantly.
Lego Dimensions is no different: there are loads of collectibles tucked away inside steel cages, behind thick vines, frozen in ice and the like. But whereas before you knew you’d be able to come back later once you’ve unlocked new characters, here there are no unlocked characters. Not in the Starter Pack, at least.
No, in order to unlock these things you have to buy more Lego figures – be these Level Packs (which come with a character, two vehicles and a new hour-long stage), Team Packs (two characters, two vehicles) or Fun Packs (one character, one vehicle).
Those steel cages can’t be blown away unless you have someone with a powerful enough missile, like Doctor Who’s robot dog pal K9. Those thick vines can’t be cut away unless you have someone with a knife, like Owen Grady from Jurassic World. And that ice can’t be melted unless you have someone capable of doing so, like Superman with his eye lasers.
While some of these obstacles can be bypassed with more than one character, meaning you don’t necessarily have to buy every single one to 100% the game, there are some that are unique to one – only Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters can suck up ghosts, for example.
Now, let’s be clear. You don’t need any more characters than the three starter ones to finish the game. You can even get every Xbox achievement or PlayStation trophy using only them. And the stuff you’re unlocking with the extra characters amounts to little more than arbitrary collectibles: gold bricks and minikit pieces.
It’s more the psychological impact that grates slightly. Not only do you feel like you’re being taunted with things you can’t reach (a standard complaint with all toys-to-life games) but there’s the extra insult of the Lego series’ heritage: you know it wasn’t always like this.
Of course, there are some people who are just natural collectors and don’t see this as a massive problem. I’m one of these people: I’ve always been into the idea of having a wee collection of Lego minifigs, so I’m happily snapping them up.
And kids will obviously love them too, as the success of Skylanders, Disney Infinity and amiibo shows. Sorry, parents.
In fairness though, some of these figures actually offer a lot more than a new character and a new vehicle. Some of them offer access to Lego Dimensions’ best kept secret: the adventure worlds.
Each of the 14 franchises in the game has its own adventure world, which is accessed by jumping a character from that franchise into a portal.
These are huge open-world areas, rife for exploring and full of notable landmarks to build, NPCs handing out quests and timed foot, road, sea and air races.
The amount of fan service offered in each of these worlds is superb. Take the Lord Of The Rings world as an example.
One minute you’re helping Samwise Gamgee deal with a bunch of knobs trying to mess up the Shire, the next you’re accompanying Saruman as he beats up a few orcs to remind everyone how powerful he is, and the next you’re taking Smeagol / Gollum to Mount Doom so he can destroy a replica of the One Ring, in preparation for eventually doing it with the real one.
Each of these adventure worlds offers around three hours of gameplay, and since you get Gandalf, Batman and Wyldstyle in the Starter Pack that means you’ve got another 10 hours or so in the shape of the Lord Of The Rings, DC Comics and Lego Movie adventure worlds.
This offers a little more value for your money, then, in terms of the extra figures you can buy. As well as the physical Lego minifig and vehicle and the ability to unlock both in the game, you’ll also get access to their adventure world. Buy the Jurassic World pack, for example, and you’ll get three hours’ worth of dinosaur-themed malarkey.
Each of the characters – Starter Pack or otherwise – has also been treated with a refreshing degree of care and attention.
Wyldstyle moves with the same jerky stop-motion style animation she has in The Lego Movie. The Doctor from Doctor Who is actually all thirteen doctors (including John Hurt), regenerating into the next one each time he dies.
And when Scooby Doo enters stealth mode to avoid detection by security cameras, he wears a big floral dress, holds a parasol and pretends to be a pretty lady. Yes, really. Look:
Here's how Scooby Doo avoids security cameras in Lego Dimensions. Vintage. https://t.co/5MSxbziGdk
— Chris Scullion (@scully1888) November 8, 2015
Such is the level of detail that you even get special snippets of dialogue when characters interact with characters or vehicles from other franchises. Make Owen from Jurassic World (voiced by actual Chris Pratt) ride Benny’s spaceship from The Lego Movie and he’ll exclaim: “Spaceships? And people say dinosaurs are science fiction.”
Even better, have The Doctor drive Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine and you’ll hear him quip: “The only mystery here is how this thing passed its MOT”.
Of course, all of this still boils down to your own view on the game’s pay-per-character model. If it’s something you’re completely against in principle and you feel that if those other 11 adventure worlds are in the game you should get to play them, then nothing I tell you is going to change that.
What I will say, though, is that even though I’ve bought a few new characters and Level Packs, for the purposes of this review I haven’t touched anything level-wise beyond what you get in the Starter Pack and I’ve still managed to get 30 hours of gameplay out of it. Give it to a younger gamer, either to play on their own or with you in co-op, and you’ll get many more than that.
With just the lengthy story mode and the three adventure worlds you get as standard this is still a hefty game, and while buying extra characters and levels undoubtedly adds to the experience, they’re by no means essential.
Come to terms with what is still essentially a cynical pricing structure and give the Lego Dimensions Starter Pack a go, and you’ll find something that – compared to other Lego games – has fewer characters, but more character.
If you’re curious and want to check out Lego Dimensions for yourself, check out my FAQ and character checklist to find links to buy it on your format of choice. Doing so through Amazon earns me a few pence which can go to site maintenance. That snazzy domain name wasn’t free you know, I had to pay at least a handful of pounds for it.
If you liked this review, I’m keen to write separate, smaller ones for the four Level Packs currently available: The Simpsons, Portal, Back To The Future and Doctor Who, as well as shorter text and video reviews of individual character packs. Let me know in the comments or on Twitter if this is something you’d be interested in and, if there’s enough demand, I’ll get stuck into it.