There’s plenty to talk about in LEGO Dimensions, and it’s not hard to see why. With a game jam-packed with a handful of different characters and worlds plucked straight from some of the most iconic franchises, it’s easy to see the appeal, especially with the ‘toys-to-life’ genre being as popular as ever. Still, what amazes me the most about LEGO Dimensions is that it exists at all.
As impressive as something like Disney Infinity is, both the game’s publisher (Warner Bros.) and developer (Traveller’s Tales) have pulled no punches (and as I imagine, spared no expense) when it comes licensing this time around. It’s perhaps one of the best mash-ups around, with series like Doctor Who, Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings, Batman, and even Portal making appearances. Licensing nightmares aside, there’s truly something for everyone here, whether that be the middle-aged who fondly remember Marty McFly and the Ghostbusters crew, or the up-and-coming younger generation who thrive off the humor from The Lego Movie.
Right off the bat, Lego Dimensions demands a little bit more from its audience, not by asking them to fork over more cash for expansions (we’ll touch on that later), but by asking them to simply put down their controller, and, well, build.
Maybe I’ve just lost my passion for creativity and building over the years, but I have to say, I had an absolute blast putting together the handful of LEGO minifigs and vehicles that come packed with the game. After quickly assembling Batman, Gandalf (from Lord of the Rings), and The LEGO Movie’s Wyldstyle, the game instead ditched the use of actual manuals in lieu of in-game assembly instructions, which is where the Vortex Generator comes in.
This of course is the game’s ‘toy portal’; the device you’ll use to unlock and use both minifigs, gadgets and vehicles in-game. What’s interesting is that the portal you build yourself is an exact replica of the one that appears in the game’s story. Over the course of the main story, you’ll continually modify and add to your real-world portal, which unlocks new abilities and different ways of tackling the puzzles in-game. It’s a novel way of attempting to bridge the gap between the digital world and the real one, as you interact with the portal in more ways than simply plopping a toy down on it.
As expected, you only control one character at a time, but the portal has space for up to seven toys, meaning you can mix and match almost any combination of minifigs, vehicles, and gadgets. Of course, you can switch which character you are controlling with the touch of a button (and you can bring a co-op buddy along for the ride), though you won’t be unlocking any additional characters in game. If you want to play as a character, you’ll have to plunk down the cash for it, which is a far cry from the bevy of unlockable characters seen in almost every other LEGO game.
Ardent fans of LEGO titles might be crying foul at this point, but surprisingly, I quickly found myself perfectly fine with the character selection, simply because of how the game mashes up the different franchises it so lovingly recreates. I’ll admit, the first couple of hours felt a little confusing; the minute-to-minute gameplay during these hours is a little banal for my liking, and it can feel weird being whisked away from one world to another.
A few hours in however, and things start piecing together quite well, with the writing and humor almost always stealing the show. For those who follow along with stories, the game begins with Vorton, an original character (well, villain) whose goal is to take control of the LEGO Universe (or is it Multiverse?) by stealing important elements from each world, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers or Superman’s Achilles heel, kryptonite. He recruits the aid of various villains to pull this off, and you in turn take control of various heroes to put an end to it.
This (as you might have guessed) provides some context for hopping in and out of the dozen or so franchises that LEGO Dimensions features. It’s a treat to see all these characters interact with each other, and the sharp writing is backed up with some stellar voice work, with a lot of the original actors for each character returning to provide voice-overs.
While some characters (such as Gandalf) don’t feature their original actor at work, there’s a staggering amount of talent behind the scenes here. Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, and Chris Pratt return from The LEGO Movie, while Orlando Bloom and Jonathon Rhys-Davies lend their voice to Legolas and Gimli from The Lord of the Rings. Impressively, even Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd triumphantly appear to voice Marty McFly and Doc Brown from Back to the Future.
These small touches lend a lot of charm (and credibility) to each section within the game, and if you’re a fan of any of the included franchises, you’re bound to find a few in-jokes that will leave you grinning. While some sections in the game’s story fall a little flat (The Simpsons level comes off as disjointed and confusing), there are some truly memorable moments and worlds to explore, with the Scooby-Doo, Midway Arcade, Ghostbusters, and Portal levels standing out. The Doctor Who section is also a treat for fans, with incredibly small details making the cut. My personal favorite is that the Doctor reanimates into one of the twelve incarnations should your minifig take too much damage and die, with different archival voice-overs for each Doctor.
As I mentioned earlier, the first couple of worlds start off rather slowly, and simply, with most of your playtime being relegated to simple beat-em-up sections and light puzzle solving. Over time, things become a little more complex (and enjoyable), as you’ll use the toy portal to move character’s around on screen, changing their size, shuffling them through in-game wormholes, and imbuing them with colors and elemental properties to solve puzzles. There are even occasions where you’ll have to rearrange minifigs quickly, lest you let them get hurt by an enemy or boss. All of these abilities culminate in the last three chapters, which combines much of what you have learned up until that point into some truly unique moments.
The main campaign itself clocks in at around a dozen hours (give or take), with plenty of collectibles, golden bricks and studs to collect. There’s also a standalone open world for each franchise to explore, with the price of admission to these worlds being a minifig from the same world. With the three minifigs included with the Starter Pack, you’ll have access to the LEGO Movie, Lord of the Rings, and DC Universe worlds right off the bat, though you’ll need to buy additional packs to access all the content.
When it comes to additional play sets, LEGO Dimensions is a bit confusing in that sense, as it took me a bit of research to figure out exactly what each type of expansion pack does in-game, and what exactly these packs come with.
Before I dig into those, it’s important I should mention that you can finish the entire main story without forking over any extra cash, with the only purchase being the starter pack, which retails for $100. As a refresher, this starter pack comes with the game itself, the toy portal, the Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle minifigs, and the Batmobile. The rest of the packs come in three different forms.
Fun packs are the simplest. They include one minifig (character) and one gadget or vehicle. These minifigs will unlock a dimension for play outside of the main campaign. For example, the Wizard of Oz world needs to be unlocked with the Wicked Witch Fun Pack, which comes with the Wicked Witch and a Flying Monkey (which, as a sidenote, has the most hilarious and goofy running animation). These fun packs retail for $15.
Team packs are a step up from fun packs, and simply include two minifigs and two vehicles or gadgets. These retail for $25, and also unlock a world to play in.
Last are level packs. These include one minifig, vehicle, and gadget, and as expected, unlock a world to play in. What’s different is these level packs include a standalone mission for that world, which is a little more akin to a level from the campaign. These packs retail for $30.
Like most toys-to-life games, these expansions will be released throughout the next few months in waves. At launch, there are Back to the Future, Portal, and Simpsons level packs. Two team packs are available; one for Jurassic World and one for Scooby-Doo. There are a staggering amount of fun packs for purchase at launch, with 15 total. These include packs for Lord of the Rings, Wizard of Oz, the Lego Movie, DC Comics, and the Lego Ninjago and Chima franchises.
Wave two, which launches in early November, will see the release of a Doctor Who level pack, along with a team pack for LEGO Ninjago, and fun packs for the Simpsons and the Lego Movie. January of 2016 marks the release of the third wave, which will include a Ghostbusters level pack, a team pack for DC Comics, and fun packs for Doctor Who, Lego Ninjago, and Back to the Future.
Two months later in March is when wave four starts. The last (currently announced) level pack releases then, which centers around Midway arcade games. There will also be new fun packs for DC Comics and Ghostbusters. Lastly, wave five in May will consist solely of DC Comics, LEGO Ninjago and Ghostbusters fun packs.
While there are no concrete details about the future of LEGO Dimensions past these waves, Warner Bros. has publicly mentioned their intent to support the series for three years, and there have been mentions that LEGO Dimensions is the start of Year One for the series. It seems likely that Warner Bros. will continue to add franchises as time marches on.
These open worlds are fun enough in their own right, but they are mostly filled with less-than-intricate quests. There are plenty of collectibles and hours to be spent in these open worlds, but they don’t hold a candle to the more curated experiences offered up in the story mode. This sort of hands-free approach to post-game content isn’t disappointing by far, but it would have been nice to have seen something more fleshed out, whether that be more scripted events or the ability to create and build within the game. I’ll have to admit, Disney Infinity and its creation/sandbox Toy Box mode trumps LEGO Dimensions in that department.
While I can’t wait to see what other franchises Warner Bros. and Traveller’s Tales bring to the series, I can’t help but be thoroughly impressed with LEGO Dimensions. As a debut entry in what I hope will be a long-running series, there’s been some solid groundwork laid, and it does so with aplomb. There were about a hundred things that could go wrong when this many franchises collide with each other, but every facet, from the voice work and writing, to the worlds themselves, are handled with the greatest of care. Some might be eager to write it off as a cash-in, but LEGO Dimensions is anything but.
This review is based off the PlayStation 4 version of the game. Several expansion packs were purchased for review as well.
Expansions and expenses aside, LEGO Dimensions is a blast to play. When you're not running around your favorite worlds or basking in nostalgia, don't be surprised if you find yourself smiling and laughing.