It's also around this time that you'll get to choose what faction to align yourself with. The Nexus forces are split into four, and you'll have to do a short mission for each before making your final and irreversible choice.

Sentinels are the game's warrior class, while Assembly is for those who want to specialise in construction. The Venture faction maps broadly onto the traditional RPG scout class, with Paradox supplying the requisite "dark side" route. This doesn't mean you get to play as a villain there's no PVP here but you do get to walk the line, and use Maelstrom powers.

Each faction then offers sub-class specialisations. I opted for Venture, and could then choose between becoming a Daredevil or Buccaneer. Each provides access to unique items and skillsets, but none of this is made clear before you take the plunge. Considering it's a choice that can't be undone, a little more information about what you're signing up for would be welcome.

Now you're firmly inserted into LEGO Universe, the final areas of the beta open up and you can go and explore Gnarled Forest and Forbidden Valley, depending on what choices you've made, and play with items you've been given by way of a welcome to Nexus Force.

Both are much as they sound a creepy jungle setting where possessed pirates are on the rampage and a parched volcanic mountain region where you can train as a ninja. It's here that the missions start to develop away from the rudimentary housekeeping and into something more familiar as an MMORPG. The combat missions never quite take on the scale of a proper dungeon raid, at least not in this early glimpse, but anyone worried that the game would be too kiddy should be satisfied with some reasonably tough challenges that stretch the rather basic melee and ranged combat abilities to the limit.

3
There's no PvP action, but you can take on other players in competitive games.

What's strange is that there doesn't seem to be any emphasis on the MMO side of things. There are lots of other players, and you can obviously form ad hoc alliances with anyone playing nearby, but the Team feature, which brings guild-style community options, hasn't been highlighted for beta players. Hopefully it will make it easy to hook up with friends, or it'll just be a case of making sure you're online at the same time, and tracking each other down.

That may be harder than it sounds, since if there's one area that would benefit from attention it's navigation. The game is broken up into discrete areas, none of which are terribly large, but the in-game map is virtually useless, offering no explanations, mission markers or even a key as to which exit icon leads where.

You'll be mapping most of the terrain in your head, and considering most kids are likely to just leg it into the gameworld rather than proceeding carefully and logically, I suspect there'll be some confusion. You can, at least, dismantle your minifigure and respawn at the nearest habitable spot should you get really stuck.

Travel between zones is also rather clumsy, with rocket pads only leading to specific destinations, rather than letting you take off and choose where to go next. In other words, to get from the Gnarled Forest back to Forbidden Valley, you'll have to trek all the way back to the rocket pad that leads to the intervening areas, jogging across each map to the next pad in a weird leapfrog style.

4
That seems impractical.

If there's a fast travel option it's as well hidden as the team functions at the moment. Throw in some fairly grievous loading times (sometimes up to several minutes at the moment) and whenever a mission sends you to a distant zone, you might as well go and put the kettle on.

Put these early hiccups aside, however, and you find that heart is where LEGO Universe shines, offering a bright inviting playground that still manages to offer a fun approximation of more adult MMO games.

Even without the ongoing war against the Stromlings, the chance to build your own LEGO house, train a LEGO elephant or just dress up as a pirate and do some breakdancing all tap into the enduring appeal of those omnipresent plastic bricks. There's a pervasive sense of glee and creativity that is already very appealing.

Hopefully that will be enough to coax the younger audience into a fairly complex game, and convince their parents that the monthly subscription (currently 7.49 or 9.99) is a worthy investment. Right now, LEGO Universe is a fun place to visit, but will we want to live there?

LEGO Universe will be available from LEGO stores, the LEGO Online Shop and LEGOLand from 12th October. A full release will follow on 26th October.

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About the author

Dan Whitehead

Dan Whitehead

Senior Contributor, Eurogamer.net

Dan has been writing for Eurogamer since 2006 and specialises in RPGs, shooters and games for children. His bestest game ever is Julian Gollop's Chaos.