The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, also known as E3 by knowledgeable nerds, wrapped up this week in LA. As usual, there were lots of amazing games and cutting-edge technology to be seen. For me, the biggest surprise of the show was a major new release of Lego Worlds, an online virtual world that provides an open sandbox for exploring, building, and creativity.
The established player in this space is, of course, Microsoft’s Minecraft, a gigantic hit the last few years. Sales have passed 70 million copies total, with annual revenue topping $300M. As Donald Trump would say, “It’s huuuuuge!” But, now that I’ve spent some time inside Lego Worlds, I think it’s only a matter of time until Minecraft is surpassed, at least in its current state.
There are three main areas that set Lego Worlds apart from the blocky blandness of Minecraft. The first is the gorgeous 3D graphics. The lighting is especially beautiful and you can see realistic shadows around objects in the scene. I also loved the real-time reflections. It definitely feels like you’re inside of a real Lego environment. You can see shiny reflections and highlights from the sun (or moon!) on the plastic bricks wherever you go.
The second area where Lego Worlds shines is with its building bricks. They are at a much higher resolution than the chunky blocks you’re used to seeing in Minecraft. This extra level of detail makes exploring more interesting, but more importantly, you have more fun and creativity when building things. Check out the comparison of characters from each game to get a better idea. Steve’s expression tells it all; he appears to be perpetually surprised that he was born with a perfectly square head and embarrassing pixels visible everywhere.
The final thing I’ll mention is the fluid interactivity of Lego Worlds. Everywhere you go there are things to see and interact with, like the bear that decided to follow me for a while. You can easily build (or destroy!) anything you see, whether its a tree, a lighthouse you grabbed from the model library, or using one of the terrain sculpting ‘guns’ to flatten the ground for a project. Use another terrain tool and you can deform the ground upwards — and even make a volcano. Want lava? The rep at the booth showed me how to paint glowing and flowing lava inside and around my new and tiny little volcano.
There is also a wide variety of functional transportation in Lego Worlds. I saw flyable planes and helicopters, driveable trucks and digging machines, and my favorite, a friendly eagle that flew me around the sky for a bit.
Currently, the software is only available on PCs through the Steam service for $14.99. It’s important to note that the app is still in ‘early access beta,’ but there are regular updates and it looked and played flawlessly.
In my opinion, the challenge ahead for Lego and their partners is two-fold:
- They need to get the final shipping product on other platforms and consoles as soon as possible.
- Their marketing effort needs to get the word out! Minecraft is well-established and the default ‘virtual sandbox app’ everyone knows. It will take a sustained effort to build awareness for Lego Worlds, but their advantage is that it is superior in every way.