LEGO Dimensions breathes new life into a series that had started to feel a bit old hat. Cost issues put aside for one moment (something that is hard to do when the cheapest option here is £80 on current-gen, slightly less on last-gen), I can't remember the last time I had as much fun with a Traveller's Tales game. The overarching concept - of numerous LEGO dimensions coming together through portals has allowed the developer more freedom - and in turn the scenarios they find themselves in are more entertaining than before, the gameplay is more interesting, and the script is more humourous.
So about that price tag. £80 is a lot of money. For that outlay you get the core game, the portal (which you build out of LEGO, three characters (Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle - from the LEGO Movie), and the Batmobile (with three forms). For what it's worth, putting all this together took my about 90 minutes and it's fun. If you don't like building LEGO, well, this probably isn't for you, as you're encouraged to make changes to your build as you progress. But back to the £80 elephant in the room. Although there's an awful lot of additional content available for LEGO Dimensions in the form of Level Packs (approx £30), Fun Packs (approx £15) and Team Packs (approx £25), this review is based entirely on the base game Starter Pack. I haven't used any other figures or DLC in order to see what you get for that initial, large sum.
Lord Vortech, the game's big bad from the planet Vorton, seeks to find the Foundation Elements, giving him power of the LEGO Multiverse. Having access to numerous dimensions, Vortech recruits villains from DC, Lord of the Rings and more to do his bidding, fighting against Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle. This sets up a cross-dimensional battle, with our stars heading to themed levels from Dr Who, Ghostbusters, Back the Future, Ninjago, Lord of the Rings, DC, The Simpsons, Portal and more.
The cool part of all this is that characters cross over all the time. For example, Sauron heads to Metropolis to cause ruin, while the Riddler heads the other way to Middle-Earth. As you're playing as one of the three previously mentioned leads, there is a sense that you're passing through these worlds rather than being part of them (that, presumably will be corrected in the individual DLC for each dimension), but it's still really neat.
Take Springfield, for example, in which you start off inside the Simpson household before moving to the power plant. Numerous characters appear throughout, making excellent cameos, but it's a taster. The Doctor Who sequence, again, features some brilliant moments from the Dr himself and numerous enemies. I don't even watch Doctor Who, yet the presentation here is still easy to appreciate. And then you get moments where there's further crossover, with Homer randomly appearing inside the Portal stages. It's pretty much what I wanted from LEGO Dimensions.
I also wanted some new gameplay mechanics, and thanks to the portal board that's exactly what we've got. Rather than just act as a way to insert new characters into the game, it's a tool in of itself, changing function depending on what you activate in-game. At times it acts as a key, with characters needing to paint segments in order to unlock doors: at others it's a switch for special abilities (fire, water, electricity, earth). It can allow you to transform into big or small versions of each character, or let you search for hidden portals.
It might sound a bit gimmicky, and some functions are more so than others (Master Builders, like WyldStyle, must hop around the board to activate builds, while characters under attack from enemy special abilities must be physically moved to a 'safe' section of the portal), but the key here is that it's good fun. If you're wondering, the cable attached to the portal is pretty long, so unless your games console is on completely the opposite side of the room it should be possible to set it up alongside you - where it really needs to be unless you like the idea of hopping up every few moments to move to toys around like a hyperactive chess master.
If you haven't worked it out, I really like LEGO Dimensions, but it does have a few issues. Firstly, the vehicles (or at least the Batmobile, the only one I've tested) control terribly. I got used to the weird handling, but I'd avoid using it unless I absolutely had to. A big problem is tied to the game's Toys to Life focus and how this differs to the traditional way LEGO games have handled new character unlocks. If you buy the LEGO Dimensions Starter Pack and nothing more, you only ever have access to the three main characters, plus the Batmobile.
The new Toys to Life systems mean all areas and bonuses that require the abilities of new characters are completely behind a paywall. That is fair enough if Dimensions is judged against Skylanders, but it jars if you've come from years and years of experience with the previous LEGO games, where part of the fun came from finding the new characters and then going back to try and 100% the game. It's a hard issue to get my head around. On one hand, the toys you can buy look cool and new toys delivering new content is part and parcel of the genre, but on the other the whole thing feels like a slap in the face for fans who just handed over £80 for a game that actually can't complete properly.
That said, it's not as if there isn't a lot of content here. On top of the lengthy campaign you have access to free-roaming worlds based on the dimensions. In the Starter Pack this means you can jump into the DC, Lord of the Rings and LEGO Movie areas, and tackle numerous side-quest type missions. In the LEGO Movie world, for example, you're tasked with rebuilding and helping people out to make the city nice again. These mini open world elements are a nice bonus and each will easily add a few hours game time. Again, though, to access the rest of the areas you're required to buy a toy character from that world.
LEGO Dimensions is the most fun I've had with a LEGO video game since the whole idea was new back on the PS2. It's full of cool new ideas and a story rammed with iconic references and witty humour - something that adults will enjoy perhaps even more than young children. The move to a Toys to Life model will be amazing for some but annoying for others. As a standalone entity the Starter Pack is at once really rather lovely and also a clear gateway drug into a very expensive world. You've been warned.
Version Tested: PS4
Reviews of additional LEGO Dimensions content will be coming post release.