Years ago I was playing Lego Pirates of the Caribbean with my wife (then fiancée I guess in case you wanted that extra tidbit) and we were talking about what kind of legs the Lego video game franchise would have going forward. The conclusion was that it had a couple more games in it before it would disappear for a while and then make a grand return. That did not happen. Instead I think the frequency of releases increased and we now get at least 3 Lego releases each year. I can’t even keep up with them at this point and haven’t played Lego The Avengers, or really gotten that deep into Lego Dimensions. I keep coming back to them though and here we are again with Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Reviewing a Lego game at this point is hardly even necessary. The formula hasn’t dramatically changed, with each game only seeing a few minor tweaks to differentiate it from the others. Even Lego Dimensions, with it’s Toys to Life approach, still boils down to the same basic game play when you put those figures into action. By this point, you know damn well whether or not you want to play the new Lego game or not. It really comes down to your affinity for the franchise that’s attached to the latest game. I’m personally not that into Lord of the Rings so that and Lego The Hobbit have remained largely untouched. (Edit: Apparently I have the platinum trophy in Lego The Hobbit. I…I really don’t remember doing that) As much as I don’t want to fall back on this cliché, it’s absolutely applicable here – yo, if you like Star Wars, and you like Lego games, then you will probably like this Lego Star Wars game.
It does feel a bit strange to have a Lego game focused on a single movie title. Usually they are franchise focused, with The Lego Movie Videogame being the only other example I can think of this offhand. As a result, they definitely have to do some padding to get enough levels together. Whole levels are built off of tiny moments in the movie, with the final shot even getting its own extended sequence. The entire opening sequence is even lifted from the ending of Return of the Jedi. This isn’t a complaint mind you, I’m almost impressed at what they were able to extract from the film and make into a game level.
Where they went the extra mile is in the side missions, which you unlock by collecting gold bricks (obtained by beating levels, finding collectables, etc). These are essentially extended universe missions, showing you the details of events that are only hinted at throughout The Force Awakens, such as how Han Solo and Chewbacca went about hunting the Rathtar that appear in the film. You aren’t going to find any huge story reveals, but they are a welcome addition and really help flesh out what could have been a pretty thin package.
The gameplay of the story stages plays out very similar to past Lego games. You spend most of your time traversing on foot, with a handful of different characters at your disposal that you can switch between at any given time. Each one of them has their own unique ability that will be required to traverse the stage. Han Solo can grapple, Rey’s agility allows her to navigate different parts of the environment, Chewbecca’s strength allows him to tear certain objects apart, etc. The combat is basic and the puzzles are usually simple, mostly relying on you to smash up the environment until you find something you can build that will move you forward. Occasionally they are more complex, requiring the characters to travel different paths and help each other move forward, but you are not likely to be stuck for any lengthy amount of time.
There are a few new additions to the game play, at least they are new to me. As mentioned, I haven’t played Lego The Avengers so perhaps some of these mechanics were introduced there. Some objects can now be built in multiple ways, which does factor into the puzzle solving. Bear in mind this doesn’t mean there are multiple ways to progress through the stages. Each puzzle has a single solution, but adding this mechanics does add a layer of complexity to solving them at least.
Also the shooting is more refined. There is a new cover system that allows you to hide behind objects and pop out to take down enemies, either by shooting them directly or taking out something in the environment that does the job for you. It’s certainly not the smoothest third person shooting out there as popping in out and of cover always felt a little clunky, but it works well enough and the blaster is always a satisfying weapon to wield.
The thing is though, even though the new features may be minimal, these games just always hit the spot for me in terms of fun game play. There’s something very satisfying about the Lego formula. Maybe it’s that base level satisfaction in watching numbers get higher. Seeing your percentage grow as you collect the wide range of objects in the game just…it just feels good! Smashing around in the environment is always gratifying and the game is absolutely loaded with charm from top to bottom. It’s video game comfort food. I know what I’m getting and it’s a great way to unwind and have some fun without worrying about dying.
My personal highlights in the main missions were the flying sequences, of which there aren’t enough I my eyes. Some of them having you flying forward and dodging enemies and obstacles, while occasionally you get to participate in a full-out dog fight. The flying feels good, with the ship maneuvering feeling smooth and very responsive, and those blasters once again feeling terrific.
Anyone familiar with the Lego games knows that beating the main story is only the beginning. At that point you will likely only have about 20% completion. There’s still Free Play mode on each level, which is necessary to collect everything in each stage as this grants you access to the full roster of characters. There are also at least four moderately sized hub worlds to run around in. This is where the bulk of your post-story time will be spent. There are gold bricks to find, characters to unlock, side missions to be given, races to be done and probably even more that I’m forgetting. So even though it’s focused on the one film, you don’t need to worry about a lack of content.
As with all Lego games, the attention to detail here is remarkable. Every single character in the movie, no matter how insignificant, is playable by the time you unlock everybody. There are hidden references throughout that may go unnoticed for those that aren’t paying attention. Let me give you my favourite example of how deep this all goes. I was running around in a hub world and trying to move some ship debris with the force. I was using Luke Skywalker, and I know damn well that dude knows how to use the force, but it wasn’t working. I started to get frustrated, assuming this was a glitch (something I’ll touch on in a bit) and was ready to save and quit out. Then it clicked. It wasn’t working because I was using a version of Luke from The New Hope. New Hope Luke don’t know shit about the force! Return of the Jedi Luke though, he knows what’s up! So I switched over to him and moved that ship debris without an issue. A nice, subtle moment that made me truly appreciate the work that goes into these games.
While that incident may not have been a glitch, I have encountered other ones, which most players have come to expect at this point with the Lego franchise. Thankfully nothing has been game breaking, just minor annoyances that have led to me needing to redo some sections. The biggest one so far required me to redo an entire mission after two characters didn’t split up during a shootout when a scripted event called for that. The idea is that each character would have a different vantage point, but instead they just stayed in the same place and I couldn’t progress. There had been no mid level checkpoints so it was back to the beginning for me! I’ve also read that some of the collectables don’t spawn in the hub worlds. We’ll see when I get to that point, but my biggest fear with this franchise is not being able to get 100% due to a bug. A world of being stuck with 99.9% forever burned into my save file is my ultimate nightmare.
Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fun addition to the Lego franchise that gets a surprisingly strong amount of content out of a single film. It doesn’t move things into a new direction, but provides the fun you would expect and is charming from top to bottom. We’ll see how many more Lego games we can before a complete tear down and rebuild is required, but in the meantime I will continue to enjoy them just as they are.