ZAM's First Look at the Forbidden Valley

The NDA has lifted on this ninja-filled zone in LEGO Universe. Follow us as we fight through the Maelstrom.

When I was a kid, one of my most prized possessions was a huge LEGO castle set that took me ages to build. According to my embellished memory, the building was at least 25 feet tall and contained roughly 10,000 Minifigures that fought for glory in epic battles held around the castle's walls. Ah, the wonders of imagination.

Aside from glancing at the newest sets on department store shelves, I haven't sat down and built with LEGOs in years. That's probably why I was intrigued to dive into the closed beta for LEGO Universe, the upcoming kid-friendly MMO that puts you in the shoes (or those weird square pants) of your very own Minifigure. I wanted to know if the game could match my memories of that castle from my childhood. So far, it seems to be doing a pretty good job.

Today marks the lift of the non-disclosure agreement for the Forbidden Valley zone of LEGO Universe, which means I'm free to ramble on about the ninja-filled world and all of its contents. This is only the second area of the game that has been released from the shackles of the NDA; the Gnarled Forest, home of the pirate Minifigs, was unveiled a few weeks ago. Discussion of the rest of the beta is, well, forbidden.

Before I delve into the secrets of the Forbidden Valley, let me give you a brief overview of the game's backstory and features. An evil force of dark imagination known as the Maelstrom is threatening the LEGO Universe, and players must help combat this enemy by joining one of the four factions of the Nexus Force: the Assembly, the Sentinels, the Venture League, and the Paradox. Each faction lets you pursue a different job; for example, I chose the Sentinel path and became a knight.

Improving your character is based mainly on gear, which makes sense when you think about it. You upgrade a physical LEGO Minifigure by adding items to it, and it also works like that in the virtual world. My knight was able to put on a ninja outfit in Forbidden Valley and battle enemies using hand-to-hand combat instead of his trusty sword and shield, and he also picked up some helpful pirate gear in the Gnarled Forest.

Oh, did I mention that you're able to build LEGO creations on your own in-game property? Whether it's through large pre-made pieces or brick by brick, you can really create whatever you want in that space. Coupled with mini-games like racing and shooting galleries, this feature can keep you occupied when you don't feel like fighting the forces of the Maelstrom.

Entering the Forbidden Valley

While the mini-games are a fun distraction, I set my sights on battling through the Forbidden Valley to see what the ominous zone has to offer players. A handful of quests from the Gnarled Forest led me to this world, and it would appear that pirates and ninjas do not get along.

The first thing I noticed about the Forbidden Valley is its dark tone, which you can see in our screenshots gallery. The entire area is comprised of floating chunks of rock, which means jumping is a key element to make it through this world without being smashed to pieces. A winding pathway leads up to a huge gate that is guarded by a monstrous LEGO being. I immediately looked up to watch a glowing purple dragon fly overhead as I spoke to a ninja NPC, who tells me that "a ninja creates his own path." It turns out he's not kidding.

In order make my way over the main gate, I need to quick build a trampoline-type device. Quick builds are found throughout every zone and require you to spend Imagination Points, which are similar to mana points in most fantasy MMOs. You can smash almost anything in the game to replenish your health, armor and Imagination Points.

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