I was on board with Lego 2K Drive the moment I learned we were getting an open-world Lego racing game, complete with the ability to build your own vehicles. And having played nearly 12 hours so far, I’m still having a lot of fun with the game. But it’s impossible to ignore a nagging feeling that it really wants me to spend money in its in-game store.
Announced in March, Lego 2K Drive is the first game to come from a deal struck between 2K and Lego back in 2022. The two companies apparently decided to glue their names together and add “drive” to the end to create what might be the most boring video game title of 2023. Thankfully, the video game itself is much, much more fun than its drab title, which sounds less like a wacky open-world racer filled with cool power-ups and more like a bad sports game featuring a sport I’ve never heard of but which is nonetheless popular.
Get past the bland name and Lego 2K Drive comes right out of the gate firing on all cylinders with an exciting CG cutscene and a fairly short but fun tutorial. It makes a good first impression. And the moment the game gave me full control, I was in awe of what I saw. Lego 2K Drive is set in a brick-built world filled with side missions, mini-games, collectibles, and so, so many Lego vehicles. It’s very colorful and gorgeous. And massive! The open world of 2K Drive is split into a few different biomes, each with its own theme, characters, missions, and vehicles. Playing this game is like getting to play in the basement of the rich kid you knew in elementary school who had every Lego set. Lucky bastard. But now I, Zack, have all the bricks and cool sets to play with!
The basic setup behind the main story mode is that an evil racer hates you—for reasons the game jokingly doesn’t elaborate on—and you have to win the big trophy to prove yourself the better driver. To get a chance at that big win you’ll have to earn a bunch of flags by beating rivals, leveling up to unlock new races, rank up, and eventually gain access to the big final tournament. There’s not much to the actual story, but the writing is similar to the recent Lego movies, occasionally making me smile and rarely annoying. And I think kids will enjoy the zanier moments.
But to win the big trophy and prove yourself to your evil rival, you’ll need to do more than race Lego-built cars around various tracks, as piloting boats and mastering off-road vehicles are on your agenda, too. And like the cars, all of these are brick-built. However, you don’t actively choose between each type of vehicle. Instead, as you race around, the game auto-swaps between either your car, boat, or off-road ride of choice. This streamlines what could have been an annoying part of 2K Drive, and also means that you can explore the entire Lego-filled world of Bricklandia as you please.
Driving real fast and reach a river? Keep driving and you’ll just turn into a boat! Take a sharp turn off a paved road and onto some dunes? Don’t worry, the game will swap your car out for a jeep without missing a beat. It takes the open-world driving of Forza Horizon and makes it even more arcadey and exciting as you can literally go anywhere at any time.
All the bricks and cool stuff in the world can’t save a racing game with bad driving physics or poor controls, and luckily, Lego 2K Drive avoids those pitfalls and is a blast to play. Once I mastered the drifting and jumping controls, I was masterfully swooping, swinging, and gliding around the world like a Lego pro. And on Xbox Series X performance was smooth as butter, making it easy to enjoy all the high-speed action.
The moment bricks start to fall off this creation is when you start to dig around the menus, where you’ll encounter a store complete with a season pass. While the game does feature an amazing, in-depth, and easy-to-use vehicle builder—letting you make nearly anything you can imagine—it also features some disappointing microtransactions.
Technically, you can just drive around, have some fun, unlock some cars, build your own creations, and never really interact with the in-game store. But, if you don’t want to (or can’t) build something like an ambulance or a giant hamburger car, the store offers official Lego builds that you can buy and use in-game. However, all of these cars cost $10,000 Lego Bux. And after playing for 12 hours I’ve only reached around $8,000.
This is the part where 2K Games would, while twirling its mustache, likely say: Don’t worry, you can buy some Bux if you want to. This is true, sure, but it’s so out of place in this otherwise colorful romp of creativity and wackiness.
And the way the economy is balanced, it really feels like you’ll need to fork over some cash if you want to buy more than one of these pre-made cars without grinding for hours. It’s also sad that the in-game store contains Lego part packs for sale. These are cheaper than the cars (thankfully) and the builder in-game does come with a lot of parts available for free (and you earn more by completing missions), but the fact that some bricks and bits are locked behind a paywall—even one that you can bypass via grinding—is frustrating.
The other big part of Lego 2K Drive is multiplayer, which I’ve only barely poked as there weren’t many other players online while I played the game before release. The online races play similarly to the single-player races, but with the added wrinkle that your opponents might have spent hours figuring out how to build the ideal, perfect race car. Or a giant dick. Or maybe they just spent some real cash and bought a car using Bux. Until the game is out in the wild, it will be hard to say how multiplayer will shake out, but I have some concerns.
It’s really a shame that such a lovely and fun open-world sandbox is tied to stuff like a season pass, premium currencies, and expensive in-game purchases. Perhaps 2K will tweak some levers to make it easier to earn and unlock new cars—which would be nice—but until then the specter of greed will always be there, nagging at me as I build, smash, and race.