LucasArts visited our offices the other day to show off the latest build of LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars. While I’d seen much of the demo before, it was the first time that I’ve had hands-on time with the game. Here’s what you need to know.

It’s…another LEGO game
If you’re expecting a complete departure from Traveller’s Tales’ LEGO formula, you’ve got another thing coming. There are certainly new gameplay elements, but the bulk of the experience—cycle through a variety of characters, play with a co-op buddy, smash stuff to find studs—is largely unchanged. That’s not a bad thing.

A cast of (not quite) thousands
Between levels, I got my eyes on the character-select grid. It wasn’t anywhere close to being filled in, and the vast majority of the slots were silhouettes, but the number of characters in the game is downright intimidating. I’m expecting most of them will fall in line with the game’s major archetypes—Jedi, dark Jedi, clonetrooper, droid—but it’s still an impressive roster.
Suffice it to say, this game is packed to the gills with fan favorites and obscurities alike. Reiner sat in on part of the demo, and I got to hear plenty of excited blurts.

New faces, new abilities
Some of the new things that I did gather from my time with the Clone Wars include a few new Jedi abilities, such as being able to throw lightsabers around like projectiles or use the force to lift battle droids and utilize their gunfire. That last bit comes in handy when encountering golden environmental elements, which have to be overheated and shattered through automatic gunfire. Clonetroopers come in several flavors, too, including some armed with chainguns and others with rocket launchers.

Picture in picture
One of the Clone Wars’ new gimmicks is something that LucasArts is calling Scene Swap. Star Wars has always told its stories through simultaneously running storylines. The game pulls a similar stunt, allowing players to swap back and forth between pairs of action sequences.

You might find yourself working your way through an enemy base and find yourself stymied by a gate mechanism. Glancing at the upper corner of the screen, you notice that your other team is fighting battle droids in another section of the level. At the press of a button, you can take control of that other team and fight your way toward the gate, unlocking it and allowing your first team to proceed.
Sure, it’s kind of silly, but it’s a neat way to push the illusion of urgency to your actions.

It’s another LEGO game…but better
Overall, the scale of environments seems to have been increased, with loads of background activity and animations. Some of the larger battles are downright crowded with enemies, which sells the impression that players are a part of the Clone Wars’ epic battles.

Even if you, like me, aren’t exactly the most hardcore Clone Wars fan out there, there’s enough meat here to be interesting. I’m a sucker for the LEGO games, and seeing the refinements and enhancements made to what I consider an already solid foundation has me sold on the latest installment.

Look for a full preview on LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars in our February issue.