As you probably know already the #21109 LEGO Ideas Exo Suit set is going to be released on August 1st. We have talked about the set several times before (see links at the end of this post), so I won’t repeat myself, however I will just say that the Exo Suit is having LEGO fans – especially LEGO Classic Space fans – counting down the days to the official release with great anticipation (only a few more sleeps to go!), and for a good reason. I have got my review copy a couple of days ago, thanks to the LEGO CEE team, and stayed up until well past midnight two days in a row to experiment with it. So let’s dive right in and talk about this beauty. 🙂
I’m not going to write a traditional review on the Exo Suit since it has already been done by others, however I will share my own impressions and what I have done with the set so far. If you want to know exactly what the Exo Suit box looks like, what’s inside the box, how does the set appears from every angle, check out the following excellent reviews by vynsane at Toys&Bricks, and by Huw at Brickset: read part 1, part 2, part 3 at these links – yes, this set totally deserves to be talked about in a three-part review, in fact it is hard to shut up about it.
➡ #21109 LEGO IDEAS EXO SUIT – THE STORY: As you know, the LEGO Exo Suit was originally a LEGO fan created design done by Peter Reid, it was voted on by the public on LEGO CUUSOO/LEGO Ideas to become an official LEGO set, and LEGO designer Mark Stafford took up the task to redesign the set according to LEGO’s standards of playability, sturdiness and current part selection, while also remaining as true as possible to Peter’s design that people voted for (comparison photos by bluemoose).
This was not by any means an easy task; the original design, although looks extremely cool, is in fact very fragile and not suitable for play (unless the play is about the Exo Suit walking around and dropping parts at every step). LEGO fans, knowing this were worried that Mark will not be able to keep the delicate detailing of the original design and also make the mech playable. However Mark was up to the task, and as a well-known designer for mechs, was certainly qualified to do the job.
I’m fairly positive that LEGO would have never released a set like this on their own. In other words without Peter building the Exo Suit, without the public voting for it, and without Mark stepping up to the challenge to make it into a real LEGO set, LEGO would have never made a mech like this. It is so full of unconventional building techniques and so out of the box of standard LEGO sets… it was a risk that LEGO didn’t have to take, but they did, and kudos for that. This is why we love the company; they are willing to do what’s hard just to satisfy their fans. So let’s see if the story has a happy ending…
➡ #21109 LEGO IDEAS EXO SUIT – THE LIKES: As I mentioned above, I’m not going to write a traditional review on what’s in the box and all, because it has been done wonderfully by others (see links above). However I will share my own thoughts on the set as a sort of summary review. First of all, I like the box and the instruction-booklet; they are the better, sturdier variety that characterizes all LEGO CUUSOO/LEGO Ideas sets – indicating that you are buying something special. In the booklet there is a bit of story about Peter and how the Exo Suit came to be – it is a fun little narrative that will get you into the mood of the set. Peter is a great story-teller and if you haven’t picked up his book LEGO Space: Building the Future (this is a link to Amazon), do it now. It will enhance your play-experience with the Exo Suit and will also give you plenty of ideas for expanding on it. Here is a picture from the instruction-booklet that I really like:
As far as the Exo Suit set itself, it comes with the mech, two LEGO Classic Space minifigs in green, a “turtle” (if you don’t know what a “turtle” is read the above mentioned book – it is a signature little robot Peter Reid is well-known for). It is well worth reading Mark Stafford’s comments on how the set was designed and built. You can find them right below the review article at Toys&Bricks. I highly recommend reading it as it gives you a glimpse into the design process, but the bottom line is that Mark crammed as much into this set as he could to make it as cool as possible. And that dedication shows in every detail (photo below by Brickset).
As I have mentioned previously, the original Exo Suit was way to fragile to become an official LEGO play-set. So what Mark basically did is to redesign it around a LEGO Hero Factory-type ball-joint core. This gives the Exo Suit tremendous stability and articulation. You can move around the arms and legs as much as you want to place the mech in various poses without worrying that the model will fall apart. I’m very impressed with this mechanism, particularly the leg-assembly with movable feet, ankles and hip-joints.
The ball-joint based frame is then covered with greebles – parts that make the whole mech look machine-like. You will see some very interesting assemblies in this regard that will give you both joy and headache at the same time. Joy because of how cool they look, and headache because all those fiddly little parts take some patience to assemble. I used the included brick-separator to push some of the elements into place. I have also made at least three mistakes while assembling – so yeah, pay close attention to the instructions. All in all the greebles are reasonably secure. I haven’t had any part that just fell off on me, except for one, and I will talk about that in the next section on dislikes.
After putting together the set you end up with an awesome looking mech. Does it look like Peter Reid’s design? I would say that although there are obvious differences, the two mechs look very similar in appearance and they don’t look out of place next to each other (as the pictures here demonstrate). In fact, the whole idea behind the Exo Suit (according to the book I mentioned above by Peter Reid), is that it is a highly adaptable machine that can be modified to fit a wide variety of roles. The #21109 LEGO Ideas Exo Suit doesn’t disappoint in this regard; it gives us a great mech, some very interesting building techniques not found in other sets, lots of parts for greebling, and a whole range of possibilities for modifications. I’m looking forward to see all kinds of variations of this mech that LEGO fans will build based on the same core and techniques.
So yes, the LEGO Exo Suit story does have a happy ending; a great set that I’m sure LEGO fans will be pleased with. Are there any problems? Sure there are! This set is pushing the boundaries of what can be done with LEGO, and naturally there are going to be issues when you are breaking new ground, so let’s talk about those…
➡ #21109 LEGO IDEA EXO SUIT – THE DISLIKES: Some people complain that the darker shade of gray of the ball-joints takes away from the original mono-color design of the mech. In my opinion it is not bad at all. Most of the ball-joints are covered with lighter gray greebling, so they are either fully or partially hidden. Also, because of where and how most of the joints are located, they look like they should be darker because of how shadows would naturally fall in the area. So I think the set looks nice with the two grays, especially from the front. At the back more of the dark-gray is exposed, so you might want to add some extra greebling.
Talking about colors, I have read complaints about the few translucent yellow pieces added, as well as some blue Technic pins being exposed. I think the subtle additional color is nice. Most machines are not all one color, there are color-coded parts, wires, buttons, warnings, etc., plus there are color differences due to natural wear and tear. I like the trans-yellow very much, and I have tried other colors like yellow and blue, which also look really good in my opinion. But if you absolutely hate using other colors, you can easily replace the colored elements with light-gray versions.
Another thing some people don’t like is the barrels on the arms. They actually don’t look bad in real life, although I do agree they would be better in light-gray – unfortunately this part doesn’t exist in the new shade of light-gray LEGO currently produces, so that was not possible. The barrels hide the connection between a regular thin bar (light-saber blade) and a Technic axle, so it was necessary to use. If you don’t like the barrels however, you can easily replace them using other connection methods. I have come up with at least a dozen different ways to replace the barrels (see under modifications below).
What I personally didn’t like about the Exo Suit is the connection between the hands and the lower arm (basically the wrists). To be honest, I didn’t like this connection in Peter’s original design either; to me they resemble the hook-arms of pirates, and that just didn’t work for me. I modified this section as you will see further down when I talk about modifications.
My biggest gripe about this set are those shoulder-pad looking thingies. They are absolutely dreadful. (They are actually called Quantum Processing Units in the booklet included with the set – whatever that means). I can’t believe that assembly made it through quality-control. They will fall apart if you just look at them wrong. And because they are at the shoulders where you would normally grab the mech, you end up constantly rebuilding it. I’m not even sure if the technique used is considered legal as the T-bar is shorter across than those robot arms/ modified plate assembly – but hey, I don’t work for LEGO, so who am I to question that. You can push a short light-saber blade though the assembly to make it more sturdy (I have no idea why these were not included with the set as they are obviously needed), but even then they are prone to unclip. Having said that, this is how the shoulder-pads are in Peter Reid’s design, so you get a glimpse on how maddeningly fragile the original Exo Suit is. There is another, very similar assembly on the legs, but because those rest flush against the legs I didn’t have a problem with them at all. The robot arms might be in fact defective as they are a distinctly different shade of gray and the clutch of the clips is practically zero. Anyway, this is the issue with greebling; finicky little parts falling off. To be fair though, this is the only greebled section I had problems with.
➡ #21109 LEGO IDEAS EXO SUIT MODIFICATIONS: I know that some people like to build LEGO sets as they are in the instructions and never consider modifying them or taking them apart to build something else. I’m the opposite; I either build my own designs out of loose elements, or when I buy a LEGO set – after building it – I modify it to what I consider perfection. In this regard, the LEGO Exo Suit is perfect; I like the intricate details, and I like the fact that there is so much more that can be done with it. In fact, the Exo Suit just begs to be modified; if nothing else, you will have to get a couple of light-saber blades to fix the shoulder-pad issue. And besides that, there are so many sections that can be greebled further. Also, as this is a mech, you can modify or replace the arms with tools, weapons, or whatever your minifigs need to use a mech for. Below I will show you some of the changes I have made so far. This is not my final version by any means – basically just playing around to explore the possibilities. And maybe you will get some ideas for your own mech. 😀
COLORS: All of the trans-yellow sections have been changed to blue – this is to match the LEGO Classic Space theme and Benny’s Spaceship better. I may leave it like that, or perhaps add a bit more blue in the cockpit area. I’m also planning to get some blue rubber bands for exposed wiring. I also added some additional light-gray greebling and plan to do more. The bright silver parts have been taken out. The Exo Suit already have light-gray, dark-gray and pearl-dark-gray, and I felt a different shade of silver was just getting too much. The dark gray barrels on the arms have been replaced with light-gray round bricks. More on this in the next paragraph. Sorry about the brown short light-saber blades at the shoulders. I’m going to have those replaced with light-gray ones shortly, or might redesign that whole area altogether. Oh, and in case you are wondering what the Exo Suit would lool like with more colors, check these out! 🙄
ARMS: As I have mentioned above, I didn’t mind the barrels on the arms, but I disliked the wrists, so I ended up redesigning the whole arm. I haven’t decided if I will use the barrels again, but in this configuration it is an easy modification either way. Right now a long bar (6.6L bar with stop-ring) runs through the entire arm instead of the light-saber blade Technic axle assembly, so it is really easy to change the sections. As far as I know this bar is no longer in production, but it is available on BrickLink. You can also use the current version of the bar (6 L bar with stop-ring), which is a bit shorter, so you would have to stack less elements on the arms. Or you could also use a light-saber blade, Technic axle configuration used originally, just have to make sure to run them through the parts in a way that they get locked together. I’m planning to replace the dark-gray round tiles with holes at the elbows with something a bit bigger. Also added some greebling behind the elbows.
COCKPIT: The roll-cage for the cockpit has been redesigned as I felt that it was too heavy and too short as it came in the set. I’m also using different greebling below the cockpit. It is more sturdy than the original, using two light-saber handles with a T-bar in between. Above the cockpit I removed the spiky things (technically called Twin Blast Exhausts). They were replaced with Technic gears as I like Peter Reid’s design in this regard. I’m planning to add another, smaller gear below these, hidden inside the shoulder, but I don’t have those parts yet.
BACK: The long thinner hose have been replaced with two thicker ones. The only reason is that I like their look better. I haven’t done much else at the back yet, but planning to add more greebling and some exposed wires using blue LEGO rubber bands.
TURTLE: I love Peter Reid’s turtles, and I really like the one included in this set with the new head design. I did replace the blasters on top; although I liked the ones that came with the set (nice parts for greebling), but I prefer Peter’s original version. I also replaced the silver dome with a dark-gray one due to the color issue I talked about previously, and may change it to blue in the future (I just don’t have a blue dish/dome right now).
In summary I would say I love the Exo Suit and will continue tinkering with it for quite some time. I think those who will buy the set when it gets officially released in August will naturally fall into three camps; those who will attempt to modify it to match Peter Reid’s version as much as possible, those who will keep Mark Stafford’s design and perhaps fix the few issues with it, and those who will just look at it as an awesome mech and modify it according to their own vision. Whatever camp you belong to I’m pretty sure that you won’t be disappointed. Oh, and while you are waiting for the set’s release, you might want to stock up on greebles! The set will be available at the LEGO Ideas section of the Online LEGO Shop.
So what do you think? How do you like the LEGO Exo Suit set? Do you think the final design lives up to the original submission? And what do you think of the video and the green LEGO space suits? Feel free to share and discuss in the comment section below! 😉
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