Minecraft Legends sits in an interesting position. It’s a spin-off game that deviates heavily from the established formula Minecraft has had success with over the past two decades. With an IP that has cemented itself in gaming and pop culture, it makes sense that Microsoft would try to further expand the Minecraft brand. The first attempt of this was with Minecraft Dungeons, an ARPG set in the blocky world that had far more potential than what it ultimately crafted in the end. Having spent about 20 hours in Minecraft Legends, I can confidently say that it’s a great time to be had as long as you’re willing to accept some compromises it makes to fit in everything it’s trying to do.
There’s a reason why Minecraft continues to be in conversations about the greatest games ever made. It was not only one of the very first open-world experiences I truly fell in love with, but it was also one of the first platforms that allowed me to express my creative side in endless ways whether it be solo or with friends. Modern game releases have barely touched or come close to the amount of freedom contained in such a simple yet brilliant game design of Minecraft.
I went into Minecraft Legends quite literally not knowing what to expect. I wasn’t exactly sure what type of game it was going to be. I knew it wouldn’t give me the experience I had with the original title. Seeing all the previews, I initially thought it was going to be a sequel to Minecraft Dungeons. Then I heard it was going to be a strategy game but with action elements. It was intriguing but was far more confusing to get a full grasp on.
Minecraft Legends is a fun game but fails to fully commit to the best elements of the two genres it’s trying to mix up. Because of that, sometimes it feels like the game design is at odds with itself creating a slightly disjointed system that is saved by the undeniable charm of the Minecraft universe. But despite all its gripes, it’s a very unique experience that I found myself enjoying the more I played through it.
Collect, Craft, Strategize
The blocky Overworld is being invaded by the Piglins and you take control of a champion that is called upon by Knowledge, Action, and Foresight to help save villages from being raided. The lengthy opening cutscenes provide ample enough setup for what to expect in Minecraft Legends, quirky humor, imaginative visuals, and a whole lot of Piglins to slay.
Minecraft Legends may only have one map to explore but everything else on it is procedurally generated. That means that each playthrough will have different layouts, biomes, enemy placements, etc. which is fantastic. Definitely helps the game’s case when it comes to the potential for replayability. However, that’s probably where it ends when it comes to similarities to the original game.
If you’re the type of Minecraft player that wants to build anything at any moment, sorry, Legends is not for you. This is an RTS, third-person action, open-world, and tower defense all rolled into one.
The adventure begins when you spawn at the Well of Fates, a landmark at the very center of the map. This serves as your base of operations and where you can obtain upgrades for your various abilities. You do this by building different shrines around the Well of Fates. If you want to collect more advanced resources like iron or diamonds, you need to do this. The unfortunate reality is that there are only limited spaces where you can build improvement shrines. This acts as the game’s way to balance out the endgame sections so that you won’t be too overpowered. It was a frustrating inconvenience at first, but I understood why it had to happen the more I played in the latter parts of the campaign.
The basic gameplay loop has you collecting resources, going to different villages, setting up proper defenses and reinforcements, and trying to prevent the Piglins from taking over. There are also moments where you take the fight to their own territory and try to destroy enemy towers to stop the mobs from spreading.
Before charging into battle, you gather your own troops with a variety of specialties depending on what you decide to spawn in. Once you’ve built a specific spawner at any point in the map, you are able to get up to 20 golems. There are eight types with each one having its own strengths. Melee, ranged, explosion, tower destroyers, mob fighters, etc. Each golem type has a corresponding resource they are based on so alongside your structures, the troops become part of your resource economy management as well.
While your units fill in their own respective roles serviceably well, it lacks the proper depth found in other RTS games wherein there are troops that have far more utility to help the group. Specifically, there aren’t many support units to be found in Minecraft Legends aside from a healer. While it can be argued that they’re not really needed in this title, the lack of more distinct golem types hinders the game from fully realizing its RTS inspirations and the engaging thought process that genre has. Far more often, I just found myself charging into mobs and structures and bashing my way until success.
Instead of a typical RTS overhead God point of view, you are in the trenches yourself with a third-person character controlling everything in real-time. You rally your troops, direct them where to go, manage your builds, and swing your way across legions of Piglins for success. Combining action and strategy gameplay can easily fall into either being too complicated or too underbaked but Minecraft Legends somehow manages to execute it in a way that is far more intuitive and engaging than I could have imagined.
This “Action Strategy” style feels unique and exciting. However, it does inevitably require some compromises that hardcore players of either genre will be noticing. Minecraft Legends is constantly trying to balance what good real-time action should feel like and the complexity required to have a satisfying strategy gameplay should have.
Controlling your golems can feel a bit of a chore sometimes. In order to rally everyone, you have to stand near and direct them to follow you. From here, you will lead them to wherever you want them to be or issue a command that tells them to charge at a specific target. After this, you have to manually go near them again and repeat the same process. You can’t have specific groups of units for specific tasks. This did put me on my toes and had me running around like a headless chicken on the battlefield. I thoroughly enjoyed how chaotic it can all get but I suspect that RTS purists will find this system a bit too cumbersome.
The third-person camera angle can get in the way sometimes of getting a full grasp of the state of the battlefield. Despite me cranking up the FOV as far back as I could, sometimes structure or geography will get in the way of your vision or commands. There are even moments where some of your units can get left behind just because they got stuck in a hole, can’t climb over a steep mountain, or just fell into lava without you noticing. You either have to go all the way back to pick them up, build a spawner for a replacement or magically rally everyone again.
There are a lot of moments in Minecraft Legends where you’re at the mercy of the competency of the AI, the geography, and the chaotic mix of trying to juggle all its systems together. It may sound like an endeavor that’s far too obnoxious to even be worth a look but trust me when I say, while Minecraft Legends does take some time to get into, once you are deep into its systems, flaws and all, it’s an exhilarating experience all throughout.
Built to destroy
The main campaign of Minecraft Legends will pit you against three sub-bosses which will then lead up to the big baddie in the end. Each of the sub-bosses has three fortresses each scattered throughout the map. This gives you nine main enemy bases to try and take down. It is in these areas where Minecraft Legends is at its very best.
The fortresses are large-scale areas filled with countless mobs, towers, structures, etc. to take down. A far cry from the small bases you plow your way through on a regular basis. The fortresses will require you to be quick on your toes and smart in your decision-making to inch your way through. Each fortress has its specific unique quirks about them that make it a little bit more difficult each time which I will not spoil. Just know that it is during these moments that I truly fell in love with Minecraft Legends.
Building yourself up to be prepared to take down the nine fortresses is where the exploration comes in. You gather resources in the world, gain new unit types by freeing them from captured villages, and upgrading yourself in the Well of Fates is what you’ll mostly be doing.
There’s a dynamic day and night cycle which also has significant gameplay implications. For example, the villages you have already saved may be raided and re-captured again by the Piglins overnight. If you unlocked a specific unit type in a village that’s re-captured, you’re gonna have to save it again to regain your access.
You have to continuously reinforce the villages you’ve already saved in order to keep your resources at bay. This made me feel a bit more attached to these areas rather than the one-and-go attitude that has been imprinted in my mind after the enemy outposts system in Far Cry games.
Taking on the main fortresses can take up to an hour or more given the number of challenges and strategizing required. This is where all of Minecraft Legends’ gameplay systems truly click together to create such an adrenaline-pumping experience. All this can also be played with drop-in and drop-out coop with up to four players. The enemy difficulty will be scaled up depending on the number of people you play with so watch out for that.
And rounding it all up is the PvP offering. Admittedly, I’ve only gone through a couple of hours of this. It’s basically a 4v4 match where each team will build up their own bases and the end goal is destroying the enemy team’s fountain. The same gameplay loop of gathering resources and upgrading your defensive and offensive capabilities still applies here but at a much faster pace. It’s a lot of fun and I hope the online community continues to keep it thriving.
On the campaign side of things, the developers already committed to providing regular content updates with new challenges. The daydreamer in me is hoping we get more fortresses to fight through or perhaps new unit types but it will be interesting to see how they try to integrate that into the narrative.
Final verdict – 8.5/10
I played this on a ROG Flow X16 with an ROG XG Mobile and had virtually no issues in terms of bugs or performance. Everything was buttery smooth. Even if I initially started on mouse and keyboard, I later found out that the controller felt so intuitive that I just completely switched to it all the way to the end. But I’m happy to report that both control styles still work great.
Whether you are a long-time Minecraft fan or a newcomer, I can see Minecraft Legends being a fantastic pickup. This is already being sold at a discounted price of $40 and there’s so much content already shipped in the box with much more incoming in the next few months. Its unique mixing of the action and strategy genres creates a very unique experience that is rarely seen in AAA releases nowadays. Despite some janky-ness in its systems, there’s a lot here to enjoy and a lot more to build upon.