Reflect on Minecraft and you’ll likely find yourself thinking about the original crafting, building and survival sandbox title which has gone from strength to strength over the past decade – becoming one of the greatest video game IPs of all time. Since Microsoft’s acquisition of Mojang in 2014, it’s done its best to captilise on the popularity of Minecraft – expanding this universe with new products, content updates and new video games. We’ve already seen the episodic adventure Minecraft: Story Mode, and then there was Minecraft Dungeons – the Diablo like ARPG title, and this brings us to Minecraft Legends – a new action strategy take on the beloved block-building series co-developed by the Canadian team Blackbird Interactive (known for its work on the Homeworld RTS series and the now-defunct mobile title Minecraft Earth).
Minecraft Legends is broken up into three main components – a campaign, a PvP mode and cooperative play. If you haven’t really investigated Legends until now, prepare to be surprised. While the developers behind this latest release have spent over four years crafting this new “legend” within the Minecraft universe, in their own words, it’s not “Minecraft Minecraft”. It’s got familiar aspects, and visually speaking the game looks the part and has all the charm of the main experience, but at its core Legends is an action strategy game where you’ll spend your time exploring, delegating tasks, gathering resources, unlocking upgrades and building up an army to take down the Piglin threat and save the overworld. It’s different but similar.
And that’s where the story comes in – you’re the hero of this world and it’s your job to stop the Piglins, who are hungry to claim these lands for themselves. It’s up to you to save this paradise filled with “diverse life” and “lush biomes” before their Nether corruption engulfs the entire land, by befriending all sorts of unexpected friends – even creepers, skeletons, and zombies. So once you’ve picked a character (which is purely a cosmetic thing by the way) and met the caretakers of the lands, you’re given a quick tutorial outlining the basics and then transported into the overworld, which is procedurally generated, making it a slightly different experience for every player.
Again, because this isn’t the standard Minecraft experience, time-consuming tasks like gathering and building are now handled by mysterious mobs known as ‘Allays’. The blue ones gather resources and the yellow ones build structures. Allays are commanded by the “Legendary Lute”, an elegant instrument used to highlight areas of the overworld to harvest. Then there’s the “banner of courage” your hero carries around, which is basically how you assign tasks or navigate and group your allies. These are the main tools in Minecraft Legends you’ll use to perform all the necessary jobs from building to defending your base or attacking others. The controls may take some time to grasp, especially with the various submenus contained within control pad navigation and other buttons, but once you’ve put in enough hours, it shouldn’t feel too far off the actual Minecraft game as you scroll through all sorts of task hotbars. There are quick commands to make the process just a little bit easier, too.
This brings us to the game’s campaign where you roam the land on your mount defending towns, recruiting allies, saving villages, discovering all sorts of hidden surprises, and of course doing all the Minecraft-like stuff while trying to reclaim territory. Once you have gathered basics like stone and wood, you can craft allies like Golems (which all serve slightly different purposes), upgrade your skills and abilities – unlocking more support for battles, and construct all sorts of helpful structures from carpenter huts to redstone launchers – which allow you to manually target incoming enemies and blow them to pieces.
Scenarios across the land vary from defending your base to reclaiming captured areas or developing Piglin land. Outside of this, you can always go exploring for more minerals and surprises like characters who can aid you in battle. And then there’s fast travel, which provided it’s unlocked, allows you to jump around the map defending areas or responding to important matters like village attacks within seconds. The combat itself is more about you directing allies in battle, but you can get your own sword involved. The battles in general, and the pace base attacks and other events unfold at times feels like something out of a classic RTS such as Age of Empires, where you advance the enemy and either conquer them or are eventually forced to retreat and regroup. There’s not quite as much depth when it comes to strategy and tactical elements as certain other games representing these genres, but it’s still a respectable effort and it’s always a satisfying feeling to destroy an opponent’s base. The world can also feel a tad quiet at first and for some players, the campaign might not be quite as exciting or as long-lived as the multiplayer.
Speaking of multiplayer, the team behind Legends doesn’t hide the fact it was made to be experienced with others – just like how the real Minecraft experience is enriched (in most cases) when playing with real people. And the good news is there’s co-op support (as already mentioned), PvP and cross-play matchmaking with friends and the online community. The co-op allows others to jump into their friend or family member’s campaign, and join the fight – with no noticeable limitations during Pure Xbox’s play sessions. As for the PvP mode, it’s arguably the star of the show and a mode we can potentially see Minecraft fans young and old having a stack of fun with.
It’s a classic scenario where you build your base into a fortress and then go out and attack your opponent’s bases until they are destroyed. In between this is the PvE element, so just like in the campaign, you’ll roam the world feeding off Piglins (and resources like Prismarine) to help upgrade and unlock new abilities and construction. Depending on who you play with, this could potentially provide many hours of fun. Matches are also quick and easy to enter, but before you take on real players, it’s highly recommended you play the tutorials and get the hang of the campaign. It can all be very overwhelming at first even if you are well and truly familiar with Minecraft, as it’s more about getting an understanding of how the whole universe has been applied to this action strategy experience. While it’s not always a bad thing to throw yourself in the deep end with games like this, it’s making sense of the mechanics here that could potentially cause some confusion if you do just jump in.
Apart from these player-driven modes, there are some additional skins and textures DLC on the marketplace. One free ‘Lost Legend’ pack was already available during the time of review, and has you (the hero) defending a village against 20 waves of Piglins to unlock a special hero skin. Fortunately, it is just cosmetic. These adventures can also be taken on with other players and will apparently be delivered monthly. This part of the game potentially paints a picture of what to expect later down the line in terms of paid content. There are already some cosmetics to purchase with Minecoins (the Minecraft currency which is obtained with real money). While this isn’t something many players will be jumping for joy about, it’s not all that surprising considering how other Minecraft titles already feature Minecoins. At least for now, no in-game advantages can be gained from these purchases.
Minecraft Legends looks like Minecraft and somewhat feels like it, as you would probably expect, but it really does play like its own proper game with the action strategy elements – even if it doesn’t quite match the depth of certain other titles within the strategy genre. Overall, Mojang and Blackbird Interactive have done a good job adapting this mega video game IP to yet another category, and have definitely provided a fun multiplayer experience, despite some learning curves which might be a challenge for younger Minecraft fans and newcomers. This is a welcome introduction to the strategy genre and is worth a look if you’re seeking more adventures in the Minecraft universe.