Microsoft and Mojang have made a concerted effort to expand the Minecraft IP beyond the original sandbox over the years with spin-offs that take the franchise to new genres. We’ve already seen Minecraft tackle a story-based adventure and a dungeon crawler, and now it’s got its sights set on action strategy. Minecraft Legends cleverly adapts the Minecraft universe for a new genre, even if some of its charm is lost in the process.
Out of the Nether and into the fire
In Minecraft Legends, you’re pulled from your traditional Minecraft duties to save the Overworld from the Piglins, who have come from the Nether and are hoping to use the dark dimension to destroy the world. It’s a story that really dives into Minecraft’s lore, exploring corners not yet touched by the sandbox game or any of its previous spin-offs.
Early on, you’re introduced to The Hosts, a trio of beings that oversee and look after the Overworld. Their names are Foresight, Knowledge, and Action, and they each represent the core pillars of leadership. I enjoyed the cutscenes where these characters would pop up, offering a fascinating perspective on the Minecraft universe for someone who has sunk a couple of thousand hours into the original game.
Legends takes familiar Minecraft characters and mobs and gives them a new purpose. I liked getting to command Skeletons, Zombies, and other previously hostile mobs against a common enemy. The Piglins themselves were a Mob that always felt weirdly utilized in Minecraft, so it was cool seeing them take center stage in the Minecraft Legends campaign.
Command and conquer
Unlike Minecraft, Minecraft Legends revolves around commanding units to do your bidding. This includes mining and gathering resources, as well as fighting. Though it felt so opposite to everything this franchise has taught me, I appreciated that the Allay’s quickened up the process and that I didn’t have to halt my progress to spend half an hour mining cobblestone or gathering iron.
The Allays can also be commanded to build mob spawners, which work to your benefit in this game. At the spawners, you can spend resources to spawn Golems, which will fight on your behalf in battle. There are multiple races of Golems that each have their own specialty in combat. For example, Plank Golems deal more damage to Piglins, while Cobblestone Golems are best at destroying structures.
Riding around on horseback, you command your units to attack groups of enemies and destroy the various structures. From your command center, you can order units to move independently or as a group. You can quickly call them to yourself and have them follow you into battle as well. You have to juggle resources, spawning new Golems to come to your aid as others fall in battle.
Building is another core mechanic of Minecraft that makes a return in Legends, but in brand-new way. Instead of creating shelter, building is more of a utility. You can make walls, gates, and arrow towers to defend your own base, while stairs can be used to reach places previously unreachable. Just like with resource-gathering, building is completely automated by Allays. Again, I appreciate the streamlined mechanics, but I do miss putting together my own shoddily-built structures.
There’s a great rhythm to Minecraft Legends once you get a handle on its multiple systems. In combat, I essentially rode laps around the battlefield, reassigning units as I saw fit and throwing in some attacks of my own to fend off the Piglin forces.
In addition to Campaign, Minecraft Legends features a Versus mode, where you can battle it out against up to three other players. Essentially, your goal is to destroy their base before they destroy yours. You’ll have to balance defending your own base, while allocating resources toward attacking your opponents.
I loved how different of an experience Versus mode was in comparison to the Campaign. While the NPC enemies more or less had the same approach, I liked putting myself in the minds of other players and trying to assess their strategy. Versus mode also proved to be the most challenging way to experience Minecraft Legends.
Until you hit bedrock
Every time you spin up a new Minecraft Legends campaign, the world is randomly generated, so each player’s discovery of biomes, villages, and other points of interest is unique. While Legends maintains the staple blocky design of characters, creatures, and structures, its use of bold, thick outlines gives a fresh, more animated look to the world.
While exploring, I was a bit underwhelmed by Minecraft Legends’ open world. It’s neat traversing familiar biomes and landscapes under new context, but there just isn’t much to stumble upon, sans the occasional Speed Wheat or group of enemies. It’s a stark contrast to Minecraft proper, where you can venture into caves, dungeons, or a plethora of other generated structures. I found myself fast-traveling whenever possible, and only taking the long trek when I had to reach a new objective.
It’s more of an inherent issue with making spin-offs of a game like Minecraft, an endless sandbox where your imagination is the only limit. Boxing that into a specific genre, there are compromises that must be made, and a little bit of the Minecraft charm is lost as a result.
Speaking of the Minecraft of it all, I wish there was more depth to the crafting system. It’s a key aspect of the franchise, and while it’s certainly present in Legends, you’re primarily learning standard recipes and leaving your Allay’s to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
The Ender of it all
Minecraft Legends is definitely one of the better Minecraft spin-offs to be released under Mojang and Microsoft. The teams at Blackbird and Mojang deftly take the memorable aspects of Minecraft and make them work in a brand-new genre. The strategy elements run deep, and the Campaign features enough variety that no two players will have an identical experience. Minecraft Legends’ biggest sin is that its open world and crafting elements – two signature traits of the source material – are unremarkable. Luckily, it delivers on everything else it’s trying to do.
This review is based on a digital Xbox/Windows code provided by the publisher. Minecraft Legends launches on April 18, 2023, for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows.
- Solid strategy elements
- Challenging Versus mode
- Robust Campaign
- Interesting additions to Minecraft lore
- Crafting feels shallow
- Open world feels dull
Donovan Erskine posted a new article, Minecraft Legends review: War for the Overworld