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Our Minecraft Legends review tackles the latest spin-off from the famous sandbox survival game, and this time it’s having a go at commanding and conquering in the real-time strategy (RTS) genre. No longer concerned with cave-delving and surprise creeper encounters, Minecraft Legends’ protagonist is whisked away to a brand-new blocky universe in desperate need of a saviour. Saddled upon a trusty mount, the hero wages a real-time battle against the evil piglins as they attempt to destroy the overworld, harm innocent villagers, and expand their bases.
Welcome to RTS class
The main objective in Minecraft Legends sounds deceptively simple: destroy your enemies before they destroy you. In campaign mode, this translates to wrecking the piglins’ Nether portals, while in versus mode (PvP with up to four players per team), you’ll have to smash the other player’s Well of Fate while simultaneously fending off Piglin attacks. All parties have a wide array of tools at their disposal, so the road to victory is rocky.
To cater to players of different skill levels, the campaign offers four difficulty options: storied, fabled, mythic, and legendary. They feel very well balanced; the fabled difficulty takes some skill but is easy enough to secure victory for most players, while legendary presents a serious challenge. Storied mode is extremely forgiving, but it ensures that younger children should be able to enjoy the game as well. While on the topic of accessibility, the colourblind mode and text-to-speech option are excellent inclusions, with the latter enabled upon first launch.
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The campaign starts in a separate tutorial area. The basic ‘we’ll explain a rule, now you try it’ pattern feels a bit tedious, but does a good job of providing you with the most important information, and is likely a deliberate choice for the younger audience to get accustomed to what may be a brand new genre for most. However, once the first part of the campaign has started, the game continues to drop instructions for quite a while, firmly guiding your hand during the first few defence and attack stages. While you may skip the tutorial during your next campaign, you can’t escape this initial guidance no matter how many piglins you’ve crushed before. Two separate tutorials, a basic one and an advanced one, might have been a better choice.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend
As one of Minecraft Legends’ many deviations from its parent game, and probably the most surprising one, you’ll find that your old enemies, including zombies, creepers, and skeletons, have become your biggest friends. They will even join your army to fight against the piglin invasion. As a side effect, I’ve come to realise that zombie groans don’t startle me anymore, which doesn’t bode well when I dive back into my hardcore survival world in standard Minecraft…
Minecraft Legends’ hilarious opening cutscene, which introduces this newfound friendship, deserves special commendation. Starting with the brutal murder of an innocent little critter and ending with the borderline kidnapping of the protagonist, it sets the whimsical tone for the rest of the game. During the campaign, every major event is followed by an equally silly cutscene, often featuring an angry piglin doing something mean. Even though the campaign’s storyline is not an essential part of the game (and can always be skipped, if you wish) it does contribute a great deal to the game’s appeal.
Mine, mine, all mine
Minecraft Legends does an impressive job of incorporating mechanics from the base game into this spin-off, despite it being an entirely different genre. You need to gather resources, explore the map, and craft buildings. For example, to spawn units for your army, you must build a spawner using the wood, stone, and ores you’ve gathered. While you do need to venture out and find ore veins (ranging from redstone to diamonds), you’ve got a bunch of ‘allay’ minions to take care of the practical mining part. It’s a smart way of taking the familiar and using it in a unique format suitable for a fast-paced action game.
Likewise, Minecraft Legends takes the familiar biome system and cube art style, and reimagines them in a much (much!) smaller, denser, Minecraft Legends open world map. The variety and detail found in these biomes is amazing, and makes travelling from village to piglin base much more enjoyable. The biomes are linked to specific resources which, in a smart move by the developers, gives them a purpose beyond their looks.
Watch your step
Whether it’s the campaign or PvP mode, the best part of Minecraft Legends’ combat is the amount of ludicrous strategies there are to defeat your foes. Some of my personal favourites are what I call the ‘your fortress is my fortress’ technique, thereby slowly taking over an enemy base by building my own fortress within their walls, or leading a demolition squad of creepers who, apparently, are all too willing to detonate themselves for the cause. In true Minecraft fashion, there’s plenty of room for creativity.
However, as much as the combat system overall is enjoyable, it’s not flawless. For starters, the commands don’t go much further than ‘go there’ or ‘attack this target’. You can’t task your troops with a defensive role, as they won’t automatically defend your nearby structures. And if you ask them to focus on a target positioned across a bridge, there’s a high chance some of them will fall down and stay there, unable to find their target unless you jump after them and personally guide them back up.
Furthermore, the command system itself is a bit slow. To give a group of units an order, you first need to rally them around you, open the command options, select the correct unit type, and hover over the map to indicate where they should go. While this isn’t necessarily a point of criticism; this also means that you always need to be present to micromanage your units. Rather than playing a grand strategy game, you’ll be running between groups of fighters like a kindergarten teacher, telling them what to do and fully expecting them to not always do it.
Beware that this back-and-forth combat often results in very lengthy battles. You’ll have to clear your agenda before starting a Minecraft Legends PvP match, as it typically drags on, and on, and on, especially when the teams are well-matched. This, too, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it excludes anyone who hasn’t at least one hour of time available. Add that to the absence of an in-game chat system… And you have a game that’s mostly suitable for friend groups, not random matchmaking.
Piglin tower defence
Minecraft Legends’ PvP mode already came with the promise of replayability, but it’s important to mention that every mode, including the campaign, features a procedurally generated map, meaning that biomes, villages, and piglin bases spawn in randomised locations. While it shouldn’t harm a light-hearted match between friends in Minecraft Legends multiplayer, it’s important to mention that this adds an element of luck to the game, as your starter base may be positioned worse than those of your opponents.
Despite the procedural generation and tactical freedom mentioned earlier, keep in mind that the general progression stays the same throughout each match: you start by gathering wood and stone, buying upgrades, and spawning units. Then you attack an enemy base which, even the piglin ones in the campaign, often uses the same units, structures, and general layout. In other words, yes: it does get repetitive after a while.
But lo and behold, Minecraft Legends also has a ‘Lost Legends and Myths’ game mode, which is also the most exciting as it adds additional scenarios. At the moment of writing, the only available scenario is called The Portal Pile, which drops you inside a village surrounded by three piglin bases. Survive a total of thirty waves, and you win. It plays like a little tower defence game, and after spending a lot of time in campaign and versus mode, it’s a welcome change. The quality of future Lost Legends scenarios will likely play a large role in Minecraft Legends’ post-launch success.
To conclude; if you’re a diehard RTS player looking to command large armies with your right hand while holding The Art of War in your left, this is not the game for you. On the other side of that coin, if you’re looking for a game that’s easy to jump into, no rulebook required, this isn’t that either. However, if you like the sound of running through a colourful cartoonish realm pretending to be Robin Hood with his band of merry creepers, making up battle plans as you go, then Minecraft Legends is likely worth your time.
Reviewed on PC, code provided by the publisher.