Minecraft is the kind of household name that most studios would ever dream to achieve. Now in the hands of Microsoft, it keeps on going strong and has spawned the acclaimed dungeon crawler Minecraft Dungeons in 2021.
It is back with a vengeance for another round of blocky action adventures in Minecraft Legends, an action strategy game where building and tactical combat collide, all with the usual mix of resource gathering and that warm creeper familiarity. But is this a take that will conquer fans and naysayers alike, or a flat attempt at spreading the franchise’s grasp?
The Overworld is Your Oyster
This Minecraft spin-off banks on the trademark pixelated visuals to take you in an adventure where you roam the land recruiting units and saving villages from piglins. You start by picking one hero from the meager and inconsequential range of free skins – there is not a hint of a class system here and you can switch skins anytime you want – and then you are taken to the tutorial. Going through the basics of resource gathering, building structures, and commanding troops into battle, the UI is far from being a tactical commander’s dream.
Featuring a combination of hot bar icon selections mixed with right and left mouse button presses, sometimes simultaneously, it can take a while to get used to it as you fiddle with resource gathering selection and building placement. Even more keys get into play when troops are involved, but the outcome is never satisfactory enough and quite far from the enjoyment and tactical complexity that you get from a true real-time strategy game. Feeling more like a compromise that fails to appease both casual gamers and diehard veterans, the UI often gets in the way of any amusement.
The bulk of the game revolves around exploring the world and rescuing villages from the piglin occupation, unlocking the useful fast travel option and earning more resources. At night, when the piglins attempt to raid another village, you must do your best to thwart their plans and free the various villages, and the gameplay loop doesn’t expand much more beyond this. Take your trusty stead through miles and miles of land, discover new biomes and additional resource types, build superior types of troops and structures, and you may occasionally stumble upon creepers and other units that you can recruit to your cause, even if only temporarily.
The battle system is tremendously simpleminded and repetitive. Your role in combat doesn’t extend beyond swinging your weapon and doing circles around the enemies or structures, while sending your units to an objective doesn’t have the precision and effectiveness that it should, further complicated by the option to send one unit at a time to focus on a specific target. Furthermore, the rally system doesn’t work as expected, forcing you to get in a very small radius to call your units; move a little bit farther and they will stand there, inert, ignoring your cry for help, a stone’s throw away. It’s the type of micromanagement that even casual players could do without, feeling like an afterthought.
The chaotic base conquering brings some potential for heated and deep tactical battles, but the outcome is lamentably middling. The time it takes for you and your army to take down a single structure is extremely drawn-out, to the point of boredom sinking in; controlling your units amidst all the turmoil becomes a messy affair, as you struggle to find who is who and how to make them focus on an enemy or building, despite your best efforts. There was so much potential for creative units that would allow for clever approaches such as digging tunnels, climbing walls, and the like, but everything feels linear and numb. The result is that combat isn’t fun or tactical enough to make you long for the next village raid, something that is at the core of the campaign mode (played either solo or in cooperative mode), and a sense of monotony quickly creeps in, keeping with the famed creature from the series.
The multiplayer mode could slightly change the fortunes of the game, but it is prone to disconnections, you can’t swap teams to party up with friends, and a ping system is sorely lacking. While having friends to battle with and against is always a good thing, it doesn’t disguise the fact that the gameplay isn’t fun.
As expected, Minecraft Legends comes fully equipped with a marketplace filled with skins and textures, along with monthly episodes called Lost Legends. The first one called The Portal Pile and is available for free, but it’s likely that the subsequent releases ask you for some of those precious minecoins. This specific adventure is a generic horde mode where piglins spawn from three portals and you must protect your village during 20 waves of increasingly difficult attacks, progressively unlocking defensive structures. In the end, it’s close to what you do in the campaign, and hopefully the next episodes will display some extra creativity.
Minecraft Legends isn’t a bad game; the issue is that it doesn’t excel at any of the genres that it attempts to tackle. In terms of construction, it doesn’t hold a candle to the possibilities of the original, and to be fair that isn’t quite the aim here – still, it could do a lot more than it currently does; as a tactical warfare game, it’s a simplistic and yet occasionally convoluted take offering slim options to engage in deep and meaningful combat, instead ruling by numbers and basic unit expertise that won’t get your commander juices flowing. Conqueror’s Blade is one of countless examples that perform this art of war in superior ways, balancing complexity with fun in a rewarding way.
Too shallow for players looking for a challenge and too complicated for younger players, creativity is mostly absent in this spin-off. Minecraft Legends may retain some of its original blocky charm, but the fun aspect was lost somewhere along the way, being replaced by repetitive gameplay and frustrating unit control woes.
- Pleasant Minecraft vibes
- A concept that had some strengths
- Multiplayer battles occasionally chaotic in a good way
- Shallow building and battle mechanics
- Convoluted UI
- Lacking a touch of the creativity that made the original a hit