If you'd told me the next spin-off venture for Minecraft, after a dungeon-crawling Diablo-like ARPG, would be another trip into a genre generally popularized by another Blizzard IP, I would have foamed at the mouth. In reality, much of the year-long run-up to the release of Minecraft Legends was shrouded in mystery. The teasers told us nothing, and the trailers conjured more questions than answers, showing a game that looked part Pikmin part Starcraft. And, in practice, that's exactly what Minecraft Legends is. I just personally wish Mojang and Microsoft had sent developers Blackbird Interactive down just one of those two roads instead of having the game meet somewhere in the middle.
Minecraft Legends is an open-world real-time strategy game. A persistent battle of whack-a-mole against Piglins big and small as they pop up like rats around the world, causing chaos for villages and claiming the land as their own. The size of the map in question depends on which of the four difficulty options you choose. And, like Minecraft proper, the eternal battlefield is randomly generated. This technically means each playthrough will never be the same, but the general structure of the game will always have you follow the same steps to victory. You won't find new enemy types or obstacles: just strongholds, villages, and resources in a vaguely different direction.
Unlike Minecraft proper, exploration isn’t really part of the package, here. You’ll find a few treasures no matter which path you take to your next objective, but there’s no digging down for resources or exploring jaw-dropping chasms. With that, I soon grew tired of the largely barren world just set up to facilitate enough of a gap between me and the next stronghold.
Humble beginnings, unclear endings
How you end up there, though, is charming. After witnessing the Piglins burst forth from Nether Portals all around their world, the three spectral Hosts that built the endangered space use a portal of their own to entice you, another non-specific Minecraft character, away from a busy day of smacking stone somewhere else. The switch to the original first-person view of the base Minecraft game and the comical cycling through weapons from Pickaxe to Sword, indicating your acceptance, is an adorable and on-the-nose touch. It’s just a shame that it was probably the only time I cracked a smile playing it. How you end up in that world tickled me, but the magic didn’t last.
From the get-go, I knew I'd want to turn the voice acting from the three Hosts off. Not because they're bad, but because they hammer home the idea that this is very much a game designed for kids. And that’s completely understandable. The franchise wouldn't be where it is today if not for the hundreds of millions of children who built their own worlds and watched content creators do the same. But being unable to hover over important points of interest on the map without being spoken to like a five-year-old did get tiring.
Remember: you’re here forever
Once you're flitting between outposts and villages, defending the latter against timed attacks in the night and destroying spawn portals at the former, you get the complete experience of Minecraft Legends in one fell swoop. The piglins only launch their attacks and build up bases at night, but you're free to instigate your own assaults at any time. So long as you remember to collect resources from villages and send out your Allay fairies to gather things like wood, stone, diamond, and redstone on your behalf on route to your next destination, you should have what you need to set up spawners for your constantly growing selection of mobs.
Towns you leave behind can be fortified with walls and turrets, but the thought of having so much ground to cover can cloud your senses. For every stronghold you squash, it feels as if two more appear in their place (and a distant village bites the dust, requiring a counter-offensive and subsequently laborious rebuild). There’s always too much to do, but then there’s almost not enough to keep you occupied when it counts.
Taking the fight back to a stronghold feels like a waiting game. Enemy structures take forever for your army to whittle down, and although you can chop through lesser piglin swarms with your own sword, you’re unable to pitch in with the win condition of knocking structures down. You’re the custodian of the island. Things take a little too long to get done, and your efforts rarely feel like progress at all.
On the subject of your all-important army, gathering them around you and issuing attack and move commands is quite fiddly and never comes close to having the granular control of a proper RTS title like StarCraft. There is a thoughtful unit filter feature that uses a gearshift-style selection to get the job done, but there's just no getting around the fact that what would usually be a couple of clicks in a PC RTS is quite a bit more involved here whether you're using mouse/keyboard or a controller.
Convenience will likely trump strategy for most because of it. Rather than learn to adapt to the feature, it feels less jarring to spawn your specific selection of units one by one - or just send your oddly mixed army into battle all at once. And for the StarCraft fans out there, yes you can emulate a Baneling Bust by bowling in a swarm of Creepers straight to a stronghold's portal. It's the only way to turn what is generally a sluggish war of attrition into a vaguely enjoyable skirmish.
It's clear that Minecraft Legends has been thoughtfully designed and pieced together to incorporate just enough of the core Minecraft experience to still feel like a Minecraft game. There's just concern that the younger audience will need a lot of input from their gaming parents to properly understand the delicate cycle of gathering for, crafting towards, and executing a strategy time and time again. It's far from the 'virtual lego' the original game was. And with the always-online approach it takes, there's little room to breathe.
Unless you save and quit out to the main menu, the world keeps spinning. Piglins ransack villages and build new bases faster than you can enjoyably squash them. It may be just what an energetic kid needs to settle down and zone in, but others may find the endless game of whack-a-piglin to be a tad overwhelming. The end goal is rarely clear, making it difficult to put down, but tricky to find worth in at the same time. There’s endless replayability if you enjoy going through the motions, and the DLC challenges and PVP aspects could very well keep things fresh indefinitely, but the core experience feels contrived and convoluted, borrowing too much from the foundation of the franchise to stand on its own two feet.
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