Minecraft is a game that needs no explanation by this point. It’s been over ten years since its release and it’s still the best-selling video game ever. It is truly the ultimate sandbox with limitless potential, still defining gaming culture over a decade later. Yet even Minecraft doesn’t have everything in one single game, as Minecraft: Story Mode and Minecraft: Dungeons demonstrate by applying different genres to the franchise. Minecraft Legends joins the slowly growing fray of other Minecraft games by bringing a Real Time Strategy twist to the world. While you’d expect something like a proper Tower Defense out of Minecraft, Real Time Strategy is certainly a genre idea that could work well. So what does Minecraft Legends do with both the genre and the world of the franchise? Today we find out, as I was among those gifted a code to try the game out early.
The cute and colorful world of Minecraft Legends
After multiple nicely animated logos, upon opening Minecraft Legends a beautiful cinematic cutscene plays of a Villager enjoying himself in the sun, only for a Zombie to sneak up behind him… to give him a flower. Then a Nether portal opens up behind them both and Piglins come out and start attacking. Three mysterious characters watch and call your character to help. You’re treated to nice, calming music full of woodwinds when the main menu appears on a background of a pleasant, grassy field.
This first impression establishes the aesthetic of the game up front, one of its strongest aspects: cuteness. Yes, I mean that. In a genre filled with more realistic looking games with often gritty premises, Legends stands out by making the base look of Minecraft purposefully cuter. Many mobs got smaller and cuter, like the human Squidward Villagers or the base Piglin soldiers. The little Piglins are so cute I feel bad fighting them.
The cutscenes and story beats follow this cuteness, and it helps give the game its own magical charm. Every biome in base Minecraft is condensed down into one Overworld map where you can explore all of them in a truly beautiful game. Riding through each biome, you get a great sense of what you’re fighting for. Your character plays a magical lute to summon mobs and free the denizens of the Overworld from cages like a true heroic fantasy tale. The game feels full of life and personality… for about two hours of gameplay, before the magic wears off. The rest of the experience is mostly oddly paced, repetitive, and tedious.
Minecraft Legends Review: Gameplay and mechanics
In Minecraft Legends, you gather resources from the Overworld and use them to build your way to victory. On the defense side you have a small array of arrow towers, stone walls, repair stations, and upgrades to towers to keep bases and villages well defended. The offense consists of building spawners for various mobs and leading them into battle against the Piglins and their bases. Alternatively, you can explode them with a Redstone Launcher. Your character has a diamond sword for riding around and swinging, and it’s exciting to be in the action, but you’re not a very useful combatant and deal minimal damage compared to your allies’ strength in numbers.
The game has many accessibility options right off the bat, a good move on its part. Alas, this doesn’t account for how difficult the controls can be at times.
This is where the game is at its weakest. The controls, at least on PC, are at times confusing and unintuitive. The tutorial tries to explain most of it and the how to play guide in the menu helps, but you’re still left digging through it when the game doesn’t lay something out clearly enough.
The two controls I found the worst to deal with were building ramps and commanding mobs. When you build a ramp to make a bridge or climb up elevation, you have to hold down and drag the mouse instead of click once and click again to place. This makes positioning ramps, which already have picky requirements, difficult in the middle of battle. When you’re commanding, you have Q and E to call mobs to you and then send them off in front of you, but there’s also holding down the CTRL key for other command options. I played through the entire campaign and still can’t tell you exactly what that does. For such a central mechanic, being forced to hold down a key in the middle of battle and drag the mouse makes it unnecessarily difficult to actually coordinate properly in a Real Time Strategy game.
A lot of mechanics are thrown at you at once in the tutorial and early game. You’ll eventually figure them out, but not as quickly as the game wants you to, and you’ll likely miss smaller mechanics until you notice them later, like recalling your mobs by pressing E at any spawner or that villages have chests with rewards for you.
There are details I like- you can command animals, a nice touch even if they’re too weak to help. You can swap your horse for three other mount skins, a great cosmetic touch and exciting organic discovery.
But there are some frustrations. You have a small radius to call mobs to you to follow you, meaning you probably have to move around and call multiple times to get everyone. They don’t teleport if they get lost along the way, meaning in larger assaults you’ll most certainly lose half of your army on the way there and have to recall them. You run into thorny brambles on the Overworld but can’t cut them with your sword for some reason. You can’t even build paths, so if you destroy the village path while placing a building down, too bad for you.
Some things are never hinted at or explained at in enough detail. For example, one type of base has impenetrable walls your mobs can’t destroy. I assumed you would unlock something later to tear them down or ramps would upgrade. No, you had to purify the Nether and build a Redstone Launcher to destroy the walls, but the NPCs didn’t even hint at this.
The music is nice, especially when it swells up into inspirational sounds while you’re riding through a field of flowers. However, it will get repetitive quickly, especially the battle music as there is only one track for it most of the game. As mentioned before, the cutscenes in the game are beautifully animated and amazing to watch. Clearly a lot of time and effort went into them, and it shows. However, all the ones taking place in the Nether feel visually overcrowded and hard to figure out what’s going on in.
Legends has three modes: Campaign, essentially the story mode which can be played singleplayer or with friends, Versus to battle other players in up to eight player matches, and Lost Legends & Myths, monthly challenge scenarios to earn skin rewards for completing.
Campaign mode is fun for the first two hours as you discover the game. The Piglins are an active enemy, building and upgrading bases and attacking villages every day for you to react to. You upgrade your resource gathering limits, mob spawn limits, etc, and climb up the power curve.
That being said, the pacing of advancement in Campaign is very odd. At the beginning everything feels easy, but it won’t be long before the difficulty increases beyond what you can do, forcing you to spend hours slowly picking apart bases or sticking to destroying smaller outposts until you have enough to upgrade. Then it isn’t too long until it becomes too easy again and the endgame is just a matter of patience. Keep in mind this is playing solo, and not even factoring in if you have a friend to help you. Once you have every mob type on your side, there’s not anything new to discover past the six hour mark except for one new addition to your arsenal. It’s just grinding to the end and all the momentum and fun stops.
Versus Mode splits eight players into orange and blue teams with the objective to eliminate the others’ base. You start from the bottom and build your way into upgrades. This alleviates the previous power curve issue by speeding it up. It’s fun to play with friends on voice call, strategizing together and coordinating your plans, but this can only be fun for so long. In addition, there isn’t much to Versus Mode in terms of strategy. Whichever team builds the Redstone Launcher and blasts the other base to pieces with it first wins, adding to the mode quickly getting old.
Lost Legends & Myths
Lost Legends & Myths has the most potential of the three. It seems it will rotate a new challenge monthly for a reward. Right now it’s a very simple defend a village for 20 waves of Piglins while getting more and more upgrades. You’ve seen this in other RTS games, it works perfectly fine and is fun in this game too. This game mode could allow for a lot of creative spins on the game’s established mechanics, but we’ll have to see what is done with it.
Legends is a simple and straightforward story with no surprises. Piglins are invading a distant world, so three characters- Foresight, Action, and Knowledge- call to your character for help. Your character is inside a normal Minecraft game going about their business when a blue portal opens up and the characters explain you’re the only one who can save the other world.
You are literally in-universe transported from regular Minecraft to the world of Legends, which I find hilarious as a premise. Your character could have just been from the universe of the game already, but no, you actually traverse dimensions to help another world in need. That’s a fun subversion of how that storytelling device usually goes.
The three characters who help you and the dimension they reside in are an enigma. It seems to imply their dimension is sort of a rift between all the worlds, but whether they are gods of a sort, guardians of the entire multiverse of Minecraft who just Are, or just some kind of entities is never completely explained. Nonetheless, they help you through a tutorial level in their dimension, then send you out into the world in peril on a horse while giving you advice from beyond.
You’ll save villages from the Piglins, then save the Creepers, Zombies, and Skeletons’ homes as well, forging an alliance of the entire Overworld versus the Nether. It’s a cute and simple story of unity, which is especially nice after Hogwarts Legacy. For a while the game does its job of making you feel good and enjoying a game where Creepers can finally be your allies.
Pushing back against the Piglin threat
With your new friends and hours of building, grinding, and strategizing, you defeat the three different Hordes by destroying all their bases. The Hordes each are based around a different region of the Nether with a different aesthetic. One focuses on offense, one on defense, and the Spores are just the most annoying to deal with.
Each Horde has a boss fight after being wiped out, followed by a final boss Piglin. Once you defeat him, it’s over. Your three companions move on to another world in need and you stay in the new Overworld. A beautiful cutscene plays of everyone celebrating with fireworks, the world coming back to life as you’re told you taught everyone what’s possible united. Your character mounts their horse, turns towards the open portal to the Overworld with several characters peering at you, and rides into the Overworld…
Right back into the sad Nether hellscape of the starting area, after the title card. There’s no further fanfare, just the Overworld left to navigate around. That’s it. Needless to say, the ending felt kind of empty once that cutscene wore off, all the beauty it established melting away with the reality of the destruction. All you can do is start a new campaign or move on to other modes, though Piglins will eventually spawn again at least.
The story would be better with more story and more of an ending. It pretty much dies off until the end halfway through the campaign, tied with the lack of new things to introduce. All the excitement of the story is in the beginning part and dies off until not even finishing it feels too satisfying. There needs to be a better paced addition of beats as the campaign goes on and more Piglin pushback.
Foresight, Knowledge, and Action do their job as guide characters just fine. They’re competently voice acted, though their repeated voice lines may very well grate on some players. Their designs are interesting and somewhat memorable. There doesn’t need to be much to them, but you can tell they truly care about protecting the worlds. This makes them likable by my standards.
The Overworld characters are the stars. The Villagers, animals, Skeletons, Zombies, and Creepers are exactly as they should be- voiceless and conveying everything through the sound clips you’re used to and expressive body language and faces. They’re cute, charming, and make you want to fight to save them. There are several little small moments, like a fox running away in a cutscene as a nod to how impossible it is to catch them in Minecraft, that show they’re all true to form. I especially like how the Zombies wear sunhats and the Skeletons have helmets as a nod to needing protection from the sun. The only odd detail was Zombies described as unwilling to fight without the right inspiration. Anyone who’s played the base game outside of peaceful mode knows that isn’t true.
The Piglins, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. The tiny Piglins are charming, but the boss Piglins all kind of blend together and have no personality outside of generic mean commander who hurts their underlings. And while this is not a game about character, more could be done to make them interesting and unique boss fights instead of entirely forgettable obstacles.
A lot is missing
The more I pour over this game after finishing it, the more I think of what should be there. Here’s a short list:
- Why are Spiders nowhere to be found in the game? All the other classic night time mobs are there. They’re not even a mount skin option. It seems odd to leave them out but include later additions like turtles.
- Why do Villagers turn into Warrior mobs with axes instead of the Witch mob from the base game? Seems like a missed opportunity to have another valuable ranged ally and a more clever nod.
- Why does the game focus solely on Piglins? Why are there no Ghasts or Blazes? Magma Cubes make an extremely brief appearance, but that’s it. Imagine how much less repetitive the gameplay would be if they were also there to deal with.
- If Magma Cubes are allowed, why aren’t Slimes? Imagine using them to fight, and they split off as they take damage to overwhelm enemies before they die.
- Why can’t we acquire a bow to shoot at ranged enemies, instead of sitting useless in ranged battles?
- In a game with Redstone, why can’t you build Minecart roads to get around quicker?
- In a Minecraft game, why can’t you build any purely decorative structures to make villages look nicer? Why can’t you plant seeds to make more flowers and grass, especially on cured Nether areas?
Legends feels like a base release with more to add over time, and to be fair, that might be exactly the case. As is, once everyone finishes the campaign, gets tired of the Versus Mode, and completes the monthly challenge, there’s no other real incentive to play it. It needs regular updates with an influx of new content to survive long term.
Minecraft Legends Review: Your mileage may vary
Should you play Minecraft Legends? It depends. If you like your RTS games well polished and mechanically sound, you’re probably not going to like it. If you don’t know or play much of the genre and want to enjoy a simple, cute Minecraft themed RTS, the game is perfectly fine for that purpose. This game is going to click with some people and very much not with others.
Minecraft Legends has an incredible amount of potential to become an invigorating and fun experience, but right now it’s just too lacking in too many ways. This may change with more content added to the game, and I am invested in its future to find out. I felt a lot of positive emotions in those first two hours as I rode off on my horse to defend this cute world in need of my help, watching beloved characters rally behind me to fight back. If the game recaptures that feeling again someday, then it will become a really solid game with nothing quite like it.
As it is right now, it’s play at your own risk. If you don’t expect much from the gameplay and just like the style you’ll probably enjoy yourself. But only time will tell if everyone goes back to regular Minecraft or this game truly becomes a legend.