As games tend to get bigger and more popular, getting creative with spin-offs or new ideas is fairly commonplace in our industry. Minecraft originally started with the basic principle of building to your heart’s content. No rules, no restrictions—just create. After getting the Telltale treatment with Minecraft: Story Mode and the kid-friendly dungeon crawler Minecraft Dungeons, we have now entered the strategy realm with Minecraft Legends.
Microsoft is well-regarded for its strategy titles over the years, with the Age of Empires franchise taking the forefront, while also giving some of its major franchises the strategy treatment as well with the Halo Wars spin-offs and Gears Tactics. It was only a matter of time before Microsoft applied the same theory to its Minecraft franchise, and well, here we are.
Minecraft Legends mixes the essence of Minecraft with top-down strategy gameplay to bring about a beginner’s version of the classic real-time strategy game. While Minecraft Legends succeeds at marrying the two, plenty of the mechanics found in strategy titles don’t come completely to fruition, with several issues in unit management, pacing, and difficulty.
Even as familiar as the world of Minecraft will be to the seasoned veteran, Minecraft Legends takes away most of the principles you’ve become accustomed to. Punching trees and finding shelter before dark is all but a long-lost memory, while resource gathering has been fully transformed. Nevertheless, lush biomes and diverse life take center stage in the Overworld just as the need for a hero arises.
“Even as familiar as the world of Minecraft will be to the seasoned veteran, Minecraft Legends takes away most of the principles you’ve become accustomed to.”
The piglins have arrived and wish to claim the Overworld for themselves after building Nether Portals across the land to allow access to their armies from the lava-filled Nether. As villages get overrun, three caretakers of the Overworld, known as the Hosts intervene. Named Action, Foresight, and Knowledge, these denizens of nature coax the player into giving them aid to help stop the piglin invasion.
As far as stories go, Minecraft Legends keeps it pretty simple. The bad guys are coming, and the hero comes to the rescue—it’s not that original. Minecraft Legends leans pretty heavily into its established lore for its setting and antagonists, only really adding the Hosts and new, summonable golems into the story. While it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to make sure the game based on Minecraft sticks to its Minecraft roots, adding “Legends” at the end makes it feel like a bit more could’ve been done.
Gathering resources has been allocated to a creature called an “allay” which is basically a worker fairy that rustles up any wood, stone, or iron that you happen across in the Overworld and select. Resource management has always been a pillar in Minecraft, and while getting some grunts to do your dirty work lets you focus on the battles and building, it’s basically been relegated to something you quickly do while moving from place to place, which feels so anti-Minecraft.
On the other hand, exploration in Minecraft Legends is quite important, as some resources like diamonds and gold are still very rare and, when found, can be pretty exciting. Chests can also be found randomly, which grant loot, as well as Power Towers, allied settlements, and mounts, which are incredibly useful in battles and defence.
“…exploration in Minecraft Legends is quite important, as some resources like diamonds and gold are still very rare, and when found, can be pretty exciting.”
One of the issues I ran into is the pacing of the game once you’re fully immersed in the campaign, where the ability to gather certain resources, build some objects, and upgrade the number of units you can command is held behind your resource gathering. In order to do these actions, you must gather certain resources and build towers at the Well of Fate, which is your home base. Most of these resources can be gathered from the chests that spawn at villages, however, meaning you don’t have to actually try that hard to explore or fight off piglins to get them.
I found myself simply fast travelling between each village every day, stocking up on what I needed, and then getting all of the resource-gathering abilities unlocked without much time involved. The rate at which you can unlock things early game caught me off guard at first, but what really surprised me was how little it actually helped with improving your ability to win battles at the piglin camps.
In the Overworld, you’ll find all of your friendly villages, as well as some of the aforementioned secret stuff out in the wilderness, but the main threat is several piglin camps of varying sizes that must be defeated to win the game. The idea is that during the day-night cycle, you have a chance to destroy a couple of camps during the day while the piglins retaliate at one of your friendly villages during the nighttime.
Keeping on pace is vital to making progress in Minecraft Legends, as wasting too much time building up walls and defences at one or two villages leaves your others at risk. Additionally, wasting too much time exploring, upgrading at the Well of Fate, or losing fights means you’re constantly fighting the clock. This sense of anxiety definitely takes you back to rushing to beat the sun to gain that pivotal first shelter to protect yourself in Minecraft, but knowing where to spend your time takes some time to figure out through trial and error.
“Keeping on pace is key to making progress in Minecraft Legends, as wasting too much time building up walls and defences at one or two villages leaves your others at risk.”
Adding to that that each piglin encampment takes a different strategy, different golem types, and a ton of time scrambling around, and it’s tough to get through even the first few fights without running out of resources and losing a whole day. For example, the Horde of the Hunt is a faction of the piglins that don’t use walls for defence but overwhelms you with enemy units. After several times trying to square off against them, even helping my units with my own sword, I just couldn’t get through them all.
Finally, I realized if you simply take a handful of troops and send them in from one direction, then split up into several smaller groups to ransack buildings on the other side, it doesn’t matter the numbers they have on hand as they go from group to group fully focusing on each until defeated. With the amount of time it takes from a horde of that size to get from one side of the camp to the other, you’re just yo-yo-ing piglins chaotically in order to win the fight.
This sense of strategy is definitely a plus, and it just isn’t something that matches well with the time limit given to each day and what is needed to stay on top of things. And while that battle felt chaotic, much about how you command your troops is in the same way very chaotic. With the Banner of Courage, you have the ability to gather up any troops in a small vicinity and either have them fight around you, send them in to charge at the enemy or focus on certain buildings.
The problem comes when your units do their job and just stand around waiting for more instructions. They will defend themselves if attacked, of course, but they have a hard time just moving on to the next building or finding anything to do. This means that it’s your job to run back and forth in the battle, constantly reassembling your troops and sending them on to their next task in order to stay on top of things and get it done quickly.
“Building in Minecraft Legends is enjoyable, but not really for those who are looking to perfectly build a bright, shiny town.”
Add on your responsibilities to find and gather resources in order to sustain these attacks, all while needing to get back to the Well of Fate for upgrades and to villages to build defences, and you’re left running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Building in Minecraft Legends is fun, but not really for those looking to build a perfect, shiny city. The building tools are more for quick drop placement of towers, ramps for traversal, and walls to hold off the piglins long enough for you to get there. I regularly found myself wanting to spend much more time building out a settlement completely, but again, the day/night cycle of the player kept me prioritizing basic defences while allowing me to keep up with the piglin settlements.
Playing Minecraft Legends in co-op or online was an overall good experience, but the reliance on others to split up and gather resources meant someone had to regularly bite the bullet and do the boring tasks, which can be split up a bit more evenly when playing with friends.
I think the disconnect for me comes from having all of your commands and abilities tied to your character rather than having the ability to command everything from the sky. Having to stand the hero next to units to tell them what to do, while more realistic and immersive, is at odds with the idea of a world-building strategy game where you have to manage multiple settlements and tons of jobs at once.
“Playing Minecraft Legends in co-op or online was an overall good experience, but the reliance on others to split up and gather resources meant someone had to regularly bite the bullet…”
While I had trouble feeling like I was never doing a good job because I was constantly on the move, I could see where taking the way you usually play strategy games and simplifying it into what your character can do at any given moment would be a great way for younger audiences to get into the strategy genre. I’m sure Age of Empires or Starcraft would be completely overwhelming to my 5-year-old, but he could definitely understand this, as well as the differences between Pokémon and Persona.
Minecraft Legends does a good job of creating an accessible strategy title for beginners, and its dedication to traditional Minecraft lore makes it a fun place to roam, but the odd pacing, rushed task list, and chaotic way of managing your units make it something only diehard Minecrafters or newcomers to the genre could get behind.