In the process of creating an unlimited number of block-based buildings and experiences, Minecraft has conquered the world. It is a gaming behemoth that continues to strike a chord with younger gamers, providing a space to harness their creativity, hang out with friends, or just hit each other with diamond swords. Microsoft could see the further potential when they acquired Mojang, and following on from the dungeon crawling of Minecraft Dungeons, we’re now getting Minecraft Legends, a creative RTS-like that takes what you know about Minecraft and twists it into a new shape.
Minecraft Legends creates a new narrative set in the beloved block-land, with the kingdom facing strife in the shape of an immense Piglin army that is set on spreading havoc and corrupting everything around them. Foresight, Action and Knowledge are the three guardians who witness the destruction being wrought, and seek out a new champion – that’s you – to tackle the pork-based peril.
To protect the land, you’re taught how to manipulate the world around you in a way that’s similar to the Minecraft experience you know and love, but in a refreshingly different way. This is vaguely an RTS, and slightly a MOBA, and it comes by way of Brutal Legend and Pikmin. You have to harness resources from the world, build up your defences and form an army in order to succeed in battle. You send off a variety of Allays that will harvest a set area for you, collecting resources like wood, stone and iron that you can then turn into useful things like soldiers and walls. It’s all very streamlined, so you can quickly set your charges harvesting and then leave them to it, allowing you to focus on the main task at hand.
That main task tends to be fighting off attackers. Maybe you’re protecting a village from attack and gaining the support of the people in the process, or perhaps you’re attacking a corrupted Piglin encampment, but combat and conflict are at the heart of it. You’re able to build a series of structures to help in this endeavour, from the humble wall through to deadly archer towers that fire upon anyone that comes into range. The Piglin army also boasts its own edifices, and you’ll have to prioritise which of these to dismantle first when it’s your turn to attack.
Your hero is a musical sort – they’re definitely a harper – and you control everything through the power of song. Strum the right melody on your magical lute and you can create anything you can imagine – as long as it’s the type of thing that Blackbird Interactive has thought of first. While you can build a variety of structures, this isn’t quite the freeform experience Minecraft players might be used to. Instead, you have a series of pre-set builds that you can fashion into a defensive fortification, with the ability to create some maze-like structures to confound the enemy. I think there could have been more build options, but I appreciate what Mojang and Blackbird Interactive have gone for, with approachable and easy-to-understand gameplay with clear visual signposting. As an entry point to the strategy genre, Minecraft Legends nails it.
Your soldiers take the form of different types of mobs, with Golem, Creepers and Skeletons all showing up to help you. Each has their own abilities and uses, like the Plank Golem’s powerful ranged attack that’ll see off any nearby Piglin, or the Stone Golem who loves to smash buildings. As you progress you find a bunch of new tunes to let you call upon different creatures, and you can create spawners from where you can call them in, or call your entire army back to you. It’s quick and simple, meaning it should be approachable for those younger fans who are instantly drawn in by anything Minecraft.
You then charge around the battlefield with these guys in tow, sending them off in front of you to fight or dismantle depending on who or what lies ahead. The campaign does a great job of easing you into the game’s mechanics, building up your repertoire of options, and steadily ramping up the difficulty. I think younger players will need an adult on hand as they learn all of the different options, but I don’t think it’s any more complicated than the mainline Minecraft game.
One of the key aspects of Minecraft is the ability to play with others, and Minecraft Legends ensures that you can bring in your friends and enemies to take part in the strategy chaos together. All of the modes are playable in online co-op, though it’s a real shame to lose Minecraft Dungeon’s couch co-op, which is a source of some fantastic family gaming sessions. Versus Mode lets you go to war with either strangers or friends, and it’s here that Minecraft Legends is going to truly win people over with its frantic action, hastily trying to attack and defend at the same time as part of a team. There’s a fantastic push and pull to these encounters, and I think we’re going to see some great team tactics at play as the community grows. Prior to launch we had some excruciating wait times due to a six-player minimum, but that’s an issue that I doubt will affect the full retail launch.
Mojang are hoping that players will be constantly returning to Minecraft Legends, and alongside the multiplayer modes there’s a monthly Lost Legend to take part in. These challenges will apparently stretch into mini-game territory, so it’ll be really interesting to see the creative offerings that are handed out. The first event, The Portal Pile, is a vicious horde mode, as you attempt to protect a village fountain from twenty waves of Piglins that spawn from three different portals; you’ll likely need a few teammates to keep the relentless villains at bay. Succeed and you unlock a new skin for your avatar, giving a welcome bonus to checking this section out each month. Based on this first one, it’ll be well worth your time.