Minecraft Legends Review
Blocky mob management
Minecraft has been a behemoth in the gaming world for over a decade. The block-building game has become one of the best selling and most played titles of all time, and so it’s no surprise that it also spawned a variety of spinoff entries. We've seen narrative adventures such as Minecraft Story Mode, the augmented reality of Minecraft Earth, and most recently the action-RPG Minecraft Dungeons. The newest spinoff to bring the world of Minecraft into new territory is Minecraft Legends, a third-person action game where you command armies to defend villages and assault strongholds. Like Dungeons, this is a simplified version of a strategy genre meant to be accessible to younger audiences, but in this case that's not enough of an excuse for its many missteps.
Minecraft Legends tells a simple story of a randomly generated Minecraft world where you, the hero player with a customizable avatar, is tasked with defending it against an invading army of evil piglins from the Nether. These cute but dangerous pig characters have setup portals and small castles across the land, and your task is to destroy each one to stop the invasion. Under the guidance of three Host characters – oddly named Foresight, Action, and Knowledge – you'll traverse the open world to gather a friendly army and take them into battle. The world features a few minimalistic friendly villages that all look the same, and three groups of three enemy bases, each with a certain type of enemy. Destroying each group of three bases then leads into a boss battle, and then the process is repeated again. All throughout, there are amusing pre-rendered cutscenes of how the piglin bosses react to your success. Overall the story is extremely minimal but the cutscenes are cute and fit the world well; there is a lot of good physical humour without any dialogue, so it's a bit jarring when the friendly Hosts constantly talk to the player. It would have been neat if the spoken dialogue was limited and the game relied even more on the visuals to tell the story.
The randomly generated world that you'll be exploring on your mount is likely to have good variety, from green meadows to snowy mountain peaks, swamps, and deserts. It's certainly got the look and feel of Minecraft, however as a strategy game you cannot interact with it; there is no terrain modification of any kind. There are a few things to discover and collectibles or chests to find, but for the most part the world isn't exactly packed with life, other than occasional enemies. To collect resources, you place these strange cubes that send out a worker to collect the material within its radius. Thankfully you can ride on and leave these collectors to gather, without the need to stick around. Resources are needed for a bit of construction and unit creation for the battles to come.
The map has a few NPC villages to defend from nightly piglin attacks. These villages serve little purpose other than as a fast travel point and a passive resource boost that you can claim from their chests. However, the game seems adamant that players will care about defending these villages, so you are given an ability to build walls, place different types of defensive towers that attack enemies, place buildings that repair the village structures and improve your walls, and so on. All of this seems completely unnecessary. You can let every single village fall, and not much changes in the world. They can be simply reclaimed by attacking a few enemies that stuck around, and put down the repair building. Caring to defend whichever random village gets attacked every night just seems like busywork for little reward.
The repetitive nature of defending villages ties into the same dull and often annoying gameplay of attacking enemy bases. First off, these bases are usually on an elevated land surrounded by lava, and due to their random generation, they may actually lack a main entrance or a gate. This means to get inside, you have to build a staircase – which can be quite finicky and has a height limit. It feels like an awkward knockoff of Fortnite as you construct a staircase that's literally suspended in the air by a pixel on either side, after first running around and finding a spot in the terrain (or a tree, or a rock, or a near-vertical wall) that is within reach of the enemy walls. And you must traverse over the walls, because only the gates are destructible by your units, and not the general walls.
As a player, you don't have much direct input in combat except striking down the very basic enemy units. Similarly to games such as Pikmin, Mount & Blade, or Overlord, all of the heavy lifting will be done by your AI mobs, which you can gather and issue commands to. New mobs can be created from spawning portals that you construct with a few resources, and each new unit also has a small cost to create. You can use a rallying cry to get all units within a small area around your hero to follow you, and then also issue manual commands such as charging into battle or attacking a specific target. It's very basic design, and while it has the depth to do things like issue individual orders to units or groups of units, it's all constrained by an awkward user interface that's fiddly at best. There is also no ability to pause to plan/issue commands, again adding to the lack of strategic options in the heat of battle.
And the truth is, these advanced commands do not matter – the winning and easiest strategy is just to simply send everyone into the fray. You can control rock golems, creepers, skeletons with bows, and so on; each unit type has a specific purpose, such as melee/ranged/anti-structure, etc. But the best and quickest way to get things done is just to send them into battle and let them sort it out. Unfortunately, even with this strategy, you will be faced with the very basic and poor AI. Your units will often just stand around doing nothing, as you ride around wrangling up stragglers and sending them into an attack mode. Enemy AI is a bit more chaotic, as they simply attack everything in sight. Enemy units also have different types, from armored to ranged, and there are plenty of defensive towers in the enemy basis that will pepper you with arrows – but again this variety matters little when the easiest course of action is just to send everyone in.
So as you assault these bases, trying to lead your hapless mobs over the awkwardly constructed staircases just to get them inside the walls, you will take losses, and will be very heavily outnumbered. To get reinforcements, you have to travel way back out of the base, because the surrounding area is covered with Nether blocks, which means you cannot put down a spawn point to call in new units. While yes, there is a block that lets you slowly clear the Nether from the land (starting from the outside in), this is a long and painstaking process. The game is clearly targeted for co-operative play (which is possible via online and with up to three others), because in solo play your army will be vastly undersized, even as you get into the end-game and can command over 80 units at once. It’s also impossible to collect all post-battle reward materials on your own that get scattered over the entire base before they fade out of existence, which certainly doesn't feel nice.
Generally, these base assaults are repetitive and feel like a grind. From being vastly outnumbered to having to ride back and forth to bring more units into battle, to facing a large number of defensive enemy structures, it can take a painstakingly long time to take down the portal that's in the center of the base if you actually try to fight your way through methodically. So you might simply resort to cheap tactics, like manually guiding your units into the base, destroying only the gates, and then telling them to focus on the enemy portal. Once the portal falls, the base is defeated and destroyed, and using this focused-attack strategy reduces the time by more than half. But then you realize you have to do this a bunch more times, as that's all that the game has to offer, which is a bit of a bummer.
From combat and exploration, you earn a few different material types, some of which are used at your central home base to build special upgrades that improve your abilities. This includes improved gathering from the nodes you place, being able to command larger armies, being able to spawn more units, and so on. These upgrades do give a little sense of progression, but don't alter the experience in any meaningful way, so the repetitiveness never quite goes away.
If you've somehow not had your fill of commanding units from the campaign, you can venture into Lost Legends DLC mode, with the first extra bit of content offering a survival type experience, and a promise of monthly releases. The cosmetic shop is also open, offering skins for sale with Minecoins – which are purchased by cash (though strangely there seems to be no way to do this in-game at the moment), and there is no system to earn coins just from playing. You get one free skin from beating the current Lost Legends DLC mode.
There is also a competitive multiplayer mode, where two teams of four players battle on a randomly generated map. It's an interesting set-up that lets you build up your base with the same tools you use to defend villages in the campaign, spawn mobs, collect resources, and eventually try to attack the enemy. But this mode can drag on forever if both teams have setup good defenses around their base, and spam defensive towers and walls. There is potential here for larger scale exciting battles, but again we've yet to see this unfold. The player population interested in competitive multiplayer seems to be very low, and most matches don't get started or you get put into matches-in-progress where players are constantly dropping in and out.
If nothing else, Minecraft Legends certainly looks the part. It's got all the blockiness and nice environment variety that fans would come to expect, along with decent lighting effects and good transitions between day and night. Texture and effect quality is on-par with the brand, and stylized in the same manner as the main game. Perhaps one disappointing aspect is the forgettable audio design as well as rather lackluster draw distance, as you observe mountains pop into view while exploring.
Minecraft Legends is another spinoff that clearly targets the existing huge fanbase of Minecraft, but it's just too simple and repetitive to be enjoyed by anyone else. While Dungeons had similar aspirations, it was at least a competent enough RPG. Legends just has too many missteps – both in its gameplay and design – to make it worth recommending to fans of similar third-person games where you command groups of other units and don't get much into the action for yourself. It may look like Minecraft, but its chosen genre spinoff is a mostly failed experiment.