Title: Minecraft Legends
Developer: Mojang Studios
Release Date: April 18, 2023
Reviewed On: Xbox Series X
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
In 2008, my friends convinced me to jump into the Beta release of a game called Minecraft. It was like the wild west of games where my imagination had no bounds, and online play was riddled with hacker mods. However, being the hipster that I am, I stopped playing shortly after the official launch. It’s now 2023, and I’ve decided to come out of retirement and jump back into the world of Minecraft with the release of Minecraft Legends.
Unlike the original, there is an actual game here with a story, mechanics, and rules. While it retains its sandbox design, we get an adventure that could be described as an RTS. So, with my schedule cleared, I got in my Minecraft PJs from Target, picked up my foam Diamond pickax, and wrapped myself in a Minecraft blanket to set the mood for my reentry into this world that I hadn’t experienced in over a decade.
Minecraft Legends opens with the reveal of a hero fated to save the world from the threat of invading Piglins, creatures from the Nether. It’s a tough ask, but the caretakers of the Overworld, Action, Foresight, and Knowledge have enlisted the hero’s help and provided the power to combat the coming threat. You enter a world already in peril as the campaign begins rather quickly, throwing you into situations where you have to save a few villages and take down an enemy stronghold to gain access to more resources.
A surprising amount of story is tied into the 20-hour campaign, and much of it is shown without dialogue. The narrative balances tension with humor, but after a while, I began questioning what age group this game was for. I mean, I enjoyed the story for what it was, but the writing doesn’t seem like it’s directed toward a young audience. It has considerable depth through explanations of certain events or the description of items. There’s just a lot going on.
After introducing the game flow, you can pretty much explore the world as you’d like. Your primary tool is a lute used to summon allies who can gather resources and build structures. Further, Golems can be called to assist with combat and destroying enemy bases. Finally, in a normal early-game scenario, you’ll instruct your team to rush an enemy stronghold and take out their structures.
However, the hero can’t destroy structures on their own and needs Golems to perform this task. On the other hand, you can take down enemies using various weapons or summon Golems to perform offensive tactics. Additionally, some structures that shoot arrows or launch boulders at enemies can be created, but these are unlocked as you progress through the campaign. Later, I had a pretty good strategy going, but the content rollout of new structures and golems kept combat interesting.
Many of these systems seem to be based on the RTS genre. As you slowly grow your army and expand your base, you take down enemy strongholds across a large procedurally generated map. Your options for controlling units and understanding the orders that can be given do take some getting used to, though, as they aren’t made explicitly clear. In fact, I wanted 9 hours without fully utilizing some of the systems and had a much easier time after I dove deeper into the menus.
Many of these options can be found in the Songbook, which displays the structure, abilities, and golems you can access. Here, you can customize the Hotbar depending on your playstyle. Given that I’m more offensive, I tended to Hotbar more attack structures. However, this is another point of gameplay that I feel is directed toward older gamers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly robust with the various offerings, but I just can’t see a child finding fun in any of this.
Exploration is required to find resources for your alleys to collect, but you’ll first have to unlock access to them. Still, everything had a natural feel to it. I never felt like a roadblock was put on the experience, but this also came with some fatigue. For starters, you can’t really pause the game, so if you’re in a battle and have to use the restroom or answer a call, it’s better to save and quit. Also, Xbox Live Gold was required to even connect to the game, so that’s something to keep in mind. There is an offline game mode, but you need an online subscription to get past the main menu.
Anyway, back to exploration, Minecraft Legends has a day and night cycle, where you can build structures and take out enemy strongholds by day, but by night, the difficulty will rise, and an event will take place, such as a stronghold becoming bigger or a town becoming under attack. You’ll have to defend towns, but luckily, fast travel takes you to the event quickly, where you can set up defenses and fight back against the invading hordes. It’s a fun way to keep you on your toes, and it encourages you to raise the defenses of towns before they are attacked.
Imagination is a big part of the gameplay, as structures such as walls and towers can be created to defend your bases. Further, stairs can be built that can lead your group up cliffs or over walls. Strategy is a significant part of gameplay, and any time I tried to cheese my way through something, I saw a Game Over screen. During these moments, it’s possible to quickly respawn and return to the action.
Sadly, the Golems don’t really make an impact on the adventure. They simply are there to run into battle, break stuff, and take damage. So much of the material collecting weight is removed from the experience as your Allies do all the work, leaving the enjoyment factor mainly coming from the RTS systems. So, even if you are a huge Minecraft fan, you’ll likely have to enjoy this new genre direction to enjoy it fully.
Other modes include PVP mode, where players can team up in 2v2, 3v3, or 4v4 rounds and take down each other’s structures. This mode is best experienced with friends since you can party up and discuss strategy. Otherwise, you’re all running around doing your own thing without the in-game chat functionality. Alternatively, others can join your quest and assist with your journey to fight against the Netherworld.
Playing with friends is where many will find the most fun out of this experience. It’s a game similar to Minecraft, where you share information and strategies to progress. These conversations definitely made my experience better as I pushed through my campaign. Other modes are available with daily quests and requirements, but I didn’t dive too deeply into there. A marketplace is also present because, of course, it is to buy new skins and mounts if that’s your sort of thing. I should also point out that cross-platform online is available, which makes it easier to recommend for those wanting a wholly online experience.
Minecraft Legends became an enjoyable and addictive experience for my return to this franchise. That could be because it was essentially a very fined tuned and comfortable RTS experience, but plenty of Minecraft charm is still found throughout the campaign. It pushes your knowledge of the systems and strategy during the later levels and is likely not for younger fans, but I enjoyed the challenge and expanded lore of this series.
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