Despite how incomprehensibly big Minecraft has gotten on a global scale over the last decade, it’s impressive how committed Microsoft are to delivering new experiences in the franchise. First, with Minecraft: Story Mode, and most recently with Minecraft Dungeons. It goes without saying that these games, in one way or another, have totally flipped the idea of Minecraft on its head, offering something entirely different from the original game.
Minecraft Legends is the next foray into trying something new, aptly labelled as an action strategy game, it takes the core tenants of Minecraft and reshapes them into something its own. Courtesy of Microsoft, we were able to go hands-on with both the PVE and PVP sides of the game to get a feel for what it’s all about.
Minecraft Legends has a key difference in comparison to other Minecraft titles in that it’s got a keen focus on narrative and characters intertwined with its gameplay loop. While my limited time with the story mode didn’t expose much of anything, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a good time. This is the kind of experience clearly built for kids, with fun, larger than life characters doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
It goes a long to way to establishing the overall tone of adventuring, with a slick coating of Minecraft’s trademark visual style and quirks that has a remarkably distinct feel. The gist of it is that a new type of enemy, the Piglins, are invading the overworld from the Nether, and it falls to you as the hero to form unlikely alliances in order to push back the imminent threat of the Piglins. It’s a fun setup for a narrative that’ll undoubtedly get deeper as time goes on, while also fulfilling the fantasy of becoming a legend within Minecraft’s expansive mythos.
While Minecraft Legends is less of a departure from the original game as Dungeons is, its similarities lie in concept as opposed to execution. Mining, crafting, battling mobs, building structures – it’s all here, just reworked to fit into a top-down perspective built around an action strategy framework.
As you roam the overworld, you’ll deploy Allays to mine resources and build structures. It took a moment to wrap my head around the controls, but I quickly get into a rhythm of dropping Allays in the midst of resource deposits as I carried on my way to the next destination. Allays will always continue their jobs no matter how far away you get from them, but a limited number of each type of Allay ensures you aren’t haphazardly dropping them all over the place in the hopes to stock up on resources. It never gets in the way of your progression or exploration, but isn’t mindless to the point where it requires little to no strategy.
During my PVE preview, I only had access to three materials, wood, stone, and iron. Each one allowed me to build numerous structures, from archer towers and defensive walls, to gates, bridges, and stairways. You can also spend resources to craft Golem Spawners, which are pretty self-explanatory. What’s neat about this, is that you can call Golems to your aid in a manner most comparable to Pikmin.
I only managed to get access to three unique golem types, though I’m sure there are many more to unlock across the course of the story. You have a limited number of total Golems you can bring with you at once, so picking and choosing different types depending on their strengths and weaknesses is important. The Plank Golems, for example, are great at taking out enemy units with their ranged attacks, where Stone Golems make short work of enemy structures, which is pivotal to bringing down Piglin bases. You’ll issue commands to Golems in combat, which is where the Pikmin comparison becomes more apt.
That brings us to the final part of the equation, the reason you spend time gathering resources, building structures, and amassing Golems to begin with – overthrowing the Piglins. Throughout Minecraft Legends’s procedurally generated world, Piglins have taken control of villages, imprisoning the usual residents and taking the land for themselves to expand their conquests. It’s through the use of Golems and building that you’re able to stand against them.
There were quite a few of these Piglin strongholds to bring down during my time with Minecraft Legends, each one bringing something slightly different to the table. One saw me storm the gates and free the villagers, while another had me do the same, only to setup defences against another incoming wave of Piglins. Walls, gates, archer towers and the like, are built in a manner not dissimilar from the fire and forget nature of mining. It makes for rather chaotic yet enjoyable skirmishes, as you dart from different ends of the village to setup new defences in potential blind spots.
The tail-end of my time with PVE had me taking the fight to the Piglins themselves, as I set out to destroy three of their bases to halt reinforcements in the area. These are much more challenging than liberating villages as it just comes down to you and your army, so smart use of the commands system alongside a thought out collection of Golems goes a long way to achieving success.
Clearing out Piglins awards you with Prismarine, a limited resource that can be used to build powerful structures. While I was only able to procure a small amount of Prismarine, it’s clear that this is the main incentive behind clearing Piglin bases, allowing to build a bigger army, and more versatile structures. Open world exploration yields rewards also, with chests and rare resources scattered in harder to reach areas.
While I had a good time with the fleeting hour of PVE, part of me is worried about the longevity of it all. An hour is hardly enough time to get a feel for overall progression, but it’s clear that building up your crafting capabilities as well as your army is going to be a big part of the reason you come back to Minecraft Legends’s PVE mode. Hopefully the momentum I experienced during my time with it carries forward through the rest of the single player experience.
Minecraft is known for its multiplayer roots, so it only makes sense that Legends has its own PVP mode to boot as well. This was another relatively brief hands-on, with around 45 minutes to go head to head with an enemy team, The core gameplay loop is the same as that of PVE, with the end goal of destroying the enemy team’s base. Naturally, it quickly becomes a race to gather resources as you build towards an inevitable confrontation with your adversaries.
It’s no understatement to say that this mode was a blast, and will no doubt be the reason so many become interested in Legends to begin with. Coordinating with your teammates is key to victory, having people take on different roles so you can acquire all the necessary resources to bulk out your defensive and offensive capabilities. It’s a constant push and pull of defending and attacking, and after only one game, it’s clear that there’s so much potential strategy to engage with here.
The game I played in didn’t end during the allotted preview time, it was only after 40 minutes of prep that the teams started truly going head to head in a bid to win the game. It’s easy to see these matches could go much longer when players have a firmer grasp on the mechanics and intricate strategies are uncovered. Still, though, even without all that, there’s an inherent fun to be had in this mode with or without friends.
PVP also gave a deeper look what I presume are future unlocks for the PVE mode also. Things like Redstone Cannons, being able to spawn hallmark Minecraft mobs like the Skeleton or Creeper to fight alongside you, Resource Hubs, and so much more. The match I played felt like a microcosm of what I assume is the total PVE experience, coupled with the inherent tension of sharing the same world as your enemies.
When it comes to Minecraft, I think most people know what they’re getting when it comes to visuals and art styles. I’d say Minecraft Legends plays it fairly safe in this regard – it’s unmistakably Minecraft, but there’s a few wrinkles here that keep things fresh and varied. This game is chock-full of different biome types, from frosty tundra to desolate badlands, alongside all the Minecraft staples. The cutscenes are also a visual spectacle when they pop up from time to time.
It’s hard to say if I got lucky with my instance of procedural generation or if the game is just that varied as is, but there’s plenty of visual variation keeping things fresh. Performance is also remarkably solid on the Series X which bodes well for the imminent release date.
A telltale sign that a preview has gone well is when you don’t want to put the controller down once your time is up. While I wouldn’t say I was chomping at the bit to see where the PVE mode would take me next, the controller had to be peeled out of my hands when it came to the PVP, and this was much the same for the other players in my game.
There’s a lot of potential for the PVP to really take off here, especially with Game Pass and cross-play compatibility at launch. I’m a little hesitant on the PVE side of things, if only because length in games like these are often their achilles heel. Still though, we won’t have to wait much longer to find out when Minecraft Legends launches later this month on April 18th.
If you want to learn more about Minecraft Legends, you can read our interview with executive producer Dennis Ries right here!
Minecraft Legends is coming April 18th, 2023 to Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Switch and PC. It will be available on Xbox Game Pass on day one.