Minecraft Legends Review: A Nostalgic Game Gets A Strategic Makeover

  • Familiar Minecraft building
  • Visually appealing earthscapes
  • Simple RTS legion combat
  • Engaging hero storyline
  • Game is massive and a heavy CPU workload
  • Slightly smaller focus on sandbox gameplay

"Minecraft" holds a soft spot in the heart of many gamers. Who could forget bounding into the house after school, snatching a Lunchable or a Go-Gurt out of the fridge, then settling in for a session of mining diamonds and dodging creepers? Since the first "Minecraft" game was released by Mojang Studios in 2011, it's been a landmark name in the sandbox game genre. 

Players know "Minecraft" for its relaxing building challenges, where you can turn a sprawling universe into breathtaking works of art. But with the newest installment in the "Minecraft" franchise, "Legends," the game is taking on a new identity. Does this game fall in line with the standards set by a decade of "Minecraft," or does it do an injustice to the game's legacy? Microsoft provided us with a review copy of "Minecraft Legends" to find out. This review was conducted on the PC-based version of the game.

Building is still a strong element, as expected

Resources and ores are by and large the same in "Legends" as they were in preceding "Minecraft" games. Passive material gathering and building — thanks to the assistance of the tiny winged allay creatures, which arrive at the beckoning of your lute melody — helps keep the focus on the action of the game, but crafting items to help you navigate the world is still a mainstay of the game — like building a ramp to get across a bubbling river of lava or erecting a carpenter's hut to repair a Piglin-ransacked village. Learning more lute melodies helps teach the allays new things to build. 

There's a ton of base-developing and camp-building potential in the game, and is a necessity if you're ever going to eradicate the Piglins; each village is left helpless after a Pilgin attack, and you can help protect the community by building a fortress around it. Early on in the game, when the campaign still interrupts often, building attempts are hindered by a sense of urgency in following the guiding NPCs' commands — get over here quickly and destroy this camp, protect these villagers, do this and that — but you're eventually granted more independence. As is standard in "Minecraft" strategy, enemy threats are elevated at night, so it's important that you establish your own sense of routine in getting to your village outposts and checking on anti-Piglin defenses during the day. Fortunately, the map will tell you exactly where to expect the hog hordes each night. 

A wholesome new hero narrative

Who doesn't love a save-the-day storyline? That's exactly what "Legends" offers: The chosen one, the hero, riding in on their stallion (literally) to save the poor villagers of the Underworld from the evil invading Piglins. This new lore applied to the otherwise occasionally (subjectively) aimless and scattered culture of the Minecraft universe was very enjoyable.

The very simplistic goal — eradicate all bad guys — may seem juvenile to players who like a lot of side missions, collectibles, and the like. There's none of that here; you just gather the things, build the stuff, protect the people, and stomp the pigs. Personally, I really enjoyed the unsophisticated plot, knowing from the start exactly what I was working toward, and the predictable goal made playing "Legends" just as pleasantly mellow and low-stakes as the original "Minecraft" was.  

There's great replay value in that, once the nefarious Piglin forces have been cleared from your map, you can just start over with a newly-generated layout. You certainly may not be compelled to do run after run back to back, but it makes "Legends" a great game to keep around.

Controls are easy to adapt to

For a game that covers fighting, exploration, and building, the controls of "Minecraft Legends" are surprisingly clean both on the Xbox controller and the keyboard. It took some getting used to only because there are many actions to get acclimated to, but switching back and forth became second nature after just a few minutes. If you're a brand-new player never having touched "Minecraft" before, you'll probably be fully comfortable with the "Legends" controls within the first 15 to 20 minutes of playing. Experienced "Minecraft" players will probably need even less time.

At first, it seemed as though always being on horseback with no option to dismount might get annoying, but it actually wasn't that noticeable and didn't seem to impact anything, especially since a lot of the game is galloping into battle against a group of foes. In addition to commanding their soldiers, the warrior can be immersed in battles themselves, swinging their swords in wide arcs from horseback. If anything, sometimes your visibility is a bit murky during battle, with the NPC bodies being so dense that you can't tell down from up. 

You can keep the combat simple, or get serious about it

While there's not as much army-commanding oversight in "Legends" as there is in other games, like the "Minecraft Starcraft" mod for example, this works as a double-edged sword in the game. Your loyal force — mostly made of golems and archers — only reaches maybe 30 to 50 soldiers at most, which again is part of why "Legends" is an appealing RTS game for players that haven't been huge RTS fans. Commanding this small legion is very straightforward: Some golems are specialized in healing, some can take down structures more quickly than others, and others are geared to target Piglins.

I found the enemies easy enough to overcome that it's not difficult to fall into a sort of mindless cycle, deploying a wave of randomly-mixed golems and archers, letting them fight Piglins and take down enemy camps without rhyme or reason until all of my troops have been taken down, then repeating. With passive resource gathering, plus quick and easy troop spawning, it's just too easy to sit back on the fringes and send squad after squad of poor, unsuspecting loyalists into the fray. 

But delegating your army in accordance with their intended servitude is, of course, the most logical way to play the game. And while the available commands over your army are quite basic — come with me or go attack that thing, in essence — you can take on a more active role in the combat if you so choose. Support forces can be kept separate by specialty and sent off to individual tasks during battle. Unfortunately, though, these smaller groups will always be homogenous — you can't send off a group of archers plus a few moss golems to heal them, for example. 

A well-done second chapter of a beloved sandbox game

The fundamentals of "Minecraft" were well honored and implemented in "Legends." There are familiar NPCs, that beloved chunky landscape, and colorful sweeping environments aplenty. There's more than enough familiarity to prevent that sense of betrayal when a well-established franchise tries to rustle up another profit stream with a poorly-executed sequel, remake, or addition.

This newest member of the "Minecraft" family adds a novelty and new challenge to the franchise that may reinvigorate the interest of players who perhaps aged out of the game in its over a decade of existence. It's also easy to view "Legends" as a real-time strategy game for beginners to the genre; if you've found "Starcraft," "Age of Empires," and the like to be exhausting, "Legends" offers a less intimidating RTS and legion-building or base-building experience. However, "Legends" brings some surprisingly difficult late-game combat, so be prepared for an RTS challenge. 

"Legends" has all of that deliciously brain-scratching challenge, that delicate harmony between decision and consequence, that appeals to RTS lovers: Deciding to gallop into battle or stay in your fortress on the defense, cease fighting efforts to tend to vulnerable communities, choosing when an army of quick-fingered archers is better than one of the beefy but slow heavy-hitters, visualizing the best camp defense based on terrain, choosing to be resource-heavy or soldier-heavy. It's a game that dually appeals to longtime "Minecraft" players and those who are brand-new to the franchise because it offers the sort of fresh-faced familiarity that we all can't help but find remarkably compelling.

You can purchase "Minecraft Legends" for Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC for approximately $40 starting in April 2023.