It’s the 5th invasion, or maybe the 4th. I’m galloping up a wall on a big black beetle, redirecting my golem armies to stave off the piglins, the anthropomorphic pig-like villains of this world. All I need to do is keep them from destroying the Fountain, the heart of the village, before the invasion timer ends. One moment, I’m hacking at porky stragglers with my sword. Next, I’m farming wood to repair the city’s broken walls. After this, there are bases to raid and tundra to get trapped in.
Minecraft Legends looks like a role-playing game on the surface, but it’s more of a strategy game. It doesn’t fall in the same vein as lengthy RPGs, with parties of sword-wielding heroes that you bond with over emotional baggage. Instead, it commands the hero’s attention in real-time to protect villages and destroy piglin bases, something it gives players an impressive array of tools to accomplish. However, it relies on the assumption that the player will feel compelled to continue to the next piglin base or village in crisis based on the sheer enjoyment of the gameplay.
While Minecraft Legends satisfies in terms of progression and exploration, the paper-thin plot and lack of incentives left me wanting more from the experience.
Beyond the Sandbox
Minecraft doesn’t have much of a story, and neither does its spin-off. You play a blank slate of a protagonist tasked with saving the world within the first few minutes of their arrival. Three guides — aptly named Foresight, Knowledge, and Action — take the player’s hand right away, teaching them the bare basics of how to mine resources, build structures, and rally troops before sending them off into the procedurally generated world.
That’s not a bad thing, though. Minecraft Legends has enough intricate mechanics that it’s difficult to master right away. The tutorial vibes continue into the next few hours as you learn to fortify villages, attack piglin territories, and swap between all the tools you have without tripping over the keys. It’s an admirably complex system, but one that can scare off a newcomer who doesn’t want to take the time to learn to be an effective commander. After the first few hours, I relished in swapping between the different functions to collect resources, build ally spawns, and direct my armies within seconds.
Legends takes plenty of inspiration from Minecraft itself, as seen in its mining and building mechanics. Players gather resources as they travel across the open world, build structures to defend villages and strengthen their home bases, and raise armies to fight against the piglin. Like Pikmin, each mob type has strengths ideal for specific situations. Plank golems shoot arrows, stone golems smash structures. You get even more help from other types of golems as you progress through the story and unlock new abilities.
That’s all there is to it, though.
Missing the Hook
Minecraft Legends offers players an alternative way into the series, but I’d skip it unless you’re a hardcore fan of Mojang’s voxel universe, or already like strategy games. This isn’t a game you play for the story. You’ll unlock cinematics as you complete objectives, but the story is so thin that it isn’t much of a reward. The voice acting sounds like it came out of The Mickey Mouse Club, and I got far more satisfaction gathering resources and exploring.
The visuals run smoothly without any hiccups, even though the graphics are more detailed than in Minecraft. In an age where games often launch unfinished, it’s a much-appreciated accomplishment and emphasizes how Minecraft Legends’ strengths lie in its simple concept. Every cutscene serves as more of an explanation for what’s happening rather than appealing to the audience’s emotions. Most of them feel skippable, which is not necessarily a flaw, but stands out because the game’s only incentive seems to be its progression system. Save villages, defeat piglins, upgrade your weapons and armies, and repeat.
The world feels small in comparison to open-world marvels like Genshin Impact, and slows exploration with a few gaps that might need you to build bridges and ramps (or find a new mount). There isn’t much to watch out for in your surroundings besides sources of wood, stone, and other materials. If not that, you might want to watch for power-ups or allies. It can feel like a chore to travel between fast travel points if there’s nothing you need to gather, though.
There isn’t anything wrong with Minecraft Legends’ campaign gameplay in and of itself. However, if I’m going to run around in a game for a couple of hours, I wish it had more to entertain me.
Minecraft Legends will release for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on April 18, 2023. Inverse reviewed the PC version.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.