An hour or more with the action strategy game Minecraft Legends

Minecraft Legends is an interesting prospect. Like Minecraft Dungeons, it takes the familiar iconography and building blocks of one of gaming’s most familiar and beloved worlds and uses everything in a new way. For Dungeons, this meant transforming the game into a hack-and-slash action RPG. For Legends, this means something the developer calls “action strategy,” but could otherwise be called real-time strategy.

Ian and I had a chance to play the game in London a few weeks ago, diving into the early single player campaign and then trying out a 3v3 multiplayer match. (The final game will also support 4vs4 and 2vs2, I guess.) Once the game comes out on the 18th, it won’t be long before you can see all of this for yourself, but here are the basics at least.

I was surprised at what a traditional RTS Legends actually felt like, albeit one that was cleverly stripped down for an audience coming to the genre perhaps for the first time. Plot-wise, Piglins invade Minecraft worlds, and these funny, ugly, insatiable little terrors might be my favorite element of the entire game, spreading adorably silly anarchy wherever they go. As a character, you can attack them with your sword as you move around the procedurally generated maps on your mount, but since this is a strategy game, the real key to success comes from gathering resources and then building things with them.

Gathering resources is done indirectly by using Allays, small chatty people who will go where they are directed and gather wood, stones and whatnot. Once you’ve got all that, you can build a wide range of things, from defensive structures and walls to mob spawners – all of which will be familiar from Minecraft itself – which you can then take into battle with you.

Ian made a wonderful video about Minecraft Legends.

In single player, after a quick tutorial, I spent most of my time on a fairly large map, capturing small settlements, upgrading their defenses, and then heading out to capture more settlements by kicking Piglins and slowly controlling more of the map.

It’s simple but quite compelling and has some interesting solutions that I really enjoyed. The maps are quite spacious, for example, with lots of desert spaces between objectives. Not only is this the kind of terrain that Minecraft turns out to be so beautiful, but it also means it’s an RTS with a nice Lust for the Horizon element. I wandered around, admiring Cel’s new soft coloring and wondering what I could find.

The large maps are also reserved for multiplayer, which pits two teams of three players against each other with the ultimate goal of smashing the enemy’s castle. It became clear very quickly that with the wide open spaces of the map, judicious team splitting was critical to victory. Once the base’s defenses are assembled, one of us should go and start gathering resources, another should keep an eye on the enemy, and a third should stay at home, building more aggressive structures, starting with arrow towers and ending with things that are much more explosive and better spawners.

It’s a bit of a rush to head into battle with a bunch of creepers bouncing around behind me, and there seems to be a hint of elegance to the controls, which offer players very quick and easy ways to pick off massive amounts of nearby troops and move them around, while the deeper options allow for more refined slicing of troop types and targets.

Minecraft Legends

Minecraft Legends

Minecraft Legends.

This is a very high-level review of Minecraft Legends, I know, but actually the specifics – unit types, build options – didn’t impress me as much as the basic fact that Minecraft actually fits the RTS template surprisingly well. It’s already a well-established world, and I think the team did a great job of making sure that the elements you recognize from the original Minecraft make sense when you bring them back here. Of course, Allays will slowly destroy the mountains for you, mining stones or coal. Of course, Creepers will be fools on the battlefield.

There’s also that touch of wildness that seems to be so central to Minecraft itself. Even in a 3v3 multiplayer match, there were still different Piglins camps in play, providing Prismarine, a special resource that is needed to build useful things in the home base. The world is full of distractions, possible dangers, and the chance for something unexpected to happen. Why? Because at the end of the day, it’s still Minecraft.

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