"Minecraft" has come a long way from its indie roots. The franchise was once just an experiment focused on free-form and emergent gameplay, but over the years, it has evolved and changed hands, becoming a video game juggernaut since its full release.
Today, a generation of kids see it on a par with Lego blocks or "Super Mario Bros." It's a touchstone of childhood, and like any good franchise, Microsoft has found a way to spin off and evolve the characters, concepts and aesthetic of "Minecraft." They've done it with titles such as "Minecraft Dungeons" and the defunct "Minecraft Earth." (Not every spinoff is perfect.)
The latest project, "Minecraft Legends," takes the franchise's core concepts and adapts them to a real-time strategy game.
SAVING THE OVERWORLD
In the campaign, players take on the role of the hero, who's transported into a world facing a terrible menace. Piglins have invaded from a dimension called the Nether, and they're corrupting the Overworld.
Entities called Foresight, Action and Knowledge task the hero with fending off the invasion, and they give the player-controller protagonist the Banner of Courage, Flames of Creation and Allays. With these tools, players have to save villages and close the portals of the three horde tribes that have established bases.
Those familiar with the "Minecraft" formula will understand half of the gameplay. Gathering materials is as important as ever, but the hero doesn't mine for them. Instead, the protagonist sends out sprite-like Allays, which harvest wood, stone, coal, diamonds, iron and Redstone. Other resources such as gold, Prismarine and Lapis can be obtained by raiding Piglin outposts.
Just like in other RTS titles, resources are key to building structures and spawning more troops. As the hero, players will need to create both in order to protect villages and create an army powerful enough to take down the invaders. That means players will need to explore the different biomes and figure out the dominant resource of each one.
Using those materials, players can build defenses around each village. This is where "Minecraft Legends" lets players' creativity shine. They can line up walls to make mazes and dot the area with towers, cannons and traps. They can create a gantlet outside the village walls. The only limit is that construction requires allays and resources so if players want to build an elaborate structure they'll need to constantly gather wood, stone and other materials.
MEET YOUR TROOPS
Along with that, they can create structures that spawn Cobblestone, Plank, Mossy and Grindstone golems. Each has have a different role in the army. Planks are good at eliminating piglins from a distance while Cobblestones are melee-oriented and topple structures. Mossy golems are healers while Grindstone can stun enemies.
Later in the campaign, Zombies, Archer Skeletons and Creepers come to the hero's aid. They, too, want to defend their home against the piglins and they each have their own roles. Creepers are like sappers that explode and do major damage to walls and other structures while the Skeletons deal damage from afar and Zombies are great melee fighters.
Commanding all these units is chaotic because the control scheme is inadequate and cumbersome. At times, the gameplay feels like "Pikmin" as players order troops to attack or follow. Those are the only two commands. The problem is that the soldiers' artificial intelligence isn't that smart and they can fall off cliffs or be left behind as the hero plunges deeper into enemy bases. The game really needs a universal command that lets players easily summon all their troops in an area, but instead, "Minecraft Legends" forces players to move the hero and press the follow button. It's a system that's bad whether you play it on a controller or keyboard and mouse.
PROBLEMS WITH THE BUILD
The other problem with the controls is actually building structures in the middle of battle. That's one of the cooler concepts that separate this RTS from others. If players need to cross a pit of lava, they can build a bridge and have the hero and the troops cross it. The problem is it's difficult to build stairs that let the army reach different parts of the base. The process is finicky as players try to line up structures, and it never seems to go right.
This problem becomes increasingly evident as the bases of the Horde of the Spore, Horde of the Hunt and Horde of the Bastion become more elaborate. When facing the Spore army, players will have to scale structures built atop buttes. When it comes to the Bastion, they'll have to find a way to break through the walls or go over them.
Another issue are the fights against the four bosses, which end up forgettable and lack a cohesive pattern or strategy that would have taught players the utility of each unit. Instead, if players want to beat the game, they need to unlock the First golems, which are special units that are powerful and turn the tide of any battle.
Lastly, "Minecraft Legends" hides some of its more advanced structures deep in its menus, and the campaign doesn't really teach players about the better buildings or how to access them. It's another missed opportunity in a long line of them.
At the end of the day, "Minecraft Legends" has some compelling elements that unfortunately don't feel fleshed out. The idea of on-the-fly construction to attack bases is novel and the creativity of building defense brings out the best parts of the franchise, but there isn't much challenge to the base building because most of the villages are on flat ground and structured similarly.
It's a project that feels like it needed a little more time in order for developers to unlock its potential.
2 stars out of 4
Platform: PC, Xbox Series X and Series S, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Rating: Everyone 10 and up
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