Well over a decade into its life span, Minecraft keeps surprising me. Just when I thought I’d seen everything the franchise has to offer, Mojang keeps finding ways to deconstruct it brick by brick. The latest example of that comes in the form of Minecraft Legends, which looks to build a strategy game out of the series’ pieces.
I saw a live demo of the title at this year’s Gamescom that showed off gameplay for the first time. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Minecraft Legends isn’t so much the complex, systems-heavy strategy game that I think of when I hear the genre label. Instead, it appears to take cues from a more approachable strategy game that’s more of a fit for the franchise’s younger player base: Pikmin.
Thought by thought
Minecraft Legends slots into the world of Minecraft with a clever narrative trick: The campaign is actually a folktale in the game’s universe. It tells the story of a brave hero leading an army of troops against an invading army of evil Piglin. The game’s procedurally generated environments are more colorful and lively to make it feel more like a fairy tale.
That setup gives its gameplay a unique twist. Minecraft Legends is a hero-centered strategy game, which means players control the main character rather than simply interacting via a cursor. In the demo I saw, a player loaded into the world, mounted a horse, and began exploring a vast, blocky environment. While the hero can perform a basic slash attack, their main skill is the ability to command forces.
There are two ways that idea manifests. For one, players can make allies who scavenge for supplies and build structures. Mojang noted that Minecraft has a “brick-by-brick” approach usually, which has the player placing every block themselves. Here, the philosophy has been broadened to “thought by thought.” For instance, if a player wants to cut down a patch of trees to gather materials, they can select an area and send their allies to do their bidding. The same goes for construction projects.
While gathering and building are major aspects of the game, the main goal is to find open-aired Piglin forts (which are slightly procedural as well) scattered around the world and siege them by destroying the nether portal housed within. After finding one, the demoist climbed to the top of a nearby cliff to scout the fort’s layout and prepare accordingly. Using allies, he cleared out a large flat space and started creating a fort of his own with key buildings like a well house (which acts as both a fast travel point and a respawner).
Minecraft Legends is streamlined in a way I appreciate.
More crucially, he built a few spawn towers, which is how players get fighting troops. After summoning different packs of golems who specialize in fighting, healing, and destroying structures, the hero was ready to lead an army of 20 into battle and execute a plan of attack: avoid the Piglin troops around the perimeter, focus on a tower magically shielding the nether portal, and then go for the heart.
That’s where the Pikmin comparison really hit me. As soon as he entered the fortress, the hero began commanding units to focus on breaking down key towers. When they were done, he’d call them back in and assign them new jobs. In motion, it looks just like Captain Olimar flinging his plant friends around and whistling them back at a moment’s notice.
Mojang notes that the full game will feature some more advanced tactics, allowing players to split their armies’ efforts and tackle multiple jobs at once, so the different troop classes should force players to think carefully about what their army looks like for any given fort. The demo I saw centered around a defense-focused fort with lots of structures, so the demoist stocked up on cobblestone golems who specialize in structural damage, peppering in some healers to keep them healthy.
I’m especially excited to see how that all plays out in multiplayer, as the campaign can be tackled cooperatively (four players on newer platforms, two on older ones). I can see storming a Piglin fort with some friends, mounting a carefully scouted assault with our own specialized armies, being a lot of fun. The game will also feature a versus mode, though Mojang wasn’t quite ready to show that off just yet.
As far as strategy games go, Minecraft Legends is streamlined in a way I appreciate. There aren’t a ton of resources to keep track of and armies seem easy to direct around. Considering that this game will likely attract younger players drawn in by their love of Minecraft, the Nintendo-like approach to the strategy genre feels like the right call. Just as Minecraft Dungeons serves as a lite, fun introduction to dungeon crawlers, Minecraft Legends seems like a great way to draw players into a sometimes alienating genre reserved for the most hardcore PC players.
Minecraft Legends will be released for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch in 2023.