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Minecraft Legends Review: A Few Blocks Short

EDITORS' RATING : 4 / 10
Pros
  • Accessible gameplay
  • Beautiful rendition of the world of Minecraft
  • Some charming cutscenes
Cons
  • Doesn't fit neatly into the Minecraft identity
  • Simplistic gameplay overstays its welcome
  • Single player campaign doesn't capitalize on its scope
  • Clunky controls on console

Xbox Series S (via Game Pass) was used for this review. "Minecraft Legends" is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

With the standing runaway success of "Minecraft," it was no surprise when Xbox started trying to capitalize on it after buying the IP in 2014. This started with the release of the narrative-driven "Minecraft Story Mode" a year later, the now-shuttered AR-based "Minecraft Earth" in 2019, and the dungeon crawling "Minecraft Dungeons" in 2020. 

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"Minecraft Legends" is the newest spin-off for the franchise from developer Blackbird Interactive. On the surface, it attempts to blend elements of real-time strategy with exploration and a light progression system. This makes for an accessible strategy game that is equal parts "Minecraft" and Double Fine's "Brutal Legend." While the particular genre blend of "Legends" has a lot of potential, in practice it struggles to capture what makes fans love both of the respective genres. 

Although the game serves as a good starting place to strategy newcomers, your enjoyment of it will depend a lot on your expectations of "Legends" going in and what ratio of real-time strategy and "Minecraft" you are looking for. 

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Not the Minecraft You Know

While "Minecraft Legends" takes its visual cues and broad setting elements from traditional "Minecraft," there are numerous elements of its world that are original. Players are introduced to these elements immediately upon starting a the game's single-player campaign when they are introduced to three spectral entities known as Action, Knowledge, and Foresight. 

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The three entities quickly explain that you are being tasked with saving the overworld from an invasive species hailing from the Nether, known as the Piglins. Each of the entities give you an artifact to help in your fight: two small creatures that can be used to gather resources and build structures, a lute to command the creatures, and a banner to give commands to small golem units in combat. 

The worlds themselves that you explore and fight for in "Legends" are also markedly different from a standard "Minecraft" world. While it is filled with familiar biomes, villages, and mobs, the rules of the world are bent to fit the spin-offs narrative. Piglins enter the overworld without Nether portals while netherrack and lava slowly spreads around their bases. Mobs can be commanded alongside you to fight back the unnatural invasion. Resources are found in veins on the surface since the land is completely void of cave systems. While some of the changes the game make are fun and interesting, it does lead to a strange dissonance of exploring a familiar but slightly uncanny world. 

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Genre Salad

Perhaps the most defining part of the identity of "Minecraft Legends" is how it mixes up different influences for each of its parts. When it comes to gameplay, the single player campaign drops you into an open world with a handful of villages scattered around it, as well as an always shifting Piglin presence through forts and other structures. You then have to explore the world for resources, build up the villages to protect them, and assemble an army to take the fight to the Piglins and send them back to the Nether. 

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This core gameplay loop tries to blend the joy of exploring a "Minecraft" world with the resource management and combat of strategy games. However, the stripped down versions of both leaves them struggling to deliver. Using creatures to harvest resources in flagged areas rather than uncovering them personally strips all joy and accomplishment out of the process. Meanwhile, the need for giving players the freedom to spend time exploring and going wherever they want prevents it from providing engaging or unique strategy encounters.

The mashing of elements also causes issues in the story and world. While it makes a valiant effort to flesh out the pointedly barebones world of "Minecraft," "Legends" has a difficult time doing so in a believable way. The characters and systems in place to explain your role and abilities always stand out like sore thumbs and cutscenes trying to be both epic and irreverently silly keeps them feeling consistently unfocused.

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Running on Fumes

When first starting "Minecraft Legends," these issues are almost nowhere to be seen. The game's odd additions to the established world of the franchise don't seem too distracting, especially thanks to how beautifully rendered its take on the "Minecraft" aesthetic is. Early on, its gameplay also feels like it is easy to grasp, but there are plenty of ways to imagine it getting deeper and more engaging. There is only one attack button, sure, but you could imagine that having multiple unit types to manage and fortifications to build will add interesting layers into the mix. 

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Unfortunately, it's easy to inevitably become disillusioned with the game at an increasingly rapid pace after the finishing the tutorial. As you play, the game's blemishes and less refined elements become glaringly obvious. What began as a gorgeous update to the visuals of a "Minecraft" world becomes recognizable only as a hollow mimic that stripped the organic feel from the original. The easily-seen potential of the combat and building mechanics also go largely unrealized as you come to find that little changes throughout the hours of a playthrough. 

There is no doubt that some players looking for a simpler, laid-back strategy game will find fun in "Minecraft Legends." Unfortunately, any players looking for a consistently engaging or well-constructed experience will likely be left wanting more. 

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