Few games have had more cultural impact than Minecraft, but it seems that Mojang has struggled to recapture anywhere near the same success in its efforts to expand the IP beyond its sandbox origins. Minecraft: Story Mode was a decent, if uninspiring Telltale game, while Minecraft Dungeons proved to be a solid, but unexceptional Diablo clone. Now, the company is trying again with the RTS-themed Minecraft Legends and, well, it’s not very good. A litany of small annoyances and irritations ultimately build up to make for a game that, while not without its charms, completely falls short of the simple brilliance of Minecraft.
Gameplay in Minecraft Legends has been billed as “action strategy”, and we would say that it feels like a much jankier and less fun version of Pikmin. In the single-player campaign, evil piglins from the Nether invade the Overworld and threaten to destroy the ecosystem, so the main goal is simply to beat the piglins by either building fortifications and fending off attacks on villages or by taking the fight to them and attacking their fortified Nether portals with your squad.
To do so, you roam around on a horse and command a group of dozens of minions that specialize in different disciplines, such as one type being good at ranged attacks while another heals allies. You need resources to spawn minions and build things, however, and these are gained by ordering little spirits called Allays to mine materials and chop down trees for you. So far, this streamlined take on real-time strategy seems like a fair idea on paper, but Minecraft Legends notably botches its execution of the concept.
The main problem with Minecraft Legends is that it fails as both an action game and a strategy game, occupying a weird middle ground that simply does not feel very fun to play. For example, there are a lot of cool things that could be done with having your unit on the ground fighting alongside your minions—we imagine perhaps some sort of Dynasty Warriors-esque combat—but all you can do with your character is hold down one button and watch your hero half-heartedly swing their sword back and forth, doing little damage. In this sense, the ‘action’ part of the gameplay feels ridiculously barebones, as your character is ultimately little more than a glorified mouse pointer.
It seems that the point of having your character as a unit on the field—as opposed to having a zoomed-out, godlike perspective—is to give your troops someone to rally around and direct their actions, but unit management in Minecraft Legends feels like trying to herd cats. You can only get the attention of units in a small circle around you by waving your flag, though we noted many times when even units within the circle would continue to stare dumbly into the abyss instead of standing at attention. Once you have units ready to follow orders, you can command them all to attack a specific objective or you can order all of one minion type to attack it instead.
What you can’t do is order individual units around, so either all your stone golems go to attack that structure or none of them do. Even after giving orders, it’s not a sure thing that your units will actually do what they’re told. Sometimes they’ll come across an enemy group while charging and choose to fight them instead of taking down the structure you ordered them to. Sometimes you’ll send them up a ramp to attack a structure, only for several of them to fall off because of the poor pathfinding AI and promptly give up trying to do anything.
You can only have a certain amount of minions spawned at a time—20 to begin with—but there’s no way to despawn minions if you want to change up your squad composition, such as changing out offense units with some that can heal. You have to either find a lava pit and awkwardly herd them into it to kill them yourself or just wait for enemies to kill them for you.
Even when your minions are actually doing what you tell them to, fights tend to unfold at a glacial and mind-numbing pace. You storm in there with your squad, order them to attack whichever structures and enemies you want, and then you just kind of sit there and wait. If you want, you can hold down ‘A’ and watch your hero swing their sword around to maybe kill a few foes, but it otherwise feels like you’re just watching minions throw themselves against a tower until it falls a few minutes later. Every now and then, you might have to run back to spawn more minions to replace your fallen ones, but this feels more like a chore than a dynamic development in an epic battle.
As if managing your units couldn’t be any worse, the user interface feels too fiddly and awkward to navigate by controller. You use the D-pad to tab between four different menus that dictate things like resource gathering and minion spawning, while each of these is navigated by a hotbar that organizes your various options for each action. If you want to order units to attack a specific target, you have to navigate another submenu while holding down the left shoulder button to pick out the group that you want to send in.
Though it gets a little easier once you start developing muscle memory, we still found it to be quite cumbersome to select and execute the menu item you want, especially in the midst of a fight. We found ourselves often selecting the wrong thing or misjudging where the rally point would be placed and watching some minions tumble over the side of a cliff. These controls just about get the job done, then, but this feels like a game built for keyboard and mouse.
Then when it comes to placing new constructs, dragging and placing things like fences and ramps can be frustrating and imprecise. For example, we attacked one elevated piglin base that required us to build ramps so our units could reach the base, but nearly every spot where we attempted to build one was rejected because the UI couldn’t figure out how to place the ramp on the uneven terrain. We eventually managed to get a janky collection of ramps established, but it felt like we weren’t supposed to be able to build them where we did. Having either looser rules for where and what you can build, or clearer indications for places where you can build, would’ve gone a long way towards making this aspect feel smoother.
Even if you can get past the janky controls and awful minion AI, we found that it doesn’t take too long before repetition sets in. Though the world is randomly generated, the piglin bases don’t do much to differentiate themselves from each other in terms of enemy variety or layout. Once you’ve seen one of these, you’ve seen them all, and Minecraft Legends doesn’t do a whole lot to incentivize you to keep going through the grind. Getting a new unit or resource type doesn’t feel very rewarding when your objectives rarely require nuanced strategy, which can make progression feel like a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie.
The variety of structures does give you some cool options for building up a worthwhile fighting force. The Kaboomery, for example, will give any arrow towers nearby an explosive effect for any projectiles fired, while a Redstone Launcher can be used to fire TNT blocks at chosen areas. Meanwhile, every minion will have notable strengths and weaknesses that are covered by others, such as how the skeletons excel at ranged attacks and can fire over walls, but quickly go down when exposed to melee damage. There are the bones of a good strategic system here in Minecraft Legends, the problem is that proper implementation of it just isn’t there.
After you’ve seen everything there is to see in the campaign, which should take around 15 hours, there’s additional free and paid content that you can access through the marketplace. At the time of writing, the only content that’s up is a small wave-based horde mode you can download and play for free, but it offers up a nice break from the campaign and grants you an exclusive skin if you can manage to beat it. Time will tell how much this additional content will add to Minecraft Legends and whether it’ll feel worth the additional money, but we’re at least optimistic that there could be some creative new mission types explored here.
Beyond the campaign offering, there’s also an online PvP mode, though in our experience this was less than stellar. Here, your goal is to match up in teams of four and destroy the enemy team’s tower before they destroy yours, but things get pretty dicey considering that you can’t directly communicate with your teammates in a game centered around real-time strategy. You have some basic pings you can use for getting broad ideas across, but these lack the nuance needed to coordinate an effective plan between a few people or to pivot quickly to respond to enemy team movements. Most of our games consisted of everyone just going off and doing whatever they felt like, whether or not it made any sense, and our enemies were similarly disorganized. Beyond this, it also took about ten minutes or so for us to find a full game with other Switch players during peak hours, though crossplay with other platforms is an option if you’d like to open up the pool more.
Minecraft Legends fares better in its performance, though we did note many instances where the frame rate would suddenly dip noticeably below the target 60 FPS, and it seems to us that this occurs more often in docked mode than it does in handheld. A shaky (though not volatile) frame rate aside, the larger issue that we observed for performance is that the environmental rendering starts to struggle if you run too fast in any direction, to the point that you find yourself unable to see where you’re going due to all the fog. Performance on Switch isn’t awful, then — it’s nice to see a 60 FPS target, at least — but it isn’t outstanding either.
Minecraft Legends, at least on Switch, is an average game at very best, but frustrating controls, terrible AI, and repetitive gameplay all come together to make for something that feels substantially beneath the quality of the Minecraft brand. Though we commend the developers for trying something new here, this is easily the worst Minecraft spinoff Mojang has produced. We’d recommend this one to only the most enthusiastic of Minecraft fans, and even then, only if you opt for the PC version. If you don’t have a PC or don’t want it there, then we’d suggest you pass; Minecraft Legends on the Switch simply isn’t worth your time or money.
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