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Minecraft Legends brings an adventure narrative and Pikmin-style strategy gameplay to its sprawling worlds

Mojang's Minecraft Legends is an original take on exploring a voxel world; here's what we learned from our hands-on preview and interview with the developers.

Alessandro Fillari, Contributor

April 6, 2023

6 Min Read
A screenshot from Minecraft Legends depicts a dusky landscape.

Mojang Studios' Minecraft is an evolving and sprawling sandbox world made of voxels that thrive on player creativity and ingenuity. Whether that's with players losing themselves exploring an endless array of procedurally generated worlds or diving into the player creation tools to craft spaces of their own making, the franchise's nearly thirteen years of creativity still manages to impress even today.

After spin-offs into a narrative-based adventure game and a dungeon crawler, Minecraft Legends sees the series step into the genre of an open-world real-time strategy game for the first time, honing that sense of creativity into the role of a battle commander. As a large-scale adventure game that feels like equal parts Pikmin and The Legend of Zelda, it focuses on managing a squad to retake areas of the map from invading Nether monsters. Pulling upon some complex mechanics from established strategy games, it fits within Minecraft's iconic and instantly recognizable aesthetic and tone, making diving into its many worlds compelling.

After spending some hands-on time with Minecraft Legends and talking with principal design director Craig Leigh, I learned how this project came together and what it takes to make an effective spin-off for a game that continues to surprise its audience and evolve.

A Minecraft Fable

While Minecraft's core 'narrative' has primarily focused on the player experience, Minecraft Legends presents a plot and setting that rearranges the voxel aesthetic and familiar characters into the mold of an epic adventure story. Taking on the role of a new hero, you're tasked with saving the Overworld from a Piglin invasion, who come from the Nether and plot to take over with their dark magic. Armed with a sword, a trusty steed, and magical abilities to call forth ancient golems and other Minecraft familiar characters to join your side, you'll travel across procedurally generated worlds to fight the invasion and rebuild settlements.

A screenshot from Minecraft Legends depicting a grassy landscape.

It's an intriguing premise for a Minecraft story. While players likely had similar adventures when exploring the many generated seeds or even player-crafted adventures in escape rooms or atmospheric campaigns, Minecraft Legends presents an experience that is much more of a sweeping tale. After working on Minecraft Dungeons, the series' first step into an action-RPG dungeon crawler, Leigh stated that the shift into an open-world action-strategy game took some time to come together.

"When we started thinking about expanding the franchise further for our next game, we wanted to do something different from the rest," said Leigh. "With Dungeons, we twisted the dungeon-crawler conceit and made it into something fresh–and very much Minecraft. So after that, we were like, ‘How do we do this with the strategy game?’ So, the core inspiration as we saw it was twofold; the experience of exploring a world block by block gathering resources, and the core element of being a strategic commander on a battlefield giving orders. That was the nucleus of the idea, and it grew from there."

Much like the core Minecraft experience, the different worlds in Legends are procedurally generated. While the game keeps some key landmarks and locations, the terrain and landscape are all randomly built before each run, and there are other worlds to explore as the campaign progresses. It's a very intriguing take on Minecraft, which injects a fable into the sandbox experience, even including a supporting cast of cute characters to help guide you. The vibe is charming, which gives it a similar tone to something from The Legend of Zelda or classic Nintendo 64 adventure games–which is a nice and compelling match for Minecraft.

A close-up of four Minecraft Legends characters, depicting the block-y, 3D pixelized visual style.

Taking Command of a World of Voxels

What I found most interesting about Minecraft Legends, and from my talk with Leigh, was how it paired the sandbox experience of Minecraft with strategy gameplay. While strategy games are often seen as complex and not particularly friendly for all ages, games like Nintendo's Pikmin incorporate an approachable, dynamic and action-oriented take on unit management and resource gathering–and Minecraft Legends follows suit in that.

As a third-person game focusing on unit management, you'll guide your allies and extract resources from the terrain to gain more energy to summon higher-end units and use skills. While riding on your horse, you'll be able to trek across this tough terrain and even engage in direct combat–much like the commander that you are. Working in unison with your units, you can direct them to attack structures and roaming enemies to take over bases. Some of these battles feel like tower defense games, with you protecting your base by building walls or defensive units against incoming hordes. This aspect is heightened during siege gameplay, where you must take everything you have and raid an enemy garrison, which high-level Piglin commanders run.

According to Leigh, one of the sticking points for crafting the overall structure and flow of the game was its introduction, which he states does an adequate job of getting players accustomed to the different facets of the open-world exploration and strategy gameplay.

"What I really love is that it took us quite a while to refine and find the flow of the campaign," said Leigh. "In the first act, we introduce all the elements like building and how enemies spawn and attack, leading to more war-focused engagements. From there, we then go into the larger sandbox element. You've got this giant tactical sandbox to get into. You can explore, build upgrades and bases, and do what you want. I'm really proud of the evolution from the training and into the larger game. I mean, we've got a fun open-world tactical strategy action game on console, which I'm so proud of. I still love playing it because it is procedurally generated, and it is different each time I play, so I love it."

Along with the single-player experience, there's also an array of co-op and competitive multiplayer options, the latter of which sees teams defend territory and make raids on opposing forts. It's a cool spin on familiar multiplayer action but through the lens of Minecraft's new action-strategy mechanics. It's an impressive package, but much like the original Minecraft, I think the solo experience is what has me most intrigued.

What I responded to most with Minecraft Legends is how it contextualizes the setting and experience of Minecraft, which has always been a bit nebulous. While it is the most ambitious of the spin-offs, it feels like a game that is different but is still very much an extension of what Minecraft is all about. It's all a clever spin on the aesthetic and formula that Minecraft has built up over the years, and I'm intrigued to see how its scope and sprawling, randomized worlds will hold up as the hero's adventure continues.

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About the Author(s)

Alessandro Fillari


Alessandro Fillari is a writer/editor who has covered the games, tech, and entertainment industries for more than 12 years. He is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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