If you’ve dabbled in the world of games at all, you’ll know of the blocky, build-your-own-world-and-watch-out-for-the-Creepers game called Minecraft. It’s dominated kiddy gameplaying interests for more than a decade.
Well, the new Minecraft Legends plops gamers down in the same cubey world, while dialing back the building a bit and adding on more story, fighting action and a lot of real time strategy.
But is this game right for your family room?
Those who play Minecraft Legends will quickly discover that it’s about all-out war. And this time you’re working alongside those Creepers, Zombies and Skeletons that used to plague your nighttime Minecraft hours.
It all starts out as the peaceful Minecraft Overworld is suddenly attacked by swarm after swarm of destructive little creatures called piglins. They come charging through a sinister-looking interdimensional portal with plundering glints in their eyes and fiery torches in their hands.
Three helpful overseers—the multi-eyed Foresight, the large golem-like Action and the small cubish Knowledge—quickly see the threat and realize that they’ll need a true hero to stem the nasty tide. And that would be … you. They magically call you from your Minecraft building activities and stay by your side (in telepathic or, maybe, spirit form) to teach you the new skills and duties you’ll be taking on.
Do players still build? Yes. But it’s different. While riding here and there on horseback (and other blocky mounts) you gather materials through the use of a magical lute that instructs little wispy, fairy-like “allays” to do the gathering for you. (Think of it all like a fairytale land with brightly colorful, if blocky, elements.)
Then with another musical command the allays will create bridges, towers and other important structures. They’ll also build small “flames of creation” constructs that spawn your own troops of golems.
As the piglin mobs swarm in you’ll send in groups of your spawned stone and wood golems to give them battle. (You can also ride in while swinging a sword yourself.) The stone golems bash at foes and constructs with their stoney fists and the wood golems shoot arrows. You gain access to Zombie, Skeleton, Creeper and other sidekicks later on.
And then it’s on to managing your time and protecting the world at large, as seen through a quick-access world-at-a-glance map. You’ll defend besieged villages; build up archer towers and walls; repair damaged structures; attack piglin outposts; and call in new allies for the fight.
The mobs of attackers have different strengths and weaknesses, so gathering a correctly balanced army is of utmost importance. And that’s, frankly, what this game is really all about: management and strategy.
Players can play by themselves or in groups of four, or team up in teams of four, for the story mode and other competitive modes. But it’s important to note that all play is online, even single player.
Minecraft Legends is brightly colored and appealing. The overseers are welcoming and always ready with bits of advice. Gamers play the central general-like hero who saves the day. And for young players who enjoy managing several things at once, the challenges can be fun without being overly taxing.
There is, however, quite a bit to keep track of here. And players who are used to a more laid-back Minecraft building experience will be pressed to pick up the pace and focus on constant battle.
Those battles aren’t bloody, but they can be frenetic, conflict-focused and potentially upsetting for younger players. One of the first scenes features, for instance, a piglin that throws his torch and impales a blocky bunny to a nearby tree. There are also toxic pools and rivers that will melt down and kill your golems if you command them to wade in. In battle, characters puff out of existence when battered, slashed and hit with arrows.
Frankly, Minecraft Legend’s transition into this new style of play isn’t particularly easy to pick up. The game explains concepts and gameplay elements, but there are a lot of them. I can easily envision some younger players being lost until they experiment and fail enough to finally understand how they can gather, build, and properly use the tools at hand—all the while being pressed to move-move-move. (Parental guidance and step-by-step patience could be called for.)
Since this is an online-only game, there are also two elements that parents should be aware of: For one thing, kids can communicate with others online unless the PC or console parental controls are turned on. And even when the gameplay is paused, the online action continues, potentially leaving young players with diminished and ravaged forces by the time they get back.
This isn’t your dad or older brother’s Minecraft. But for the right strategy-focused young gamer, it could be a breath of fresh, and very colorful, blocky air.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.