Minecraft Legends preview: a complex strategy game that shines in PvP

Minecraft Legends preview
(Image credit: Mojang Studios)

If you'd told me before I sat down to play Minecraft Legends that I would wind up hissing profanity at the screen while fighting the urge to put my fist through it, I wouldn't have believed you. But there I was, more into it than I thought possible, giving in to the competitive side I usually reserve for family Monopoly night.

Although I was admittedly terrible at it, my hands-on preview of Minecraft Legends revealed an unexpected adventure world of impressive proportions, composed of randomly-generated maps, biomes, and enemies scattered far and wide. Even for returning players to the Minecraft universe, there's more to the Overlands than meets the eye. You'll need to keep your wits about you, whether you're playing the campaign or competitive PvP mode, as tactical strategy is the aim of the game if you want to live up to the heroic expectations lauded upon you by the villagers.

Zero to hero

Minecraft Legends biomes

(Image credit: Mojang Studios)

When I sat down to play Minecraft Legends, I had no idea what to expect. I'd played about 15 minutes of Minecraft Dungeons with my nine-year-old cousin in the past, and although it was fun, I never picked it back up after he packed up the Switch and headed home. I was, in every meaningful way, a total Minecraft newbie. 

I suppose it's because I'd largely, almost passively, associated Minecraft with the seventh grade boys at school. "It looks a little bit simple," Mojang Studios' Kevin Grace, the narrative design director for the project, was kind enough to agree with me. "Like, it's blocks, right? How complicated could blocks be? But as it turns out, once you get there, they can be very complicated – and they can present some really amazing challenges for even the hardest of hardcore gamers."

Not that I consider myself the "hardest" gamer ever to game, but he wasn't wrong. I might be used to the combat of some of the best RPGs, complete with customizable weapons, complex stats, and collectible armor blueprints, but lacking all of these expected components left me feeling vulnerable to the jagged-edged terrain of Minecraft Legends.

For returning players, it has all the building blocks of the original: you have four toolbars with which to construct, gather materials, call helpful companions, and explore the expansive Overworld. However, this time, it's a strategy game. The main campaign can be played either solo or with a partner in co-op mode, and when I tested it out on my own, I was overwhelmed by the various mechanics on offer.

The main story of the Minecraft Legends campaign is, as Grace himself describes it, "exactly that: a legend. Imagine a villager telling a bedtime story to a child villager." In essence, Minecraft Legends lets you carve out your very own piece of Minecraft mythology, one that takes place some time before the events of the original title; "they're connected, but it's different," says Grace.

Minecraft Legends Piglins

(Image credit: Mojang Studios)

But as in every fabled bedtime story, bad guys exist to cause drama. "[In Minecraft Legends,] the Overworld was a more peaceful place. Until these angry, adorable little jerks, Piglins, showed up." Piglins are the ghoulish and snouted henchmen that you'll come across as you play either game mode, wreaking havoc in villages and trying to take all the Overworld's goodness and bring it home to the far less plentiful Nether. 

So how do I fit into this story? With no way to fight back, says Grace, and "because the Overworld was a very peaceful place, [the story goes that] they needed some help. Maybe a hero. [They] needed someone to inspire the Overworld to stand up. And in particular, they needed you. You are called for, to – no pressure – save the world."

I only played about 40 minutes of the campaign, with most of it comprising lengthy tutorials and cutscenes. I wish I'd gotten a more substantial taste of Grace's narrative in action, but it was a great opportunity to familiarize myself with the gameplay mechanics. 

As well as gathering materials by playing mystical tunes for helpful sprites named Allays, you'll be fighting against the ravages of the Piglins with the help of golems. Golems come in all forms, from Moss to Stone, Plank, and you can even get certain upgrades that allow you to lead Creepers into battle alongside Zombies and other familiar Minecraft characters. They accompany you when rallied at a spawn point, and similarly they will stand sentinel in a marked location when ordered to do so by you. This allows you to have greater map mobility in terms of protecting structures, villages, and staving off incoming attacks from yet more Piglins as the day and night cycles progress.

Blocked and loaded

Minecraft Legends PvP

(Image credit: Mojang Studios)

"Like, it's blocks, right? How complicated could blocks be? But as it turns out, they can be very complicated – and they can present some really amazing challenges for even the hardest of hardcore gamers."

Kevin Grace (Mojang Studios)

As story-rich as the campaign is, however, Minecraft Legends really comes into its own in PvP. Again, it has all the sandbox elements you'd expect from a Minecraft game, but as you band together in two opposing teams of up to four players apiece, you'll develop new teamwork tactics to help conquer your enemies.

With a combination of capture-the-flag, tower-defense, and building strategies, each team will be tasked with constructing a fortress to protect their own Tower whilst conspiring to destroy the enemy's. Unlike in the campaign mode, PvP sees you battle not only against the Piglins, but enemy players as well. You'll have to delegate tasks to your teammates carefully. This can be easier said than done – between gathering and building duties, and your offensive mode against the enemy, you'll raid Piglin Outposts and earn special upgrade materials in the process. 

You'll talk to teammates over comms, as I got to experience with two fellow Blue Team members as we went head-to-head against the Yellow Team. It quickly became a matter of barking orders and positions at each other, checking if we had the base covered (we didn't), if we needed any more wood (we did), and if the enemy team had managed to spawn Creepers and Zombies first (they had).

Minecraft Legends preview

(Image credit: Mojang Studios)

I spent the majority of my preview session rebuilding walls that had been smashed to bits by the other team's tanky Redstone Launchers, scrambling to position my golems to defend the wide-open tower from the harrying onslaught, and admitting three rounds of bitter defeat.

It was frustrating but also awesome, and that trial and error approach is exactly what the developer is going for. "Since we've been playing it for like, several years now, [I like] that it changes all the time," says Anna Wendelin, User Experience Design Director at Mojang Studios. "In the beginning, we did PvP in one way. And then you sort of learn and adopt new strategies, and there are always new things to find." 

This gives me hope that perhaps come April 18 when I load in to play Minecraft Legends with my kid cousin, his veteran brain will see something I've overlooked entirely. Like how to actually hit stuff with my blocky little sword, for example.

Check out these other games like Minecraft for some more sandbox escapades. 

Jasmine Gould-Wilson
Staff Writer, GamesRadar+

Jasmine is a staff writer at GamesRadar+. Raised in Hong Kong and having graduated with an English Literature degree from Queen Mary, University of London in 2017, her passion for entertainment writing has taken her from reviewing underground concerts to blogging about the intersection between horror movies and browser games. Having made the career jump from TV broadcast operations to video games journalism during the pandemic, she cut her teeth as a freelance writer with TheGamer, Gamezo, and Tech Radar Gaming before accepting a full-time role here at GamesRadar. Whether Jasmine is researching the latest in gaming litigation for a news piece, writing how-to guides for The Sims 4, or extolling the necessity of a Resident Evil: CODE Veronica remake, you'll probably find her listening to metalcore at the same time.