Minecraft Legends is an amazing action-strategy game that only fools will overlook

Screenshot of Minecraft Legends from Xbox Developer_Direct show.
(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

2023 is both an exciting and gently terrifying year for video games. Backlogs are expanding to frightening proportions, while the calendar is bursting at the seams, struggling to contain the seemingly ceaseless release cadence of new titles. A lot of great games are bound to be buried in the avalanche, but there's one game that deserves all of the attention it's getting (and more) — Minecraft Legends is almost here.

The latest expansion to the Minecraft universe represents a lot of firsts for the franchise and for Mojang Studios. It's an exciting blend of gameplay mechanics from multiple genres, garnering plenty of interest from gamers. I got the opportunity to preview Minecraft Legends for a few hours ahead of its release, and I'm more excited than ever for what could be one of the year's best games.

Disclaimer: This preview was made possible following a hands-on preview session hosted by Xbox Game Studios. Xbox provided travel to and from and accommodation during the preview event. The company did not see the contents of the preview before publishing.

Understanding Minecraft Legends

Minecraft Legends' simple, beautiful visuals disguise its absurdly deep mechanics. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

I've seen a multitude of gamers online expressing their confusion about what Minecraft Legends is. Because of the game's more diminutive marketing compared to the gaming behemoths releasing in the first half of 2023, even interested players may not be seeing the latest information on Minecraft Legends as Mojang Studios trickles it out. So, I'd like to begin by putting into my own words precisely what kind of game Minecraft Legends is.

First, imagine a strategy game, like Age of Empires, in which you collect and manage resources, design and build defensive fortifications, train and command armies, research new upgrades and abilities, and go to war against a variety of equally capable opponents. Minecraft Legends has all of this, but with one major difference — Instead of controlling the world as an uncaring, omnipotent cursor, Minecraft Legends places you in the world. You are a part of it, and you are fighting to survive as much as you are fighting to defend.

You're not just controlling the world of Minecraft Legends, you're a part of it.

You play as the Hero, equipped with a sword, a trusty mount, a health bar, support from the mobs of the Overworld, and various other items and abilities. You explore the Overworld, meet its diverse mobs and peoples, and unite the lands against the rising threat of the Nether's brutal Piglins. You're not just commanding units into battle; you're a part of every battle. Your actions can directly impact the world and the outcome of the war, even separated from the strategy gameplay elements on which you rely.

The latter places you in the action, and the former gives you command over the strategy. Thus, Minecraft Legends is a unique action-strategy game, resistant to frequent comparisons to similar titles that may not even exist. As you play through Minecraft Legends' campaign, the Overworld around you will become more familiar as much as it will change due to your actions. It's a fascinating blend, and it's the underlying reason why Minecraft Legends deserves more attention — Not only does this combination work incredibly well, but Mojang Studios and Blackbird Interactive did a fantastic job executing on their visions for this game.

Surprising depth and intuitive controls

Recruit friendly mobs from the forests while you collect resources. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Minecraft Legends follows the precedence of its predecessors and is launching simultaneously on every platform imaginable. That means it has to play equally well regardless of your input of choice, a monumental task for any complicated strategy game. Age of Empires II Definitive Edition on Xbox proves that great controls are possible in a strategy game on a controller. Still, Minecraft Legends goes a step further by incorporating movement and combat controls into that formula.

Fortunately, Mojang Studios and Blackbird Interactive have put in the work to ensure that Minecraft Legends' surprising depth is met with intuitive controls. I spoke for a while with Executive Producer Dennis Ries on Minecraft Legends, and he told me that it took a lot of iteration and refinement to make the controls come together, and I'm not surprised to hear it.

Minecraft Legends is not a simple game, but its controls still manage to feel natural and smooth.

Minecraft Legends basically has three tiers to its control scheme, with most of the buttons on the controller having three different actions depending on which tier you're using. These tiers include resource collection, building, and army commands, and you can quickly switch between all three of these control schemes using the D-Pad. I'll admit it's complicated (the tutorial is essential), but once it clicks, Minecraft Legends feels natural and smooth to play.

This complication is necessary because Minecraft Legends is not a simple game. There are a lot of tools at your disposal, carefully balanced to ensure you have everything you need to conquer your opponents and protect the Overworld from the Nether's Piglin armies. For example, you need to use the Lute to command two kinds of helpful Allays to either collect specific resources in a general area or to construct various kinds of buildings, defensive structures, and spawners known as Flames of Creation. You need to use these Flames of Creation to spawn a vast array of different mobs and then use the Banner of Courage to command those mobs in battle.

The hub of Minecraft Legends' world, and where you'll unlock your potential for greatness. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

At the fountain, the hub at the center of the map, you'll need to build Improvements that allow you to collect new kinds of resources, spawn new variants of mobs, unlock new offensive, defensive, and support buildings, and improve your overall abilities. You'll need to carefully manage all the resources at your disposal, as everything you do has a cost. You'll need to explore the Overworld to help villages in need (which can provide you with valuable resources over time), find hidden chests, and discover secrets and rare resources scattered throughout the world.

I knew Minecraft Legends would be far more complicated from the offset than Minecraft Dungeons (a relatively straightforward action-RPG) and Minecraft (which has absurd depth but with simple, consistent controls). Still, I was immediately shocked by just how far the game goes. Building alone is brimming with countless options, providing players with a limitless array of potential strategies.

Using the intuitive building controls (which allow you to build whatever you want practically anywhere, including traversal buildings like ramps), you can design insurmountable fortresses buttressed by dozens of different defensive and supportive buildings. The controls aren't always perfect (you can't build gates on top of existing walls or seamlessly switch between building types while remaining in the same menu), but it overall feels great.

Minecraft Legends feels amazing to play, for players of all skill levels.

The powerful Redstone Launcher can deal devastating amounts of damage from long ranges, for example, but it can also be augmented by nearby support buildings to boost its destructive power (by turning its projectiles into TNT), increase its range and fire rate, and more. In my hands-on, I genuinely barely scratched the surface here. This depth caters to all kinds of players in the campaign and ensures that every game of Minecraft Legends' online competitive multiplayer is completely different.

I haven't even touched on Minecraft Legends' fantastic options for commanding your armies in battle, nor have I discussed the complex synergy between player upgrades and the surrounding world. I'll leave a lot of the fine detail for my review (stay tuned); suffice to say, Minecraft Legends has amazingly found the perfect middle ground between a game that's accessible to players of all skill levels and a game that's complex enough to keep even the most hardcore gamers interested for hours upon hours of playtime.

A proper campaign and chaotic multiplayer

The Piglins are no laughing matter, with overwhelming numbers and shockingly powerful abilities at their disposal. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Minecraft Dungeons may have set the foundation for a Minecraft game with a campaign, but Minecraft Legends takes it to all-new heights. The campaign, which is approximately 18 hours in length and can be played solo or with friends, explores a forgotten legend of the Minecraft universe in which all the Overworld lives in harmony and peace (including the hostile mobs you know and hate today) until brutal tears into another dimension unleash an army of Piglins from the fiery Nether.

Minecraft's very first fully voiced mobs, The Hosts (named Foresight, Action, and Knowledge), recognize the gravity of this newfound threat and deign to summon a great Hero from another world (that's you!). The Hosts are wonderfully written and voiced (with full localization for 15 separate languages) and provide support as you fight back the Piglin armies. Minecraft Legends' campaign takes advantage of every one of its mechanics, tasking you with uniting and fortifying villages, defeating Piglin armies, and laying siege to the Nether's frightening strongholds.

Minecraft Legends has everything I wanted to see from a story-driven Minecraft game.

There is a plethora of cinematic visuals and cutscenes, proper worldbuilding, hours of action, endless exploration across a multitude of biomes, and even plenty of side quests. The world of Minecraft Legends is entirely procedurally generated using the power of the Minecraft Bedrock Engine, meaning every game is completely different. It can be played entirely in online co-op (up to four players if the host is on a current-gen console or PC, and two players for older platforms) or offline in single-player.

This... is the real deal. 

Minecraft Legends is brimming with high stakes, ridiculous variety, and all the signs of an interesting, worthwhile narrative. Minecraft Legends' story even explores how the day and night cycle of Minecraft might have come to be, suggesting that the Overworld once had eternal daylight thanks to two suns until a nefarious power from the Nether corrupted one of the suns and silenced its light. The idea of playing through the events of a legend, of deciding for yourself the truth of the Overworld's history, is precisely what I wanted to see from a story-driven Minecraft game. All of this, and I only played the first hour, or opening chapter, of Minecraft Legends.

Every multiplayer match is guaranteed to be different, both because of the world and because of the countless available strategies. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Genuinely, Minecraft Legends more than justifies its $40 price tag based on the merits of its campaign alone, but Mojang Studios and Blackbird Interactive didn't stop there. I also got to play a full, uninterrupted match of its competitive online multiplayer, and Mojang Studios is on to a winner. Eight players are split into two teams of four and thrown into a unique, procedurally generated world (smaller than the campaign world to help balance the game length). Each team is given a stronghold to defend. Each player retains all of the base abilities from the campaign but with shared resources, armies, and upgrades with the rest of their team. The goal: Destroy the other team's stronghold to win.

Mojang Studios and Blackbird Interactive designed Minecraft Legends' competitive multiplayer to be chaotic and unpredictable. It's not supposed to be extremely balanced or fair, with ridiculous strategies and tactics fully encouraged by the game. What's important is that you use all the resources at your disposal and work closely with your team to emerge victorious. One of my team spent the entire game fortifying the stronghold and building Improvements, for example, while others focused on exploring and hunting down valuable resources.

Piglins are still a threat during multiplayer matches, but they also hoard resources necessary to your survival. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Piglins are also still a threat in multiplayer, with their strongholds building dangerous NPC armies that attack all players and teams indiscriminately. Battling these Piglins can provide you with valuable resources necessary to build armies and powerful buildings of your own, so I took that job on myself. I raised a sizeable army comprised of weak, beginner units but was able to hold my own against the Piglins and rebut multiple attacks from the enemy team. My early victories gave us increased opportunities to build up our capabilities, eventually culminating in one of my team members unlocking the ability to build a powerful Redstone Launcher.

Minecraft Legends' multiplayer embraces chaotic fun, and players are going to love it.

Eventually, my team managed to win because of a twofold strategy, in which I built an erratic array of defensive towers and mob spawners right on top of the enemy team's fortress as a distraction. In contrast, the rest of my team built a Redstone Launcher and protected it from enemy counterattacks while it decimated their stronghold. The enemy team didn't have time to build proper counters to the Redstone Launcher (everything in Minecraft Legends has something to counter it), so all they could do was watch helplessly while their stronghold crumbled around them.

I had lots of fun with Minecraft Legends' multiplayer, and I can see this being an excellent, long-term, casual strategy game for players because of it. The multiplayer mode doesn't take itself too seriously, focusing instead on embracing the wild creativity of players and all the best ways to have fun. I get the feeling a lot of players are going to love it.

The launch is only the beginning

Riding into battle at the head of your army is the exact feeling many strategy games are missing. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

When Minecraft Legends launches, it'll be equipped with a full-length, highly replayable campaign that supports single-player and online co-op, as well as an addictive competitive multiplayer mode. That's a lot of great stuff, but Mojang Studios revealed to me that Minecraft Legends won't be done when it releases. Of course, the company wouldn't reveal details (let's get the game out the door before we discuss what comes next), but players who fall in love with Minecraft Legends can expect similar post-launch support as Minecraft and Minecraft Dungeons.

One thing I couldn't preview but know is included in the game is the Lost Legends & Myths mode. Mojang Studios told me that these are essentially tailored challenges and scenarios, similar to other popular strategy games. Overcoming these challenges will require new ways of playing and unique strategies, and will reward new player skins and mounts in exchange for your efforts. It seems this may be one of the primary ways Minecraft Legends will expand after launch, with players able to test themselves in challenges that take advantage of Minecraft Legends' mechanics in new and surprising ways.

One of the biggest criticisms levied at Minecraft Dungeons around its launch was the lack of content, which was rectified (and then some) by very healthy post-launch support. Minecraft Legends is packed with content to occupy players, but it's still getting the post-launch treatment for which Minecraft is known. I can't wait to hear more about this, but I'll be sure to finish the campaign (once or twice) and enjoy plenty of multiplayer matches before then.

One of the most exciting game launches of the year

Do not sleep on Minecraft Legends — This could be one of 2023's most surprising (and awesome) games. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

I already couldn't wait for Minecraft Legends after Windows Central's Jez Corden saw it in action at Gamescom, but being able to play it myself rapidly made Minecraft Legends one of my most anticipated games of the year. I love Resident Evil 4 (2023) right now, but I'm putting it aside when I gain access to Minecraft Legends. I'm excited about Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Redfall in the coming weeks, but neither game will occupy my thoughts until I've rolled the credits on Minecraft Legends.

Minecraft Legends is going toe-to-toe with all the biggest titles as one of the best games of 2023.

Minecraft Legends is special, and it should be on more players' radars. Admittedly, claiming that "no one is talking about" Minecraft Legends is a bit disingenuous. After all, the game is being bolstered by the Minecraft brand and the existing Minecraft marketing team, and both its social media posts and its trailers attract plenty of attention. However, my personal experience on social media and exploring the internet for my job has seen other upcoming games consistently mentioned more by gamers than Minecraft Legends.

While Minecraft Legends has been one of my go-to upcoming games when asked for what I'm most excited about, most other players mention Redfall, Starfield, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Resident Evil 4 (before its launch), Diablo IV, and even Forza Motorsport (2023) long before Minecraft Legends comes up in the conversation. Every single one of these games deserves the hype they're enjoying, but Minecraft Legends is going toe-to-toe with them all as one of the best Xbox games of 2023. This is one to keep your eye on. While you're at it, keep an eye on Windows Central, as we'll have a full Minecraft Legends review with my complete thoughts in the near future.

Minecraft Legends is now available for preorder ahead of its release on April 18, 2023, with two editions from which to choose. Minecraft Legends is launching day one on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows PC, PS5, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. It'll also be available through Xbox Game Pass, PC Game Pass, and Xbox Cloud Gaming. Minecraft Legends will also support full cross-play between every platform at launch.

Minecraft Legends

Minecraft Legends

The latest expansion to the Minecraft universe could be one of the most exciting game launches of the year, despite being overshadowed by larger releases. Coming April 18, Minecraft Legends is available to preorder now.

Preorder at: Xbox (Console Standard) | Xbox (Console Deluxe) | Xbox (PC Standard) | Xbox (PC Deluxe)

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.