I like the piglins. They've got that anarchic goblin underdog vibe that makes me think that they'd be pretty cool if it wasn't for the mean big boss types making them invade the Overworld. It's a shame that they're Minecraft Legends' bad guys, because I'd have preferred to lead them in a revolution against their oppressive overlords. Instead, I'm stuck defending Minecraft's weird, flesh-toned Squidward villagers from their raids.
I chose to open with my thoughts on the game's porcine provocateurs because I was taught to always preface any criticism with a compliment and, to be perfectly honest, the piglins are by far the best thing about Minecraft Legends.
Minecraft Legends is, surprising precisely no-one, a spin-off from the ridiculously successful phallic object and computer building simulator Minecraft. You've been summoned by the Hosts Foresight, Knowledge and Action to defend the Overworld from the aforementioned piglin invasion. It's described as an "action-strategy" game and the best way I can describe it is like a rather rudimentary RTS game where the birds eye view and cursor has been replaced by a third-person view of a Minecraft character on a horse. You can swing your sword at things, which is where the action bit comes in, I suppose, but it's wildly ineffectual on anything other than the basic piglins, so there's not much point.
What's left are the RTS staples of gathering resources and building things with them. There's a slimmed down set of Minecraft materials on offer, starting with wood and stone and slowly expanding to include iron, redstone and the like. Buildings come in three types: defensive structures like walls and turrets, spawners for your combat units, and improvements that you can construct around the Well of Fate, the map's central hub, in order to unlock new abilities. These include access to new materials, improvements to your carrying and minion-spawning capacities, and ways to interact with various points of interest that are scattered around the map.
You don't actually do any of this yourself. Unlike Minecraft Cool Original Flavour, Legends is a hands-off experience. All mining and crafting duties are delegated to the allays, tiny sprites who can be assigned to build structures, or gather all the resources of a given type in a small area. Both building and gathering types are restricted in number, so you're limited in how much you can do at once.
What you can do is lead your troops into battle, which is incredibly important as they're barely smarter than the rocks and trees that they're made from. Your basic minions are little golems with assorted melee, ranged and healing functions. As you earn the trust of the world's inhabitants, you can add classic Minecraft zombies, skeletons and creepers to your forces. The first two act like improved versions of your golems, taking the melee and ranged roles respectively, but creepers are used exactly as you'd expect, rushing at enemy structures and detonating, dealing massive damage in the process.
Unfortunately, the only thing that any of them can do on their own is attack anyone that comes within range. Melee troops in particular will happily sit around doing nothing while piglins a few yards away attack your defences. You can command them to follow you, stop following you, and charge ahead a short way. With a bit of finger-twisting controller input (more on that later) you can get them to focus their attacks on a particular target, or do another charge that is exactly the same, except you can specify which units you want to issue the order to.
It's incredibly crude and the combination of constant babysitting and frustrating imprecision means that combat consists of spawning a blob of troops of various kinds, running up to the front lines with them in tow, and then aiming them at the nearest building or clump of enemies. Once your target has been destroyed, you gather up your troops again, head to the next target and repeat. Occasionally you'll hoof it back to the nearest spawners, make a few more units and head back to the front. There's not a lot to it.
Other than the piglins, the best bit of Minecraft Legends is the structure. Riding around the Overworld looking for rarer resources and various secrets is quite enjoyable. Minecraft's day-night cycle remains intact, with each night seeing the piglins either reinforce an existing stronghold, build a new outpost, or launch an attack on a village. Since villages passively generate resources, act as fast travel points or, as is the case with the skeletons, zombies and creepers, give you access to better troops, it's in your best interests to defend them whenever the piglins come calling. Their goal is the wellspring in the centre of each village. If they destroy it, the village falls under their control and you have to recapture it.
There's potential here, but the simplicity of the game means it gets old, fast. A timer starts up, piglins will spawn at random points around the village and march towards the centre, attacking anything in their path. All you need to do is throw up a wall around the village and a few defensive towers, then run around with a squad of troops taking out the groups of piglins as they appear. When the timer runs out, just mop up the remaining piggies and victory is yours. You do unlock more defensive structures that can automatically repair buildings, or slowly upgrade them from wood to stone, but none of it adds any variety to proceedings. The random nature of the piglin spawns and their literally straightforward attacks mean that there's no way to really plan for attacks, strategise or construct traps.
Being on the offensive is much the same. The piglins have poisoned the ground surrounding their bases, turning it into netherrack which, with the exception of the ramps needed to reach elevated structures, you can't build on. It means every assault is just a case of ferrying your troops from spawners outside the base to the buildings you wish to destroy. While you do eventually unlock the ability to cleanse netherrack, all that does is give you a closer spot to build spawners on. The piglins are split into three hordes with different units and structures, but this doesn't make any noticeable difference to how you approach them.
The basic and repetitive nature of Minecraft Legends could be forgiven if it meant you were given room to experiment, to play and create your own fun, to put the craft in Minecraft. Sadly, you're just not given that opportunity. All the tools at your disposal are purely functional, you can't build impressive fortifications or beautiful bases even if you wanted to. Any possible enjoyment is further hampered by absolutely terrible controls, both with a joypad and mouse and keyboard. I started off playing Minecraft Legends on the former and found it borderline unplayable. Placing structures was a chore and I had to fumble with multiple inputs to perform even basic tasks. Moving over to mouse and keyboard made things a little better, thanks to keyboard shortcuts, but the third-person view and controls still made things harder than they had to be. I gave up on trying to give orders to individual troop types, as doing so requires the use of WASD, the mouse and the arrow keys pretty much simultaneously.
It feels amateurish and it extends to multiple aspects of the game. Unit pathfinding is terrible and your troops will constantly fall off bridges and ramps, making some of the more vertically-inclined piglin bases an exercise in frustration. There's no way to pause the game, and the action doesn't even stop during cutscenes. On one occasion I came back from the cutscene triggered by the destruction of a piglin base to find myself dead, having been cut down by the survivors while I was immobile.
The game does have competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes, which do elevate things somewhat by sheer virtue of games being more fun with friends. Coordinating your defences and delegating duties over voice chat is a bit of a laugh, but the fact is that there are much better games out there that let you do similar things. Heck, just play Minecraft!
I spent the entire time I was playing Minecraft Legends trying to figure out who the game was for. It feels too overwhelming and poorly explained for kids, too rudimentary for older players and too frustrating for both. Minecraft is, at least for me, about creativity and experimentation, but there's no room for that here. There's a superficial story in place that ends on a dissonantly dark note about the cost of war, while changing creepers from the mindless monsters of the original to a community of apparently intelligent suicide bombers feels distinctly uncomfortable.
Sadly, the answer seems to be that Minecraft Legends is for Microsoft to sell DLC. The menu screen has four big, bold buttons emblazoned across it and the last is for the marketplace, which already has a ten quid skin pack available and is the only way to customise your hero beyond the ten skins available at the start, or to customise your mounts at all. Lure the kids in with the brand and sell them as much stuff as possible before they realise that there's nothing of what makes Minecraft special on offer here.
Still, the piglins are neat.