Minecraft Legends gameplay preview – the next Game Pass co-op classic

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Minecraft has been transplanted to another genre. With the Minecraft Legends release date right around the corner, PCGamesN went to GDC 2023 in San Francisco to see how the world’s biggest PC game plays as a strategy game, and we can report that it’s a surprisingly seamless fit.

Built on the Bedrock engine and using similar procedural generation tech as its originator, Minecraft Legends follows a similar gameplay trajectory: you collect resources, build a base, forge equipment, and eventually take off to handle Piglins and mobs.

The first big difference is in scale. Rather than doing everything yourself, in Minecraft Legends you’ll use allays to farm resources across a whole area, erect walls and buildings in the blink of an eye, and spawn armies of defensive mobs at a much faster rate. To anyone familiar with the base game, it’s disorienting to see so little friction, so little that breaks, in this gap between toiling over your personal creations and mass producing them. To have them then work not only on a larger scale but in an entirely different genre is nothing short of a marvel.

But it’s important to manage expectations. Setting up your defences around a village to fend off piglins and commanding your troops doesn’t have the scale or depth of a Total War game, and Minecraft Legends wouldn’t be worthy of its franchise if it jettisoned its core tenets of mining and crafting. The creativity they offer you when building your bases and armies absolutely makes up for the more streamlined feel of this real-time strategy spin-off.

To this, you can add the joys of exploring the open world, in which you’ll find chests filled with resources and new mounts for your character. A far cry from the frantic APM rates of something like Starcraft, it makes for an oddly serene experience; Minecraft’s environments have always been bright and diverse, but hopping between them in Minecraft Legends while placing allays at pockets of stone or a bundle of trees while looking out for secrets is really quite tranquil.

Despite taking place in randomly generated worlds, there’s a reassuring precision to the gameplay loop every single time. Upgrades in the form of new mobs, resources, and buildable structures come at a steady pace, while each core element of gameplay – exploring, building, and fighting – never outstays its welcome as you progress. The Minecraft Legends campaign can also be completed in co-op, with the entire game boasting crossplay, which highlights Mojang’s continuing mission of making Minecraft approachable and community-driven. And as a core Microsoft title, naturally it’ll be on Game Pass on release.

Compared to the campaign Minecraft Legends’ PvP experience is pure chaos, and all the better for it. Two teams of four are dropped into a smaller map and forced to destroy each other’s bases. You’ll still need to gather resources, fight piglins, and build defences, but now you’ve got to communicate with your teammates and watch out for the enemy.

The possibilities in these 30-minute or so PvP matches seem to be endless. In my time with the game, we saw team members settle naturally into varied roles like gathering resources – which are shared between teams – building, or defending against mobs to help get the game going. Both teams in my session spent way too much time building defences and fighting piglins instead of each other, so our bases ended up having multiple layers of stone walls completely surrounded by arrow-shooting towers and mobs, meaning it became almost impossible to get to the centre of either, destroy the hub, and win. This is where Minecraft Legends’ ‘strats, not maps’ ethos comes in; as everything is procedurally generated, you can’t rely on map knowledge to gain an advantage. Instead, we adapted to the situation, developing a strategy that will be applicable in the future. We snuck around the enemy’s base and found a good position to set up a sort of forward operating base, built up defences there, and set up a TNT cannon in the centre. Instead of going through the walls and mobs, we just went over them.

Minecraft Legends gameplay preview - the next Game Pass co-op classic

With this strategy we broke a stalemate in seconds that had lasted for half an hour; multiple barrages from the TNT cannon to the enemy team’s hub completely took it out, and we won the game. It was a lovely moment of quick thinking that only came about because of Minecraft Legends’ emphasis on its toolkit – for all that it may appear lacking in depth compared to more traditional strategy sims, it stimulates and rewards a different but equally rewarding form of organic tactical puzzle-solving.

More traditional strategies are viable too, within the particular context of Minecraft Legends. In other matches, you might focus on rushing the enemy before they can prepare, turtling to unlock better mobs or equipment, or perhaps you’ll see terrain near their base that could hide a smaller outpost for your team, so you can launch a two-pronged attack and take the enemy by surprise.

Minecraft Legends is a game for everyone. Whether you want some serene exploring and base building, co-op piglin fighting action, or PvP that’s as endlessly chaotic as the procedural maps you explore, this Game Pass release is right around the corner, and it’s going to be a good one.

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