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(Pocket-lint) - Minecraft is a franchise that defies all others. It's still raking in huge quantities of players thanks to its never-ending replayability.

And, after a successful branch into new territory with Minecraft Dungeons, Mojang is taking another small risk in the form of Minecraft Legends.

We got a hands-off demo from Xbox at Gamescom 2022, and it's looking like a pretty safe bet right now.

Our quick take

From what we've seen so far, Mojang is cooking up another vibrant little hit with Minecraft Legends.

We're curious to see how its other modes turn out and to actually get some hands-on time with it in the near future, but the campaign looks like a smart fusing of Minecraft with a simple but rewarding strategy system.

Minecraft Legends preview: Hands-off with Minecraft RTS at Gamescom

Minecraft Legends

For
  • Promising blend of real-time strategy and Minecraft-style gameplay
  • The visuals are looking very impressive at this stage
Against
  • We need to get some hands-on time with the game before we can comment further

Active strategy

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Mojang for now is convincing people about what Minecraft Legends actually is. It's a real-time strategy game, but not in the traditional sense.

You take control of a main character on horseback and, from an active position on the field, you'll marshall and direct troops while you move with them. It's a more active way to take charge, placing you as the on-field general in an army rather than some omnipotent observer. And, it means that you can seamlessly move between two types of gameplay.

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The demo started with our character exploring the overworld, a recognisably blocky and Minecraft-y world that is procedurally generated as you'd hope.

It then showed us villages to be befriended, which are dotted around the landscape and help you recruit more units to your cause. That means even factions like zombies are, in fact, able to be rallied to your cause. There are also various buffs to be found, from wheat patches that boost your speed for a while, to mushrooms that let you jump super high for a time.

The threat looming over all of this is a Piglin invasion, spilling through Nether portals to take over parts of the world with their sprawling bases. These moments are punctuated by fun cutscenes that have a polish to them, reminding us that Mojang is not shy of funds.

You'll have to find these Piglin bases, scout them to work out a plan of attack, then build your own force to take them on - aiming to destroy the Nether portals at their heart.

Each base will have its own style - we saw a Bastion base, which was highly defensive with walls and towers, but others will apparently have different styles to encourage fresh approaches as you find them.

Attacks mean a blend of Minecraft gameplay twists - first, you'll gather resources in patches from around the world (delegating this to little floating helpers that can do it without any busywork). Then, near the enemy base, you'll make an encampment of your own where you can respawn and make your own troops.

We saw a few types of Golem that could be created, from Moss Golems that heal your forces, to Cobblestone Golems that are specialists in taking down buildings. It's clear that this troop variety will be a big part of what makes the game more complex.

Taking charge

The next phase is to actually attack your enemies, with a range of commands that let you gather your troops to you, direct them to attack specific targets, and set them up to guard areas if you like.

As this unfolds, you can charge in to make small telling attacks of our own, although you're hardly a huge force - the point is to direct your army, not to make it redundant, according to the devs.

We were watching an early mission, which occurs shortly after the the game's tutorial, so things stayed fairly simple. Even then, the base being attacked had layers of defences and buildings that needed to be crumbled before the central Nether portal could be tackled.

We'll have to hold out judgment on how easy it is to actually control your force, but from watching someone else it seemed smooth and relatively intuitive.

We can comment further on the game's impressive visuals though. There's a crisp, almost cell-shaded look to the blocky world, but it's the lovely vivid colours that were most striking. These have apparently been dialled-up a little to match the game's fairytale-style storytelling, and the effect is great. It looks like it'll run at 60FPS on an Xbox Series X, too, which is always welcome.

To recap

With other modes in the form of versus and challenge options, four-player co-op and multiplayer all to be detailed fully at some point, there's a lot more to see of Minecraft Legends. For now though, we're heartened by its showing. It'll be one to watch for, as a day one Xbox Game Pass game, too.

Writing by Max Freeman-Mills. Editing by Rik Henderson.
Sections Xbox Games