Mojang is probably never going to make Minecraft 2. The sooner we accept that, the better. It just doesn’t make sense – Minecraft has reportedly sold over 200 million copies, has up to 140 million active players every month, and is available across every conceivable platform on planet Earth. It has infiltrated the education system, become a creative hub for modders, and is still pretty fun if all you want to do is move some blocks around or hunt down the EnderDragon with your friends. It’s why I’m so glad that Microsoft Gaming is working to expand the Minecraft universe, rather than attempt to replicate past successes in a more advanced sequel. More specifically, it’s why I’m so excited to play Minecraft Legends.
The Minecraft universe has proven itself to be more versatile than expected – certainly more than any of us could have anticipated when Microsoft acquired Mojang back in 2014 for $2.5 billion. Telltale Games delivered the delightful Minecraft: Story Mode in 2015, we had the collaborative augmented reality sandbox of Minecraft Earth in 2019, and then the excellent Minecraft Dungeons in 2020 – ‘Diablo for Kids’ is a wild pitch that I’m glad somebody at Xbox Game Studios had the foresight to put money behind.
Rally the troops
Minecraft Legends has a similarly strange pitch as Dungeons, and just as much potential. This new Minecraft title is an action strategy game, for starters, where your primary responsibility will be leading allies into battle to defend the Overworld against an invading Piglin army. As a result, there’s less emphasis on building and crafting, and a broader push towards combat and resource management. We’ll be navigating and exploring the Overworld in a third-person perspective, on foot, and on horseback; you won’t run when hearing a hissing or clattering of bones, but rather sense an opportunity for allyship; and fighting won’t be a hack-and-slash affair, but a careful game of offensive and defensive actions, underpinned by strategic positioning and quick thinking. It’s a big change for the series, but one that makes a sort of strange sense if you look at Minecraft Legends from the right perspective.
Visually, Minecraft Legends is recognizably Minecraft. Mechanically and thematically, however, it’s quite the shift. At the Xbox Bethesda Extended Showcase, executive producer Dennis Ries said that this divide between the familiar and the unfamiliar is key, as Mojang set out to “create an experience that is welcoming for people who may have not played Minecraft, but also for people who have.” He adds: “It’s about going and traveling through these beautiful biomes, exploring this world that is familiar yet still mysterious.”
Equally as mysterious is what we’ll be doing in Minecraft Legends between massive battles to drive the Piglins back into the Nether. Ries teased further detail, explaining that “as you explore these lush biomes you collect resources, and then you use these resources to build defenses.” How involved we’ll be able to get in building remains to be seen, although a small section of gameplay indicates that structures will auto-build once you have gathered the necessary resources – hopefully we’ll still have some say in structure placement and composition. Particularly as it’s in these created fortresses where some of the battles with the Piglins will be staged. Reis adds: “You’re probably going to want to build alliances with some unexpected friends” to survive the onslaughts.
One interesting quirk of Minecraft Legends is the ability to build armies around you. If you watch that Minecraft Legends reveal trailer closely, you’ll spot the player character waving a blue flag in front of a mob of units – which can seemingly be made up of otherwise familiar foes in creepers, zombies, skeletons, and other – before leading that army into battle. You’ll also notice that the player character is at the center of every battle; Minecraft Legends isn’t the sort of strategy game where you give commands from the sky, you’re right there in the muck with your army, leading the charge, swinging a sword, and issuing commands in real-time.
The Minecraft universe is expanding
This is a welcomed change of pace for Minecraft, then. I’m keen to see just how much depth Minecraft Legends will offer, but with Mojang partnering with developer Blackbird Interactive I’m confident that Legends will surprise us here. Speaking to that decision, Mojang says its primary motivation was “to partner with a great company that understands strategy games.” Given that Blackbird is the studio behind Homeworld: Desert of Kharak (an accessible and varied strategy game from 2016) and sci-fi sim Hardspace: Shipbreaker, which launched earlier this year to rave reviews, I’m confident we’ll get a Minecraft strategy game with broad appeal and surprisingly deep systems.
This is the future that Minecraft deserves. Ries says that “the Minecraft universe is always growing and expanding”, pointing towards the success of Minecraft Dungeons as a “great example” of how Mojang went out and found a way to expand Minecraft without diluting its core appeal. I hope that the same can be said of Minecraft Legends when it launches in 2023. We don’t need a Minecraft 2, not if the franchise continues to prove – with experiences like Legends and Dungeons – that there’s more fun to be had, and value to be found, in expanding the Minecraft universe rather than trying to build atop it with the weight of a numbered sequel.
Minecraft Legends release date is TBC 2023, and it’s set to launch on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC, PS5, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. Naturally, it’ll be available in Xbox Game Pass from day one.