Minecraft Dungeons is a step away from the open-world sandbox Mojang has been supporting for more than a decade. With waves of dungeon-crawler inspired mechanics washing over it, Minecraft Dungeons still doesn’t stray too far away from what made Minecraft special.
I grew up as a Diablo kid. Blizzard’s dark, gothic RPG franchise took claim over many of my summers growing up. A Minecraft spin-off title clearly inspired by the likes of Diablo and Path of Exile should have been an easy sell for me. However, when contemplating how Mojang and collaborating studio Double Eleven could transition the broad, family-oriented IP to a new genre, I was hesitant. To my surprise, Minecraft Dungeons managed to really speak to me.
Fun for everyone
A large factor at play is how accessible Minecraft Dungeons is. Mojang’s bread and butter for a decade have been offering an experience that enthralls players young and old. Despite having a ton of background experience within the genre, Minecraft Dungeons is easy to jump into from both a narrative and gameplay perspective.
Over the years, Mojang has created a full lineup of now-iconic mobs. Creepers, zombies, and spiders are all present, and they come in droves. Minecraft Dungeons also incorporates a ton of new faces with some interesting abilities.
So much of the game acts as a highlight reel of Minecraft across the ages, while also providing new experiences to its running fanbase. However, enjoing the game doesn’t hinge on having prior knowledge of the IP. New players and even parents of kids who swear by Minecraft can surely find enjoyment in the game without missing a beat. Plus, offering four-player local and online co-op will inspire players to play together.
Luckily, you won’t need to know how to properly connect a Redstone circuit to get the most of Minecraft Dungeons. The story of the game is fairly surface-level, which isn’t inherently a bad thing. An outcast known as the Illager discovers an orb of power, becoming the Arch-Illager. He is then capable of summoning hostile mobs throughout the Overworld, forming an army of his own. As the player, you will cross a variety of detailed biomes and visually stunning levels in order to reach him and put an end to his plan. The story is only a vessel to get players into the action, which in my opinion, is where the game shines the most.
Keeping it classy
As you start on your journey, Minecraft Dungeons offers a list of pre-made skins to use. I quickly chose mine and expected the next screen to ask me to choose a class. Rather than bind you to play as a healer, a tank, or a mage, Minecraft Dungeons allows you to build your class as you see fit throughout the game.
You’ll begin with a simple sword, but over time you’ll come across new weapons, a bow and armor. As you continue playing, you’ll level up your character, gaining enchantment points. Much like Minecraft proper, enchantments are a way to increase damage, loot percentages, or the healing properties your equipment can offer. Some more common weapons will only allow one enchantment, and rarer items will have three enchantment slots.
Artifacts also play a role in creating your own class. You are able to equip up to three artifacts that give you additional abilities. Running a tank/healer, I found a lot of use from the Fireworks Arrow and Soul Healer. The Fireworks Arrow, for instance, was a one-shot projectile capable of damaging enemies in a sizable radius on a 30-second cooldown. The Soul Healer, when activated, heals the party member with the lowest health. Artifacts, while not upgradeable through enchantments, can still be swapped out continuously as you come across new items in the rich loot system.
The level of freedom you have as a player is liberating. If you put six enchantment points into a weapon and come across one more powerful down the line, you can salvage the older piece, reclaiming your points to reuse. Mojang has enabled a variety of ways to play Minecraft Dungeons, none of which are wrong. If you feel like you’ve made a wrong choice in your class build, it won’t take long before you can refine it with new equipment.
Some loadout builds can work magnificently, transforming your character into a powerful wrecking machine. It does take a bit of tweaking, but when it clicks, it’s immensely satisfying. Even after my first full playthrough, I felt like I only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to possible loadout combinations. This trend continues and expands the further you play.
The game has a HUB world of sorts, referred to as your camp. It’s here that you can peacefully comb through your inventory, discard unwanted pieces of equipment and speak to merchants. A blacksmith is available to purchase new pieces of equipment. You’ll also find the Wandering Trader for new artifacts. This refuge is also where you’ll select your next destination.
Power in numbers
Minecraft Dungeons is a rather short experience, taking roughly three hours for my first run-through of the game. However, like Diablo III, Minecraft Dungeons has a tiered difficulty system built in to encourage you to replay levels. As soon as you complete the game on Default, you’ll advance to the Adventure tier. Afterwards, you will unlock Apocalypse difficulty.
Replaying missions on the harder difficulty will reward you with new gear and artifacts. Even on your first playthrough, you’ll be able to boost the enemy difficulty between at camp in order to gain loot with higher power levels. While Minecraft Dungeons may be geared more towards a younger player-base, don’t assume the game is easy. The difficulty spikes can provide a true challenge to anyone searching for better loot.
Of course, it’s safer to tackle those harder difficulties anytime you’re in a party with friends. Currently, the game supports online and local co-op, with crossplay on the horizon. Combat is fluid and the screen lights up with action as all party members are in the heat of a battle, using their different weapons and artifacts.
I was pleasantly surprised by how balanced the reward system was when playing in a group. Once defeating one of the many bosses, weapon drops were outlined with a colour associated with each player to avoid any double-dippers. Supply crates that offer healing items and arrows can be opened by each member of the party. This way, the group won’t have to divvy up the cache.
I did experience a few hitches during my playthrough. Loading times between levels were on the longer side, which is something I hope is addressed by release. Also, on a couple of occasions, I was attacked by an enemy during the level’s opening cutscene where the narrator would set the scene. These were by no means game-breaking, but slight annoyances as I would start the level and have to quickly heal myself.
Minecraft Dungeons is the game I didn’t know I needed in my life. I wasn’t eagerly waiting for the next dungeon-crawler to come my way, but now that it has, I believe it has some real stickiness to someone like me. It airs on the side of whimsical, and its lightheartedness can be delightful.
The replayability has left me itching to continue to dive back in to grind for better loot. Reaching those higher difficulties can resonate with players searching for a challenging experience with friends. However, the game is balanced and accessible, so no player should feel excluded in joining in. While the plot may not capture every player’s attention, the gameplay and cooperative moments really excel and bring Minecraft out of its shell and into a new genre.
Minecraft Dungeons will be available on May 26 on Nintendo Switch PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
An Xbox One copy of Minecraft Dungeons was provided for review purposes.