Minecraft marked a considerable paradigm shift in games, serving as a famous prototype of both early access releases and unstructured, creation-based gameplay. More than a decade later, Minecraft Dungeons isn’t striving for revolutionary. Still, it can only use its namesake’s now-known attributes to introduce a new generation of players to old-school tropics. The dungeon crawler is a light, airy introduction to the genre for newcomers and a friendly, low-impact callback for veterans. This is our Minecraft Dungeons Review.
Minecraft Dungeons Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One
- Developer: Mojang Studios, Double Eleven
- Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
- Genres: Action-adventure game, Dungeon crawl, Action role-playing game
- Release Date: May 26, 2020
Minecraft Dungeons Review: Official Trailer Video
Minecraft Dungeons Review: Gameplay
Those who have experience with games like Diablo or Torchlight already know the basics. You venture from a hub area in different environments, fight against hostile hordes, occasionally dropped a life-size boss monster, and then spend time plotting and searching your new loot like a child who just opened a deck of baseball cards.
Within that framework, there are some simplifications in Minecraft Dungeons, which makes it inviting. You only have six gear slots – melee, bow, armor, and three artifact-based skills. You will not find specialized classes or complex skill trees here. Everything is linked to your equipment, and the level-ups are especially important because they determine the quality of your loot.
That loot is continuously raining, sometimes a hail, but more often a monsoon, which means you will consistently trade your weapons and armor sets. Minecraft Dungeons is far from expensive with its gear, so it’s not uncommon to switch in a single stage three or four times. At first, these upgrades seem quite linear – replacing a sword with a new, sharper sword. But it doesn’t take long for the Enchantment system to come into play, giving Dungeons its strategic depth.
Enchantments are specialized upgrades for each of your primary gear. Each level up provides you an enchantment point to choose one from a handful of passive buffs; however, you earn back your spent points when you save a device that has already been enchanted. In the early game, when a weapon only has one spell box and fairly vanilla buffs, these are excellent bonuses but don’t have a significant impact on how you approach the game. As you progress, these become an aid in adding depth and difficulty.
Finding more complex spell combinations can make all the difference between a brittle build or a powerhouse. That also searches for new loot, both exciting and increasingly thoughtful. Since you earn your enchantment points back for saving, exchanging a new piece of equipment means you can enchant it from scratch with various upgrades. The late game is a series of constant tradeoffs, finding your rhythm with a new set of skills and improvements before swapping them out for something completely different.
At one point, I had a spell that would draw enemies towards me at a regular heartbeat, and another that would damage all enemies in my immediate area. That prompted me to approach the fight much more aggressively than before, often throwing myself in the middle of a group of enemies. But once I traded in that gear for a stronger one who didn’t have those skills, I went back to a more conservative strategy of taking out enemies with arrows before approaching.
While spells make the battle strategically complex, moment to moment gameplay is relatively straightforward. Most melee attacks do not falter opponents, so there is no weight or impact on hits. You often just hit enemies as they hit you, planted on the ground like a pair of Rock ‘Em Sock’Em Robots until one of you falls. Their attack speed and range well distinguish the melee weapons, but that’s all. Melee fights can also feel a bit unfair if you’re surrounded by mobs and unable to move, especially if you find yourself being surprised by a bouncy castle there.
Sometimes the simplicity of the fight can come in its way. You can pick up TNT as random drops and carry them with you for when you need a quick drop zone attack; however, the throw command is set to the same button as the ranged attack. This makes it impossible to fire an arrow without losing the TNT boxes you may have saved, and the two don’t have the same function. This means sacrificing your AOE availability when you need the precision of an arrow – or when you forget about it in the heat of the moment, which has happened to me more often than I can count.
However, this emphasis on finding loot comes at the expense of the in-game economy, because even though you often find gems in dungeons, there’s not much use for it. You can spend them to throw any piece of equipment into your camp, but it rarely piles up on the equipment you’ve already found, and turning unwanted equipment into salvage only yields a fraction of the full value. As a result, it’s not worth it, and there’s nothing else to spend your hard-earned gems on.
The mobs themselves also carry the Minecraft spirit. Classic enemies like Creepers or Skeletons are among the first to see, and sometimes the stage goes dark for a random visit from the Enderman as a mini-boss encounter. Dungeons also find ways to create its bits of Minecraft identity, such as with the addition of the “Key Golem” – an adorable living key that clearly doesn’t want to be put in a door and will run away from you on the first occasion.
The co-op works smoothly and provides an easy way to team up with friends or leadless experienced players through tough challenges. Equipment can be concentrated in a variety of directions, with an emphasis on elements such as healing or damage limitation, theoretically allowing a highly coordinated team to replicate the standard tank healer DPS model. Realistically, though, a team consists of several single-player builds and having partners works to mitigate some of the crowd control problems that exist when you go solo.
Minecraft Dungeons review lacks striking parts of what gave the namesake its identity – most notably, breaking through walls to explore underground caves and using the found materials to craft. However, since it’s such a successful departure from its predecessor, Dungeons shows just how flexible the franchise has become. Rather than changing our expectations of what games can be, it relies on its popularity to introduce more players to a classic genre and serves as a short but sweet treat for looters. It scratches the dungeon crawler’s itch with a sense of goofy charm and expands what Minecraft can be.
Minecraft Dungeons isn’t striving for revolutionary. Still, it can only use its namesake’s now-known attributes to introduce a new generation of players to old-school tropics.