Minecraft Dungeons Review
When I first wrapped up my playthrough of Minecraft Dungeons on the default difficulty, I thought it was a fun game, but perhaps a bit shallow. I came away from it thinking I’d seen all that the game had to offer, and that the Adventure and Apocalypse difficulties would, for the most part, be more of the same. After all, I’d unlocked a couple of hidden levels, and felt that I’d explored each map from head to toe. By the time I’d completed the game on Adventure difficulty, I came away with a distinctly different feel.
More than meets the eye.
It wasn’t necessarily that I’d only scratched the surface of the game, but that it had more to offer than I’d previously realized. While levels follow the same basic beats, playing one multiple times in a row showed that there were variants that featured different structures, or had different caves to explore. I found yet another unlockable level and was happening upon mysterious runes that were part of a bigger puzzle back in base camp. With Minecraft Dungeons, there’s a deeper game than you see at first glance.
The gameplay falls in line with what’s been being thrown out for months, that it’s in introduction to the ARPG genre, or what some might call “baby’s first Diablo.” I played through the game on both Windows 10 and a launch Xbox One, and noticed that it really feels at home on a console, and that the controls were designed for it to be played on a game pad. Your character has a melee and a ranged attack in addition to three abilities that can be changed whenever you like. While some of the abilities require ‘souls,’ a currency you receive from defeating enemies, most are simply tied to a cooldown timer, so you don’t have to worry about a pool of MP if you don’t want to.
The story is fairly thin, but the basic premise is that an Illager has been corrupted by a great power that’s caused them to deem you and any villagers as hostile, sending hordes of familiar Minecraft enemies to stop you from progressing. You’ll explore dungeons and open-air worlds, wiping out creepers, zombies, skeletons, and more as you progress from point A to point B. Turning off the prescribed path will often reward you with chests filled with randomized loot that could include new weapons, abilities, or armor. For the most part, if you can see an area on the overlayed HUD map, you can get to it, and rolling to a random floating island is often rewarded with a chest.
The 13 levels that I’ve been through so far are expansive, and if you explore all of a level, you’re likely to spend a half hour or more in each one. You can certainly rush from the start to the finish and I’m sure speedrunners are figuring out the most efficient way to do this already, but exploring is highly recommended to obtain better gear and to level up your character.
Defeating enemies gives you experience, and for each level you gain, you’ll get an enchantment point. This can be applied to your weapon or armor to provide modifications, many of which will be familiar to any seasoned Minecraft player. Weapons can be enchanted with abilities such as fire aspect, sharpness, smite, or multishot, but there are plenty of new enchantments for players to experiment with. Gravity, for instance, pulls enemies in toward a single point, and a snowball enchantment will stun a nearby enemy. All of these enchantments can be upgraded two additional times to either add more power to them or increase their trigger frequency. The enchantments available on a piece of armor or weaponry are random, and each item can have up to three different enchantments, although lower level items will only have one.
There’s no way to reroll your enchantments, but you can spend emeralds (a currency found in chests, pots, and occasionally on enemies) to purchase a random piece of gear at base camp that may have different enchantments available. I rarely found myself buying gear at camp only because fighting bosses and minibosses in the dungeons gives you the chance for unique item drops. Unique weapons and armor essentially come pre-enchanted, granting an extra bonus in addition to the enchantments you add. I did, however, find it valuable to spend my emeralds on artifacts, the items that give you your abilities. Rather than completing levels over and over again to receive a random artifact at its conclusion, I was able to finish up my artifact collection or get more powerful ones simply by spending money with a trader, which worked well because while artifacts have strength levels, they don’t come in unique varieties.
The strength level of these artifacts and your gear average out to give you an overall strength that matches the difficulty of a given level. Within the three overarching difficulties, in each level, you’ll pick a second difficulty, I-VI. Each difficulty will list the range of gear levels you’ll run into in the dungeon, and also give you an idea of how tough the enemies might be. For a dungeon at your current level, the enemies will be standard, but going easier might peg the enemies at 0.8x difficulty, and bumping it up might put you at 1.3x difficulty. This is where the game meets the player in terms of challenge. I played the first few levels at the standard difficulty and found it was just too easy. Eventually I settled in at shooting for a 1.4x difficulty, which still didn’t pose too much of an existential threat outside of minibosses (I don’t think I ever completely wiped on a level at this difficulty), but forced me to be a bit more thoughtful as I progressed. Having these options really does make the game accessible to a wide variety of gamers and makes it feel almost as inclusive as the franchise it’s based on.
While there’s no mining or crafting to be seen, Minecraft Dungeons really feels like a Minecraft game. As only the second diversion from the main franchise (after the acceptably-reviewed Minecraft: Story Mode), Dungeons serves the multi billion-dollar franchise well. Despite the third-person distant camera, the blocky levels feel like Minecraft, and even the newly introduced enemies would be right at home in the base game. In fact, all of the new gear and artifacts are things that could easily be put into Minecraft, and feel at home in the world. Still, there’s nothing like the thrill of finding a unique familiar item, like the diamond pickaxe, or running into a recognizable enemy like an Evoker or Enderman.
In terms of graphics, it’s definitely Minecraft, albeit a more polished version. Given where the camera is, you’ll rarely see things up close, but it has a clean feel and shows off some of what makes people so attached to the original with its designs. Where the game stands apart from its inspiration is the score. While the music of Minecraft is no slouch, Dungeons takes it up to another level, with beautiful music that’s hard to grow tired of. With tonal changes for boss fights and the ability to stand on its own rather than just remixing Minecraft music, the audio is a welcome surprise and one of the biggest highlights of the experience.
Minecraft Dungeons isn’t Diablo, and I think people expecting it to be will be slightly disappointed. There are no hero classes, there’s no crafting (!), but there’s still the ability to suit the game to your playstyle. Different combinations of abilities and gear can certainly allow players to take the melee, ranged, and even a support role. While I found myself becoming comfortable with certain enchantments and abilities, the constant flow of new items encourages you to experiment. More content and variety is in the pipeline, with a marker on your map specifically calling out upcoming DLC, but for a budget game ($20 at launch), it feels about as fleshed out as you’d expect. Between that price point and the game’s availability on Game Pass, Minecraft Dungeons stands out as the perfect introduction to the ARPG genre, and first step toward the more complex games in that class.