Few franchises have provided more consistent joy in the past decade than Minecraft. It's proven to be a world of limitless possibilities, where imagination can lead to just about anything, even something outside of its original world-building sandbox genre. So I confess to feeling excited about the idea of Minecraft branching out and diving into hack-and-slash dungeon crawling when Mojang first announced Minecraft Dungeons.
Minecraft Dungeons does provide a level of ease and accessibility and proves to be a fun romp in small doses. However, there are a few sticking points that prevent it from standing out as anything special. By the end, I couldn't help but feel like it was overly simplistic and somewhat restrictive. And that hurts coming from something with the name "Minecraft" on it.
The Minecraft Dungeons story is an extremely simple one. There once was an Illager who stumbled onto ultimate power. Remembering those who shunned him, the newly-dubbed Arch-Illager is using this power for vengeance and world domination. It's an easy story to follow, coming across like general Saturday morning cartoon fare for the all-ages crowd.
The actual Dungeons gameplay fits in well with its contemporaries in the genre. Players get a melee weapon, a ranged weapon, and three artifact slots that can either be used for enhanced weapon attacks, magic attacks (powered by "Souls"), or additional healing. Speaking of healing, players get a potion that's infinite in supply, but only held back by a cooldown timer. There's no real inventory to speak of, as everything is kept as simple as possible.
With simplicity in mind, one area that stands out immediately is the total removal of "base stats." Characters can level up, but the traditional RPG concept of leveling up to improve their stats is thrown out the window. Instead, players are as strong as the gear they have equipped. This is Dungeons' coolest idea, but also leads to one of its biggest setbacks, which I'll get into in just a second.
The actual gear system is pretty neat. Each melee weapon, ranged weapon, and armor has a secondary function that can be upgraded with the aid of Enchantment Points. Enchantment Points are earned by leveling up characters. If a player finds a better, higher-level piece of gear later, Enchantment Points aren't wasted. Salvaging the old gear will retrieve all attached Enchantment Points. It's a novel system, one that allows for a degree of experimentation by taking out different weapons and trying out their different perks.
Into the unknown
With no complex systems to worry about, the focus is entirely on exploration and gameplay, which come out to be something of a mixed bag. The combat against different mobs feels engaging, some requiring a simple sword rampage or an arrow barrage to take down and others requiring different strategies. For example, pesky magicians can power up nearby mobs and keep themselves at a distance, which requires either a precise arrow shot or clever use of an artifact. Once the mobs get mixed up a little more near the end of the game, that's when it feels like Dungeons encourages more tactical variety.
Levels in Minecraft Dungeons feature procedurally generated layouts, which can be helpful when it comes to repeating early levels later down the line. It helps reduce that feeling of repetition that can set in all too quickly with a game like this. There isn't too much of a concern when it comes to getting lost, because there's a helpful waypoint marker that can point players in the right direction.
Most paths are straightfoward, though sometimes players will find that the right path is gated off. This requires finding a key and it leads to one of Dungeons' best innovations: the keys. The keys in this game are living creatures themselves, so grabbing one becomes something of an escort mission. If a player takes a hit while carrying the key, the key will jump off and try to run away. Sometimes, enemy mobs will just try and steal the key themselves. The key riding on a player's back literally kicking and screaming had me grinning ear-to-ear and Dungeons' whole dynamic with keys is a cool addition to this type of game.
A minor problem does arise in going off the beaten path to search for secrets. Sometimes the game will generate a path that looks like it's leading to something cool, but instead leads to a dead end. It doesn't feel good when you barrel through a bunch of enemy mobs just to literally hit a wall.
A bigger problem comes with the Minecraft visual style itself, because with the isometric camera perspective, scenery will more often than not block the view of enemy mobs. When there are dozens of mobs on-screen at once, that's a big issue. By the late game, you're not going to want to see any obstructions, because the mobs will get much tougher.
I had a good time with Dungeons through the first 2/3 of the story. Oh, before going any further, I should stop here and mention that this game is short. The main story is maybe a couple of hours, though it can be stretched out depending on when your party finds any unlockable secret stages or hits a wall at the end. There are more levels that are gated off beyond the map that will be tied to paid DLC, which didn't feel very good to see, especially with the main adventure being as abbreviated as it is.
Anyhow, I had a good time with Dungeons, but the end-game ramps up significantly in terms of difficulty. The bosses (the final one, especially) get noticeably harder and I saw more than a few "Game Over" screens that sent me right back to Camp, requiring me to start the level from scratch.
This is where I had a bad realization about one of Dungeons' key features. It's true, you're only as strong as your gear. But if your gear isn't strong enough, you can't really progress any further. While Mojang came up with a solution to one problem, they've created an entirely different one. As mentioned earlier, leveling up only earns Enchantment Points and by the end of the game, players have likely already maxed out their Enchantments. Leveling up doesn't increase your stats, it only levels up the gear that you can find later, so any personal stat improvement is tied entirely to RNG. You're not grinding to level up your stats. Instead, you're grinding to find better equipment. And when you do find that better equipment, maybe it doesn't have that extra perk you want, which then leads to more grinding.
This is where I had another bad realization. The solution to the above problem would be to simply try and craft a better piece of equipment. Except there is no crafting system! And for Minecraft, a franchise that's built so heavily on building and crafting things, that feels like a major oversight. And while Dungeons pays so much respect to the franchise it's based on through its environments, mobs, and story, it feels unthinkable that players would be at the mercy of random drops. Even at Camp, there is no shop to buy equipment. There are only vendors that offer random drops. More often than not, they're Common. Want a Rare or Unique? I hope you feel lucky.
I can appreciate Mojang wanting to be subversive and dump some typical genre conventions. Dungeons reminded me that sometimes conventions are conventions for a reason.
Extended rant aside, Minecraft Dungeons has the foundation for something great here. I love how easy it is to pick up and play. Players of just about any skill level should be able to jump right in with no trouble. Outside of opening level narration, it's not story heavy, which makes it ideal for dropping in and dropping out of games. It's much better suited for co-op than its contemporaries, though as of this writing, I only engaged in local play. I have yet to try out the online component, which is supposed to receive cross-play in the weeks ahead.
That said, this game has some problems, the biggest of which involves a lot of that aforementioned RNG. It might be making a mountain out of a molehill, but the closer I looked at that problem and the inability to craft, the more I felt like that particular issue was just antithetical to Minecraft as a whole. Having said all of that, there aren't many complaints with the gear itself. There's a lot to find out there and with the different artifacts in the world, there are some cool character builds to put together without diving into anything overly complicated.
But, while the core Minecraft experience can be enjoyed alone, Minecraft Dungeons feels much more suited for a night with friends. So be sure to link up with a few partners, because it's dangerous to go alone.
This review is based on an Xbox One code provided by the publisher. Minecraft Dungeons will be available Tuesday, May 26 on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch for $19.99. The game is rated E10+.
- Easy to pick up and play
- Drop-in, drop-out co-op
- Cool procedurally-generated levels based on Minecraft biomes
- No overly complex systems
- Secret levels and grottos abound
- The key is hilarious and a creative idea
- Difficulty spikes fast, especially in the late game
- Environments sometimes block view of enemies
- Character stat improvement is dependent entirely on random gear drops
- Shops only sell random items
- No crafting system
- Too short
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Minecraft Dungeons review: Foundation for adventure
Cool! Thanks for the review Man \m/ :) \m/
Hmm, $20 for 3-4ish hours long kinda sucks :/ I was going to grab on Switch, but will probably just play Torchlight 2...which is also $20.
I think 20 bucks for 4 hours of entertainment is great
Maybe, but not worth it to me for this type of game. Torchlight 2 is around 15-20 hours in one playthrough. Plus extra characters and builds to try. Sounds like TL2 has deeper character progression, better dungeons and story/side quests too. I'll just wait on a sale for Minecraft Dungeons.
Does Torchlight 2 on console have same screen coop? looking at the xbox version it says coop only on xbox live, is switch version different?
nm https://www.reddit.com/r/NintendoSwitch/comments/cz1y95/psa_torchlight_2_has_no_local_coop/ none of the console versions have local coop
You pay full price for games you never spend more than a couple of hours playing, all the time, though.
I rarely spend full AAA price ($80) without putting at least 10 hours in
there are many games that $20 can be spent on that have much more content.
$10 right now on the blizzard store gets you the entire starcraft 2 trilogy. that's bucketloads more content for half the cost.
Show me where $10 gets me the whole Starcraft 2 trilogy? https://us.shop.battle.net/en-us/family/starcraft-ii
It sucks too because I bought Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm but I gotta pay $24 for the protoss one and some nova one I don't care about? https://i.imgur.com/GsNW77k.jpg
Not trying to come off being a dick but I would love to complete my trilogy for 10bux!
It's on game pass so worth a go if you have that already.
I might give this a go on gamepass with my GF.
The levels are procedurally generated? I've played two sessions and at least the lower ones (Swamp and Desert) were exactly the same on both visits.