You know what Minecraft East. You’ve probably played it, because, well, it seems like everyone has at some point. So after spending $2 billion to buy the entire IP, it’s no surprise that Microsoft is trying to expand the game into a franchise. Minecraft Dungeons is the first foray into totally new territory. It’s an instantly recognizable dungeon crawl that features as many Diablo as he does Minecraft.
In fact, it perhaps blends the classic dungeon crawler more than its own namesake. Minecraft Dungeons is a straightforward, end-to-end hack and slasher. Looks like Minecraft, but definitely don’t play like that. For parent units, this game will likely be a gift from the gaming gods. It’s much more violent and dark dungeon crawler fun with a flair for fun and the absurd.
Blocky character designs make villains look absurdly funny. There are different types of Armed Illigers, Spiders, Witches, Zombies, Skeletons, Ghosts, Golems, and other mostly familiar mobs, as well as Farm Animals that you can ignore or just hack . Through more than a dozen levels, you’ll traverse swamps, deserts, cities, deep underground lairs, castles, and more.
Of course, the big draw is the four-player cooperative multiplayer both online and offline. Microsoft is adamant there will also be crossplay added in the near future, but it’s not there yet.
Minecraft Dungeons review: A fiendish block battle
Admittedly, it took me a while to warm up Dungeons. There are elements that, despite the overall enjoyment of the game, still feel like wasted opportunities.
First, character creation. You choose a skin from a fairly robust assortment, but there are no classes, no specialties, and no differences between them beyond appearance. All customization is done based on the armor, weapons, and items you equip, making it easy to miss the perks and personalities of Diablo’s very specific classes and characters. Here, the characters are blank slates, mannequins to disguise and fight.
Compounding this problem is the random nature of item collection. Whether you get new items from treasure chests or from the blacksmith and artifact vendor, there’s no control over what they have for sale. You literally pay them gems for a random item. Sometimes it nets you a truly magnificent weapon, like a spear that creates clouds of poison or a mace that calls down lightning. Most of the time, especially later in the game, you’ll just get repeated items to pick up immediately.
Items can be enhanced with enchantment points which do a variety of things from adding more damage or protection to increasing the duration of certain effects. There is a massive amount of items to discover and try out, and each item has a level that can be leveled up. So there’s a constant loop to upgrade even favorite weapons to better iterations.
It’s frustrating, however, to discover the wonder of the game’s sledgehammer and then not be able to simply level it up yourself or find a better one on purpose. Luckily, when you pick up an unwanted item, you get back any enchantment points you put into it.
Likewise, this is a major part of the game where more source material would have been welcome. He can have Minecraft in the title, but there is no mining or crafting in Dungeons. There’s no destructible decor beyond specific urns or occasional mission-necessary items (like a particularly fun bit where you literally kill all of the big bad guy’s cooks and destroy his buffet tables).
A little like Diablo, there are also no camera controls. The right stick allows you to dodge, but it does not move the camera. contrary to Diablohowever, the visual nature of Minecraft, often makes it difficult to distinguish elevations, as the textures often look alike. Other weaknesses include the inability to save mid-mission and, horribly, no actual pause, which should be a criminal offense.
While the overall level design is quite excellent and varied, the maps too often have a horde of dead ends, nooks, crannies and side passages begging the finalists among us to explore. While these diversions from the main objective are generally filled with more monsters and therefore more fun crowds, there is a lack of real hidden treasures which becomes noticeable as you play.
Probably the biggest pet peeve beyond the lack of breaks for those playing with younger kids or just more casual gamers is the complete inability to share gear. Chests spit out items that only one specific character can pick up, even if they don’t need them. Not being able to share a Minecraft the game seems to go against the whole point of Minecraft. You also have a limited number of shared lives during a mission, which seems like a step backwards.
Yet for all this, Minecraft Dungeons is always a riot, whether you play alone, with children or just with your friends. Some of the levels are huge and exploring every corner of their maps can take an hour. Others are shorter and more direct, but the gameplay never feels boring and the action never silly. Later in the game the levels can get very crowded and almost overwhelming due to the amount of mobs it throws at you.
It’s true that experienced players can certainly get by Dungeons in a day, but it takes away the level of secrets the game holds. Simply following the direct path to the mission objective means missing out on potential portals to secret levels, several of which have already been discovered and more are waiting to be discovered. Additionally, there are at least two DLC map packs on the way.
Then there is the camp. The camp is where players jump from mission to mission and is nothing more than a scenic spot to sort through items, buy random things, and look at the world map. As the game progresses, however, the camp map begins to unlock more and more areas, and exploring it becomes a permanent goal in its own right.
Minecraft Dungeons Review – The Bottom Line
- Excellent hacking and slashing, dungeon crawling gameplay for everyone
- Support four players online and offline
- Great varied levels and tons of items to discover
- Affordable price
- bland characters
- No pausing, mid-mission saves, or item sharing
- No camera controls
- Not enough hidden treasures in the maps
Minecraft Dungeons certainly has its fair share of flaws and even outright bugs, but the more time you spend with it, the more enjoyable it becomes. It’s hard to deny that it should have had more crafting and building gameplay from its namesake, but overall it’s an entertaining action game for all ages.
The fact that it’s surprisingly cheap (the base version is $20 and $30 gets you future DLC and special items) is also a huge bonus.
[Note: A copy of Minecraft Dungeons was provided by Microsoft for the purpose of this review.]