Minecraft Dungeons is the latest installment in what is by far Xbox Game Studios’ biggest IP (just look at the sales of the original game!). Billed as a Diablo dungeon crawler, the game features 10 procedurally generated levels with branching routes, tons of loot, and a number of challenging monsters to fight alone or with friends. However, have the newly renamed Mojang Studios managed to pull off this genre shift, or is it better to stick to their bread and butter?
Starting with the story, Minecraft Dungeons tells the story of the ostracized “Arch-Illager” who was mocked and belittled by those around him. Fed up with the injustices of the blocky world, he finds himself in possession of a relic that grants him immense power, and he begins to use it to get revenge on the society that has belittled him. With its reign of terror sweeping the land, the quest to stop this evil demon is given to you and three of your friends. You venture into ten different worlds, uncover the diabolical plots at hand, and try to thwart them (i.e. shut down a Redstone mine or destroy an important artifact the Arch-Illager uses for his evil will ). Needless to say, the plot is nothing special, but it gets the job done. What particularly helps is the humor found in the cutscenes which deftly balances cuteness with physical comedy. Perhaps the biggest problem is the ending which – without spoiling – is rather underwhelming, and the story doesn’t feel quite complete.
On to the gameplay – Minecraft Dungeons is definitely a mixed bag. Starting with the positives and the combat itself is enjoyable, every swing of the axe, sword, pickaxe, hammer and more feels incredibly satisfying. Bows feel even better, with their immense speed and attack distance helping to fend off many evil enemies. The level design, while procedurally generated, also feels tight, with multiple routes, a ton of chests, and often enough space to battle the game’s many monsters.
The game’s progression system is simplified yet engaging. In an attempt to simplify RPG mechanics to reach a wider audience, all of your abilities are tied to the loot you earn. Instead of classes, you have armor, where, for example, wizard armor turns you into a wizard-like character, and these can be changed on the fly. When leveling up, you can customize your loot attributes, gaining new abilities for your player. When the time inevitably comes when your loot isn’t enough, you can collect all of your upgrade points and apply them to other items. The game doesn’t do the best job of communicating this, but it’s a single, streamlined system that, while it doesn’t have the depth of better ARPGs, makes up for it in accessibility.
However, as I said before, gameplay in Minecraft Dungeons is mixed, where the game really falters in its approach to difficulty, especially in single player. First off, from what I’ve noticed, the enemy density doesn’t change whether you’re playing one, two, three, or four players, which means soloing the game can be at best. painful, or too difficult at worst. This problem reaches its climax in the final level, where your team is placed in incredibly cramped hallways against Dynasty Warriors enemy concentration levels. It can quickly become overwhelming, even with the right equipment.
The fact that enemies and drops are randomized exacerbates these difficulty issues. On some level, I spent the vast majority fighting off waves of brutal guards, enchanters, and snipers. I failed the level and went to restart, only to find myself facing a ton of mooks that could be wiped out in one fell swoop. This inconsistency persists, the reverse also being often true. Drops are also a significant problem because, for example, arrows, a vital aspect of the game’s combat, are rare in some parts, and everywhere in others. Worse still, arrows can’t be purchased with in-game currency, meaning there’s no way to adequately prepare for what the game can throw at you. Luckily, if you fail a level, all the loot you earn, except for arrows, can be kept with you.
Moving on to aesthetics, and Minecraft Dungeons absolutely nails the look and feel of Minecraft, and in many ways even elevates it. The music is excellent across the board, with many soothing and adventurous tunes. The graphics themselves, while not revolutionary, are by far the best “vanilla” style Minecraft has ever seen (barring the RTX demo) with dynamic lighting, realistic weather, and a better texture. There are plenty of skins to choose from, but the ability to create your own is sadly MIA
While the game certainly looks the part, it doesn’t take full advantage of the Minecraft IP. All the enemy monsters you’ve come to know and love are here in spades, from hot-tempered Creepers to creepy creepy Skeletons (they still send a shiver down my spine). However, the creative aspects of Minecraft are sadly lacking. For example, your base is already made for you, instead of allowing players to create their own hub to express themselves. The skins, as mentioned earlier, are also designed for you, so the creativity isn’t there. Finally, in the titular dungeons themselves, there’s no chance to take advantage of the world to, for example, mine secret passages or build stairs and bridges to reach out-of-bounds areas. It’s incredibly simplistic in design, and while it does the job well enough, it takes away some of the creativity associated with Minecraft as a whole.
Finally, there are a few things I would like to touch on. Starting with the length, despite the difficulty with the final level, and Minecraft Dungeons can be beaten in about three to four hours. Leveling up and randomizing increases the level of replayability, but a sprawling ARPG does not. And then in terms of accessibility, the game continues Xbox Game Studios’ commitment to making games accessible to everyone, and you can remap your controller however you see fit. Unfortunately, that commitment doesn’t apply to the camera itself, which isn’t adjustable, making your character and enemies hard to see. Finally, the game’s price of £16.74 or free with Xbox Game Pass, and considering the replayability that’s pretty fair.
In all, Minecraft Dungeons on Xbox One is a fun but flawed dungeon crawler. Mojang has done a really good job adapting the franchise to a dungeon-crawler style. However, in their attempt to streamline the more niche genre to reach the wider Minecraft fandom, they somewhat lost sight of what makes these titles so endearing. An inconsistent difficulty curve, unclear progression system, and an overemphasis on co-op at the expense of the single-player experience threaten to derail the game, but the powerful combat, level designs, aesthetics, and gameplay humor shines through. Minecraft Dungeons is easily enjoyed with friends and family and will delight players of all ages, but the feeling that more could be done with the IP hangs over it. There’s still plenty of fun to be had, and Mojang has promised future updates to expand the game. Give it a try if you’re a Minecraft fan or looking to have some fun with friends.
Minecraft Dungeons is the latest installment in what is by far Xbox Game Studios’ biggest IP (just look at the sales of the original game!). Billed as a Diablo dungeon crawler, the game features 10 procedurally generated levels with branching routes, tons of loot, and a number of challenging monsters to fight alone or with friends. However, have the newly renamed Mojang Studios managed to pull off this genre shift, or is it better to stick to their bread and butter? Starting with the story, Minecraft Dungeons tells the story of the ostracized “Arch-Illager” who was mocked and belittled by…
Minecraft Dungeons review – Keys to success?
Minecraft Dungeons review – Keys to success?
- Fun fight
- Nail the Minecraft look
- Have fun with friends
- Good value for money
- Extremely inconsistent difficulty, especially in solo
- Watered down RPG mechanics
- Doesn’t get the most out of Minecraft IP
- Formats – Xbox One (test), PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch
- Release Date – May 2020
- Launch price from – £16.74 or free with Game Pass