Time played: 9 hours
Minecraft Dungeons feels like a day at Legoland, and not just because of the blocky aesthetic. It feels like a day at Legoland because it starts out great fun and feels like a world of endless possibilities, but you quickly realize it’s pretty much the same thing repeated over and over. After a few levels, it just doesn’t seem to be doing anything with its ideas, and while Minecraft fans will certainly like it, it’s bound to be a pretty decent spin-off rather than a credible next step for the franchise.
The game presents you as a silent hero, flat in every way except your blocky dimensions, as you fight your way through various dungeons to defeat the evil Illager and the minions he has summoned. With a modest array of melee, ranged, and magic weapons at your disposal, you must battle swarms of enemies while exploring the twisting dungeons. Some of these dungeons are actual caves/mines etc, but there are also snowy tundras, murky swamps and scorching deserts. The basic task, however, is the same: get to the end of the level.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
At the surface level, there is plenty of variety to be had. The nine levels are clearly distinct from each other, and the enemies grow in intensity and creativity as the game progresses. Early game baddies will rush towards you and try to hit you, while later you will face archers, golems, wizards and arena traps, forcing you to change your hack button mashing strategy -and-slash to a more tactical approach, involving bonus healing, ranged weapons, and artifacts.
Even here we found some issues. You can’t upgrade your weapons, which means you can lose attacks as you get stronger and outrun them, and you can’t use ranged weapons at all while holding a projectile. With how chaotic battles can get, these little hiccups can really drag you down.
Also, if you look a little closer, you’ll notice that the levels are essentially the same, just wearing different clothes. You can get most weapons early on, they just have better stats later on. And while the enemies show some growth – later enemies can cast spells that block your escape – the game itself doesn’t. It’s kind of like that scene in Inception where Tom Hardy says to Joseph Gordon-Levitt “you mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, honey”, and then it turns out his biggest dream is… a slightly more powerful gun. The game just throws more enemies at you in one go and calls it progression; this is even more evident when playing on a higher difficulty.
On that note, the game features a sliding difficulty scale, where it suggests a default level based on your current power, then offers you slightly higher or lower difficulties. However, as you progress through the game, the easier difficulties become locked, forcing you to play against tougher enemies. We’ve played through everything the game suggested throughout, but it’s worth pointing out that for a game built on fun, it won’t let you take things too easy.
Co-op is especially useful when the going gets tough and the game can be played locally or online, but currently not both. The cross-platform was promised by Microsoft for launch, but was not available when we wrote this review.
Each level also ends in ridiculously similar ways. Either you fight a big boss, or you fight a big swarm of waves, or you sometimes fight both together. It’s standard dungeon-crawler convention, but the problem with Minecraft Dungeons is that even within just nine levels, it reuses bosses.
Redstone Golem is overused down the stretch, the waves have mostly the same tactics, and aside from a few off-the-beaten-path bosses, winning very similar battles over and over feels less like an accomplishment and more like a chore. Nobody likes to grind at the best of times, so it’s a feat for Minecraft Dungeons to make you feel like you’re grinding the first time.
It’s definitely Minecraft
It’s not the best dungeon crawler, but it’s undeniably a Minecraft game, and for some players that will be the deciding factor. Although we only get a light characterization and brief narration, it captures the essence of Minecraft brilliantly. The exploration feels authentic, the tone is spot on, and full of classic Minecraft references and staples.
One of them is Enderman, a riff on Slenderman that will attack you in Minecraft if you look at it directly. He’s back as a sporadic boss that appears in most mid-level levels. It screams, the screen blurs, and it teleports around you, the game fully committing to selling its aesthetic. It pops up far too often for non-fans to bear, but it highlights the fact that even if the game is a bit rough around the edges, it was certainly made with love.
The problems can boil down to a short game that lasts too long. That’s not to say it should be any shorter – you’re looking at four to five hours to beat it, probably less in co-op – but that the game structure feels flawed.
The latest game has some awesome platforming, where you have to dodge rotating blades, slam doors and jump on springboards, and leaning into it a bit more might have been more effective. Rather than a meandering desert level that only feels marginally distinct from the swamp level, having two or three much shorter desert levels might have felt cooler. There are a few side caves you can discover by finding maps in the main levels, and playing through these always felt refreshing and new, even if the main quests ran out of steam.
Minecraft Dungeons is a solid game, although disappointing for a franchise based on creativity, there’s not too much variety to be found, especially towards the end. Even though the levels retain their inventiveness, the enemies all start to merge into one.
There’s fun to be had here, and at five hours of battery life, it’ll never drag on too long. Between friends, Minecraft Dungeons has something to offer you to forget the repetition and the cracks that have been covered. At the end of the day, it’s a Minecraft dungeon crawler. If you buy it for the first part, go crazy. If you buy it for the second, maybe wait for the sale.