Fight your way through an all-new action-adventure game, inspired by classic dungeon crawlers and set in the Minecraft universe! Brave the dungeons alone, or team up with friends! Up to four players can battle together through action-packed, treasure-stuffed, wildly varied levels – all in an epic quest to save the villagers and take down the evil Arch-Illager!
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Reviewed on: PS4 (Pro unit)
Also available for: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: Mojang Studios
Game Director: Mans Olson
Game Designers: Daniel Brynolf, Laura de Llorens Garcia
Level Designers: Pontus Hammarberg, Christian Berg
Narrative: Max Herngren, Kelsey Howard
An accessible, more family-friendly version of Diablo isn’t a bad idea on paper. This is what Minecraft Dungeons seemed like it was aiming to be since its reveal, but not quite what it manages to be upon release. It’s an enjoyable, simple ARPG, but by failing to commit to a fully family-friendly take on the genre its is left in rather middling territory.
Like all classic ARPG’s, Minecraft Dungeons is all about killing lots of enemies, looting and taking down boss fights. You can do this solo, or in co-op with three friends either locally or online. Although, there is no public match-making, an odd omission that’s supposedly getting fixed down the line.
Working your way through 9 base levels you’ll take on an assortment of classic Minecraft enemies. These include golems, Enderman, skeletons and of course, creepers and zombies. Some of these are easily taken down like the zombies, while enemies like arrow launching skeletons can be more tedious and Enderman(s) will appear as a mini-boss periodically throughout levels.
There’s usually a boss enemy at the end of each level but ultimately they won’t slow your progress down and you’ll fly through Minecraft Dungeons in just a couple of hours, especially if you’re just playing on the basic difficulty.
You can tweak the overall difficulty as you play to increase the odds of higher-level gear drops and I played through the game this way, always pushing that difficulty up a couple of notches. When you finish the final level you unlock a harder base difficulty level again, and when you beat the game on that difficulty (something I haven’t done yet) you unlock the hardest difficulty. Each of these lets you tweak the difficulty inside them for fine-tuning and again, increasing the chances of better loot drops.
Minecraft Dungeons has been designed with replaying these handful of short levels in mind. Beating the game once and switching to the next difficulty I was spotting new gear, and also facing mini-boss enemies I hadn’t seen at all in my first playthrough. The problem is that although games like Diablo have been built around replaying and grinding for the gear, they’ve mastered how to make it fun. Minecraft Dungeons levels are slightly randomised when you play them, but overall it’ll feel like the same trip each time. You fight the same few enemies that appear in specific levels and especially the end area, you’ll fight the same boss in the same zone every time. There’s not enough excitement and randomness to replaying a level. There’s no way to put the game’s levels on shuffle either which could have been a nice way to farm for gear with added bonuses the longer you survive as the difficulty increases. But no, the game just wants you to literally replay the journey, start to finish.
The loot you’ll find in each level is also disappointing. Enemies don’t drop much gear and although there is a chest to find in each level, there isn’t enough of them. Often I’d spend a minute or two fighting my way down a hallway that’s the complete opposite direction of the main objective to find nothing at the end. The genre has taught us to expect a chest, a surprise, something at the end of off-the-beat-path exploration, and Minecraft Dungeons fails to give you that satisfaction in exploration.
Instead, the game seems to want you to gather loot through RNG vendors at your home camp, a rather big map with nothing to do in it other than level select and speak to two characters. One will let you buy a random price of gear that’s matched to your level, the other an artifact that’s matched. You find the currency to buy these as you play through levels in chests, or random locations – but you can only spend it on RNG drops from these vendors. You cannot save it up for a piece of rare gear, or a unique item, it’s only for what is the equivalent of in-game loot boxes.
When making a family-friendly ARPG with younger kids as the audience, making the gear exciting and easy to understand should be priority number one. Minecraft Dungeons fails in this regard by not allowing you to upgrade the gear you love or play the class you like. If you like playing as a nimble archer, you may only pick up brute force barbarian-like gear and be forced to change your play style.
Your playstyle is also not defined at the start of the game as you do not pick any class. There are no class-specific abilities in that regard either. Instead, your abilities come from the three artifacts you can equip. Again, these can grow weak quickly as you pick up stronger artifacts and you are forced to change how you like to play the game.
Although the game specifically has armour that’s suited for different play styles it also doesn’t allow you to set-up load-outs for these different outfits.
You can upgrade all of your gear with different abilities that greatly increase their usefulness, but again, they’ll quickly be outranked by new items and you’ll be forced to change. Luckily any skill points you put into upgrading a weapon can be returned if you destroy it and you can rotate those back into your new weapon. This is a welcome and player-friendly feature that makes sense given how often you have to change your weapons and weapon-type, but I would have liked to just use some of these points to upgrade a common bow I liked to uncommon and so-forth. That would have been more family-friendly and allowed kids who like the way one weapon feels and plays, to stick to it if they choose.
Playing through the levels of the game it wasn’t all too surprising to see how well the Minecraft art style translated to an ARPG level. It’s oddly pretty to look at with lighting often being the standout feature in the underground sections. The music too is a selection of new tracks but stuff that ultimately feels very Minecraft.
Though the game looks and sounds like Minecraft, again, its odd how little implementation of the brand is used here. You can’t smash open random blocks in the world, or dig your way to secrets. You can’t even break barrels in this game which seems like a crime.