I’ve often wondered about how Minecraft Dungeons came about. When I first heard of it at Microsoft’s E3 briefing last year, it came blazing out of nowhere, with not even a hint that the game was being made.
Months later, Minecraft Dungeons is finally ready to take its place amongst Microsoft’s Xbox One line-up.
Like other first party titles, Minecraft Dungeons is free to play if you’re a subscriber to Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft’s kind enough to provide us with a prerelease copy of the game, so I was able to play throughout the long weekend.
So…the big question is, did I like it and should YOU play it?
What is Minecraft Dungeons?
Minecraft Dungeons is an isometric 3D game set in the Minecraft universe. It’s a dungeon crawling action RPG, with multiple stages (some hidden) for you to adventure and loot through.
It’s developed by Mojang and Double Fine, with publishing duties by Microsoft. It’s currently available for PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One.
Think of it as a Minecraft version of Diablo, but simplified and streamlined for the masses. Forget about massive skill trees, min-maxing optimal builds or having the best skills, Minecraft Dungeons isn’t about that.
In fact, Minecraft Dungeons eschews the biggest draw of dungeon crawlers; classes. There are none in the game, with every character having access to the same skills and weapons. It’s heavily slanted to melee builds though as all the ranged weapons (bows, crossbows and heavy crossbows) require arrows, which randomly drop from enemies.
The game is a casual, family oriented affair that targets kids and those who don’t usually play these types of games. There are concessions to hardcore gamers, but those feel like afterthoughts.
You can play either online or couch coop but there’s no way to mix and match. The feature is coming though, as is crossplay for the Xbox and PC but that’s a bit further down the road.
Multiplayer is where the game truly shines. The issues I have with the single player are muted in multiplayer, because you’re playing the game with other people…which makes it more fun.
Even better, with its simplistic nature, everybody can take a spin and enjoy the game, which is great if you have kids or want somebody who’s not a gamer to give it a go.
Things can get a bit hectic when there’s other people playing, but that’s part of the fun too!
All brawn, very little brain.
Minecraft Dungeons focuses on the action, which is one of the best aspects of the game.
Fans of Minecraft will get a kick in seeing familiar faces coming to kill you in droves. If you thought the skeleton archers in Minecraft were annoying, wait till you meet up with a boatload of them in Minecraft Dungeons.
Fighting enemies (especially the Creepers) is pretty fun, with the weapons all performing differently. I love the slow (but incredibly powerful) weapons like the hammer or spear. It’s very satisfying to mow down large mobs with just one or two impactful smacks.
The weapons all have their individual skill sets (which seem to be random). There are three different skills (in three different tiers) you can equip at once (out of a possible nine), and you’re locked out of the other skills in a tier once you made your choice. It certainly gives you incentive to find the perfect weapon with the right skills to complement your build.
Combat does get repetitive after awhile, since you’re pretty much hitting A all the time. All you do is run up to enemies and smash A, hoping you kill them before they kill you. The bosses are pretty much the same (despite their different attack patterns), with you mashing away with A and spamming artifact powers.
You get 3 lives per map, but there’re rarely needed.
You also get three different slots for artifacts; special items that come with their own specialized skills. It’s here that the game unleashes its creativity, with some of the best game changers available.
There’s one that lets you fire off a laser beam, another that creates a bubble shield that stops projectiles (just like in Halo!), one that heals you over time, another that uses dead enemy souls to create an explosion…there’s even one that summons a llama to aid you in battles!
I can honestly say that these are the best part of the game and I never get sick of finding a new artifact type to see what it does!
There aren’t a lot of them in the game (which hopefully the developers will add to later on) but they’re distinct enough that find different players might have different playing experiences depending on what artifacts they have equipped.
There’s definitely a problem with enemy variety sadly, as the same handful of archetypes get recycled throughout the whole game. Skeleton archers for example, get replaced later on by armored archers. Different look, same attack style but with more HP.
Enemies also lack attack variety, apart from the wizards (I’m not sure what they’re called in Minecraft honestly) that can buff up other enemies or create walls to box you in. Everything else just rushes you or pepper you with ranged attacks.
Same thing can be said about the stages too.
Compared to its contemporaries like Diablo or Torchlight, Minecraft Dungeons ends way too soon with its handful of stages. They’re huge but there’s little incentive to explore. Apart from finding the entrances to hidden stages (of which there are a few in-game), exploration is simply a waste of time since there aren’t any lore books to find or side missions to accomplish.
Sure, there’s the additional difficulties that open up (you need to complete the game twice to unlock the final difficulty mode) but I don’t see many people replaying the game due to its shallow nature.
The game’s also kind of bland looking, which may also impact the draw.
Minecraft’s visuals are certainly an acquired taste and Minecraft Dungeons are not different. The blocky, pixelated visuals might be ok in first person view, but it’s just weird and ugly in Minecraft Dungeons due to the drawn out camera.
Some people might say that’s part of the charm (more power to them if they think so), but everything looks like a mess to me, especially my avatar. The frame rate is fine, even on 4K on the Xbox One X, so that’s one thing the game has going for it at least.
The Bottom Line.
Minecraft Dungeons isn’t a game for the hardcore or the solo gamer.
It’s a slog solo, with shallow gameplay, bland visuals and a short main quest. The usual hooks a dungeon crawler has (such as character classes and skill trees) are gone, which means replay value is nowhere as high as it could be.
However, for Minecraft fans and young gamers, it’s a great time.
Not only does the game play great, it’s also simple enough that anybody can play and enjoy. In fact, it’s probably one of the best pick-up and play games out at the moment. The learning depth is practically non-existent and the game takes on a completely different feel when you’re adventuring with friends or family.
At the end of the day, your enjoyment of Minecraft Dungeons will heavily depend on your playstyle and availability of other players.
If you’re hardcore and like to play solo, there are other better dungeon crawlers on the Xbox One (Van Helsing, Diablo and Torchlight are all good picks). On the other hand, if you need something to play with family that’s not complex, this is the perfect game for you.
For casuals and Minecraft fans only! Playing multiplayer is a must to get maximum enjoyment.
- Easy to understand and play.
- Familiar visuals to Minecraft fans.
- Artifacts have unique powers.
- Great multiplayer.
- Repetitive gameplay.
- Bland visuals.
- Short length.
- Not enough depth.