“Minecraft Dungeons strikes an impressive balance between feeling familiar and offering something new.”
Gamers have speculated about what a Minecraft 2 might look like for years. Could it be more than simply a cube-based world? Does it ever need to exist at all? Indeed, Mojang’s single, now multi-version title has been such an industry and cultural success that whatever came next would have quite the name to live up to. Enter Minecraft Dungeons; a family friendly hack ‘n’ slash dungeon crawler set in the ever-enticing blocky world of Minecraft. Truly, it is not what gamers had expected, but from the initial announcement of the game in 2018 to the gameplay footage at E3 2019 to now, the hype has been consistently real.
Minecraft Dungeons borrows the aesthetic and inhabitants of the Minecraft world, but its gameplay, pacing and mechanics are quite different. The most distinct change that fans of the classic game will notice is that there is no crafting involved here. Elements such as the mobs you fight, the weapons you use, the enchantments you can place upon them and the villagers’ favourite economic currency of emeralds carry over, but much of the game that surrounds these features is entirely new territory. By all accounts, this departure is a good thing. Minecraft Dungeons strikes an impressive balance between feeling familiar and offering something new. It also serves as an equally strong entry point into this universe.
The story in Minecraft Dungeons revolves around a new character named the Arch Illager. As with all good villainous backstories, the Arch Illager comes from a background of woe, but one day comes across the power to be shunned by others no longer: that of the Orb of Dominance. Taking control of the monsters of the world and creating an army of other illagers under his control, your role in the game is clear. You must put an end to the tyranny and chaos. The story plays out in chapters, spread across each map in the game. At present, the number of maps is limited and the story itself is lose. Significantly, it is certainly not the most compelling part of Minecraft Dungeons, so if you are thinking of turning up for this factor in particular it may be worth waiting to see what the DLC which follows brings with it.
The levels themselves in Minecraft Dungeons are each unique, well-designed and exciting to navigate and explore. Every map has its own distinctive style based on different biomes from the world of Minecraft and spectacularly built structures akin to those constructed by some of the main game’s most celebrated builders. Indeed, you could easily believe that the level design for Dungeons took place in the core Minecraft game itself. Whilst their numbers are few at launch, the handful of maps on offer have excellent replayability, with scalable difficulty settings and procedurally generated dungeons crafted room by room for your explorative pleasure. It is a beautiful and comfortable world to get your head around, and never feels too samey to enjoy again and again.
Aside from story and style, Minecraft Dungeons has a lot to praise in the mechanics department. Admittedly, the core mechanics, too, are limited in number. Nevertheless, utilising every element of the game is both enjoyable and necessary for your ultimate success. At the simplest level, your character can equip one weapon, one armour and one bow, along with three items or “artifacts”. The latter objects offer specific special effects for your character to activate, including special items, potions and totems amongst others. Weapons and armour on the other hand offer adapted enchantments which make them more powerful or useful in some way. In combination, all of these elements come together to make you a mob-destroying machine.
Obtaining higher level loot to equip is a major factor in the game as you look to progress. This can be purchased from traders in the central camp area which you inhabit between missions, or be found in chests around each map. Finding loot is thrilling every single time, especially when shiny, unique loots appear before you. These often have powerful additional benefits, on top of their enchantment slots. One of the best mechanics in Minecraft Dungeons, though, is the way that it automatically shares and locks this loot. Immediately, dispelling any cause for upset over who gets what or how fair it may be, Minecraft Dungeons does a fantastic job of locking loot to specific players as it is obtained. This means there can be no in-fighting over that slightly stronger glaive or heavily buffed grim armour; once it pops out of the chest it is assigned and that is the end of the story. This made the couch co-op experience of the game, another of its finest features, a much more chilled and empathetically enjoyable one, with my partner and I sharing the awe and new weapons no matter who they were assigned to.
Once you are kitted out and ready to crawl through the dungeons, combat becomes the element of focus from the beginning of the level to the end. A careful combination of all your character’s skills will be needed to succeed, especially at higher levels. Rolling in to exploit the benefit of your armour’s thorns enchantment whilst activating your Boots of Swiftness at the right moment to dash in a smash a pack of zombies with your enchantment level II thundering cutlass is key to literally hacking and slashing your way through waves of enemies. Finding the combinations which work for you and learning the timings and approaches which will merit the desired levels of destruction are far more important than DPS alone. Without some level of strategy, particularly in the harder dungeons, your chances of success are low to none. Each level recommends the average equipment level you should aim for before you enter, allowing you to hone your inventory before you embark. Most importantly, though, teamwork is everything.
Activating an area of effect bonus alongside your allies can make or break a raid, and Minecraft Dungeons rewards you for your friendly efforts with bonuses on armour and artefacts which help those nearby. Sharing the merits of your lengthy cool-down health potions can truly save the day in the more brutal of battles. Having a helping hand nearby to pick you back up when the big boss of the level knocks you down can help you preserve your limited supply of lives, too – something that I found I ran out of much more frequently when playing by myself than I did when playing with my partner. It is very much the case that, although perfectly playable solo, Minecraft Dungeons is best enjoyed with at least one of your friends.
A final point worthy of note is the pursuit that is navigating the forests, deserts, castles and dungeons of the game. You can run and roll your way around each blocky level at quite some pace, but if you are not exploring your surroundings then it is easy to miss some would-be troves of treasure hidden in plain sight. The strangest factor in getting around, though, is the lack of a jump button. Not only does this frequently result in you bumping into even low obstacles, but it can also slow down the pace and flow of the game whilst you crawl your way around otherwise hop-able barriers. It is understandable that taking away this ability helps to keep the player on track, but when you cannot even fire an arrow over some low walls at the mobs below, the lack of an option for raising yourself up becomes something of a limitation…
Back on the hunt for loot, though, taking a trip down the odd side alley, away from the objective marker for your current mission, will frequently reward you with powerful loot and emeralds aplenty. The game’s overlay map can help you to locate these, clearly showing explored and unexplored areas for you to plot your onwards travels appropriately. Helpful as this is, its presence over the field of play can be something of a distraction. A centre bottom minimap may have made more sense in this department, but at the very least the map can be closed with the push of a button. Searching every avenue of every dungeon can fast become an obsession, albeit a rewarding one. Finding loot transpires to be my favourite part of Minecraft Dungeons, simply because it feels like Christmas every time.
Despite some flaws (and bugs, though I assume these will be patched before long), Minecraft Dungeons is thoroughly enjoyable both with its genre and as a member of the now wider Minecraft family. A family-friendly yet challenging dungeon-crawling hack ‘n’ slash adventure, Minecraft Dungeons offers a wealth of fast paced, fun and exciting experiences, from battle and exploration to collecting and constructing the perfect arsenal of colourful and stabby destruction. Given it’s more than reasonable price point and its expansion and evolution of an already popular and enticing franchise, Minecraft Dungeons will inevitably do well for itself. Having had the chance to play it, I can pretty fairly recommend it to you, too.
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Developers: Mojang Studios, Double Eleven
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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!
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 16.74
Product In Stock: Not Available