Minecraft Dungeons is the first fully released game from Mojang since the original Minecraft released in 2009. It takes the series in a new direction, dungeon crawling. This genre has been popular for years, probably best recognized by people who have played the Diablo series. With the gameplay changing so much, you might be worried to see how the developers would handle such a shift in the series, but overall, Mojang have done a solid job translating Minecraft Dungeons into an experience anyone can enjoy.
A simple experience for better (and worst)
Minecraft Dungeons is Diablo at its most simple. Diehard fans of that series might look down on this game for that fact but I actually enjoy how this is an easy game to get into. Like the way Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was an easier XCOM for people to get into. This is a door that could open more people up to trying a game like Diablo 3 or Diablo 4 whenever it comes out.
That simplicity starts with the controls. You have A as your melee button, and your right trigger to shoot arrows. Those are your two main attacks. The other three face buttons are used for artifacts. These are items you equip to do special abilities like throw down a healing field, let off a blast around, call in a support mob, and many more. The simplicity in the controls is great except for one major oversight. Your melee and interaction button are always the same. This means if a teammate goes down and you are fighting near them, you will stop fighting and try to revive them. This was the number one issue players continue to have with the game, especially since you essentially are given 30 seconds to get them up. Even if you go to change controls, melee and interaction are stuck together and cannot be separated. Making it literally any other button would have served better. As it is now, that oversight does more harm than good in a battle.
As stated above, when a member in the party goes down, you only have 30 seconds to revive them until a creature called The Night swoops down at you and damages you until the whole team is down. This is an okay mechanic, but I would like to see Mojang put in an extra ten seconds when you do pickup an ally. As of now, the 30 seconds starts from the first member going down until everyone is dead or back up. That means if you are the last standing in a group of four, you have 30 seconds to pick up three others while every mob in the area is focused on you. Giving more slack to players that have survived would go a long ways to making it a better experience. It is not a game breaker, but it would be a nice inclusion.
Continuing with the controls, you can bring up a map overlay by pressing down on the directional pad which is nice and easy to understand. This is one of those features that will largely go untalked about, but it is really nice that Mojang worked it in here as a quality of life thing. Pressing in the right stick will let you teleport to any teammate of your choice. This is great if you get split up and can be used even if a teammate goes down, although you run the risk of landing in trouble yourself. There is only a short charge time before you quickly take off. I did run into a bug where I fell through the map and died while trying to teleport to a friend that was transitioning from a dungeon to outside so make sure they are not traveling when you do it. That’s pretty much it for the controls. Aside from the glaring reviving while fighting, they are simple to use, easy to understand, and they get the job done well.
A rewarding (enough) grind
Returning to the artifacts, these are useful trinkets that can turn the tide of battle when you are overwhelmed, but some are definitively better than others. There’s a large variety and you will continue to find new ones as you progress in level and gear score. This can also be said about the gear you find throughout the game. There are three gear slots in total. A melee weapon, armor, and projectile weapon. Each category has their commons, rares, and unique drops with unique being the highest rarity that will come equipped with a special effect. Every time you level up, you gain an enchantment point. These are spent directly on your equipment to give them nice boosts. For example, I had a glaive that would strike twice in a row, or arrows would be larger than normal and deal more damage. You are given a choice to how you want to upgrade your equipment, but that seems to be the only way of progression in the game. I do wish there was a way to upgrade gear that you enjoy, but as of now there is not. There are no adjustable stats for your character aside from damage and resistance gained from your weapons and armor. This is a dungeon crawler that a kid could play.
While a kid could wrap their head around the equipment in Minecraft Dungeons, the difficulty will give anyone a challenge. Before you select each level, the host chooses the difficulty. A recommended gear score is given and all that other standard stuff. What I liked most is that as you get better gear, the game will force you into tougher difficulties so you’re not breezing through everything. Just because the game is simple does not mean it is necessarily easy. You do have to fight your way through hordes of enemies to pass each level. I think a little kid would become frustrated playing this game alone considering you only have three lives per level before having to start the whole thing over. The uptick in difficulty is nice for an adult like me who has played Diablo 3 before, I am unsure how the casual crowd will take the game as they progress.
We have seen Minecraft try different things in the past. Minecraft Story Mode was a series in a long line of similar Telltale games, so it didn’t feel special, but it was a good time. I think Mojang have made a good interpretation of how the game world should look and how the inhabitants react to each other. Your usual Minecraft mobs are here, Creepers, Zombies, Witches, Skeletons, etc. There is not much new outside of the boss encounters which are special situations. This is fine because Minecraft already has a roster of iconic monsters that anyone who has played will recognize and know how to fight. There will be new ones on the way, but for now, there is more than enough variety in who you fight.
Each level takes place in a different location that has the isometric view you expect in a dungeon crawler. I love the way the environment looks. Its kind of like regular Minecraft with those nice-looking mods. Shadows are given off blocks, character models look as good as Minecraft can get, and the locales are each unique from the others. It is really good-looking stuff and future DLCs should only continue this trend. Hopefully, we see more of this in the Series X upgrade of regular Minecraft.
Overall, Minecraft Dungeons is a great game to introduce someone to dungeon crawlers. The simple gameplay and replayability meets all expectations for what you think a game in this series should be. Anyone can play and understand it. The melee and interaction oversight is definitely the number one issue that needs to be addressed, but aside from that and adding more levels, Minecraft Dungeons does what it needs to do. It is available on all platforms and cross-play is in the works so everyone can play together. If you are an Xbox Game Pass subscriber you get access to the game for free, so be sure to download it and give it a try with friends.
Final score: 8/10