Minecraft Dungeons Review — A Strong and Simple Beat
Diablo for all ages.
If you’ve been remotely interested in video games in the past 10 years, you know of Minecraft. Its immense popularity has spawned games with interesting gameplay takes outside its traditional style. The newest spin, Minecraft Dungeons, is a fun interpretation of the dungeon crawling genre within Mojang’s blocky world and it is definitely worth your time.
To put it simply, Minecraft Dungeons is essentially Diablo for kids. It’s an isometric dungeon crawler where you explore various environments, beat up some bad guys, and earn loot all set within Minecraft‘s unique world. This familiar formula has been proven to be fun for years, but Mojang’s design choices make it more approachable than any dungeon crawler I have ever played.
This is mostly due in part to the game’s simplicity. To attack, you only press one face button. Artifacts, which are obtained as loot and act as special abilities, are assigned to the rest of the face buttons. All movement is done with the left stick with a dodge roll set on the other. The right trigger lets you use your ranged weapon, and the left bumper is your health potion. The controls are very intuitive and allowed me to jump right in without needing an in-depth tutorial explaining the intricacies of combat.
Usually, dungeon crawlers in the same vein as Diablo have a stat sheet giving you specifics on your damage, armor, and other traits for your character. Sticking with this theme of simplicity, Minecraft Dungeons streamlines this by only having four types of gear to worry about: melee weapon, ranged weapon, armor, and artifacts. There are a total of six slots with three of them dedicated to your artifacts. Each item does have stats as well as a gear score. This gear score determines your character’s power.
While it seems like this might have the complexity of other dungeon crawlers, which it does to some extent, you really are just trying to increase your power level. This means the number you’re mostly looking at is an item’s gear score. A green arrow is shown if that gear score is higher than what you have equipped; more often than not, you’ll replace that piece of gear with the one with the higher score.
Even in terms of Minecraft Dungeons’ more “complex” systems, it is all pretty easy to understand. As you level your character, you earn an enchant point which is used to apply enchantments to your gear. Melee weapons, ranged weapons, and armor has a set of random enchantments you can choose to allocate points to. This can range from boosting your melee weapon’s damage to increasing the chance of loot or consumables dropping. There is quite a bit of variety of enchantments to choose from, but since it’s all random, some pieces don’t synergize as well as others.
If that is the case, you don’t have to worry if you find a better piece of gear than your already fully-enchanted gear. Salvaging your enchanted gear will give you all of your enchant points back, and can then be used on your new gear.
This simplicity in gameplay design mostly benefits Minecraft Dungeons. It’s incredibly easy to pick up a controller and just start playing. You don’t have to worry about matching gear sets, stat sheets, and getting the most out of your character. It’s very approachable and is a solid gateway into the world of dungeon crawlers.
However, sometimes its simplicity is a detriment. The most satisfying gameplay from dungeon crawlers is when all of your gear and stats start to synergize in a way that makes you feel unstoppable. Every piece of armor, weapon, and ability chosen works in a way to get the absolute most out of your character’s class. I never really felt that satisfaction in Minecraft Dungeons.
For example, I had armor that had the Thorns enchantment; this would do damage to anyone who dealt damage to me. I then had a weapon that had the Leeching enchantment which would give me health after each mob I killed. I figured this would be a good way for me to go in quick, get some fast kills, and then get healed after each mob increasing my survivability. However, this was not the case. The amount of damage Thorns did wasn’t much unless the damage was coming from weaker enemies, and the health I was receiving after each mob was negligible.
The approachable nature of the game does sometimes get in the way of customization. It would be nice to have a character creator of sorts rather than a set of skins. Luckily, there is a lot of variety of skins to choose from. But in a franchise like Minecraft which typically promotes creativity, there aren’t a lot of ways to customize your character.
This extends to the gear you garner. Sometimes, I would find a piece of gear that had the enchantments I preferred. It would be great if I could then upgrade it in some way to match my level. Unfortunately, that isn’t an option. It wouldn’t really be an issue if you could lock enchantments, however, since the only way to increase your power level is obtaining gear, and that gear’s enchantments are random, you are stuck with what you get.
Its low skill barrier should not be confused with lack of quality. Minecraft Dungeons does a tremendous job translating the world of Minecraft into a dungeon crawler despite its lack of customization. Most of the enemies you fight, from the zombies to the Endermen, are all from the original game. If you’ve played Minecraft, you will already have a basic understanding of your enemies’ attacks. Enemies like creepers and spiders you’ll immediately know how to take out.
For some of the lesser-known enemies, its only a mystery of how to deal with that encounter initially. After that first bout, it’s very apparent what any given enemy’s strengths and weaknesses are, which makes future encounters with them a breeze.
There are a few enemies and bosses, like the Enderman and Redstone Golems, that are a bit more difficult to deal with. You can tell when you have these tougher opponents if a health bar appears on top of the screen. This is where strategy, as simple as it is, gets thrown out the window. I never felt there was a good way to take out these stronger enemies other than keeping far away and using my ranged weapons. I did have artifacts that made me tankier and increased my attack speed, which helped, but it always felt like a race to see whose health bar would deplete first.
Although these enemies do present a challenge, there were times I was able to cheese some battles. For example, there is a boss fight that closes a gate behind you, and you’re stuck fighting this giant Redstone Golem. Not knowing anything about the encounter, I died pretty quickly. However, I respawned on the other side of the closed gate and the giant Golem could not attack me while I was able to chip away at its health with my ranged weapon. It was pretty bizarre.
The levels themselves present a variety of different environments that look fantastic. From the lush forests to the dry deserts, they are all impressive in the same way a well-built creation in normal Minecraft is impressive. Seeing some of these structures bring me back to when my friend and I used to create these giant castles on top of towering hills, except they looked significantly better. It’s as gorgeous as a Minecraft world can get.
However, its beauty does sometimes get in the way of gameplay. Sometimes trees, hills, or other large structures would block your view, replacing your character and enemies with a shadow. While that is an issue with most isometric action games, it felt way more prevalent in Minecraft Dungeons.
While a full playthrough may only take you around 4 or 5 hours to complete, there is a lot of replayability. In fact, the game promotes it. After you complete Minecraft Dungeons on the default difficulty, you unlock Adventure difficulty, which increases the strength of enemies but gives you better rewards. After you complete it on Adventure difficulty, there is a third and final one called Apocalypse which further increases the survivability of foes but increases the quality of your rewards.
Additionally, each level has its own difficulty, ranging from 1 to 6, which will automatically scale to your current power. If you’re up to it, you can increase the difficulty of a stage to earn better rewards. You can also lower the difficulty if you’re having trouble getting through a certain level but it will yield less powerful loot. The various options let you really choose how difficult you want to make your experience, which is great, as Minecraft Dungeons can cater to both dungeon crawling veterans and newcomers.
Minecraft Dungeons is a great game for all ages. While its simplicity hinders it from truly being an excellent dungeon crawler, it is one that you can enjoy with just about anyone. Its intuitive gameplay, replayability, and familiar environments and enemies make it a great starting point for anyone wanting to get into this beloved genre.