Minecraft Dungeons on PC
Following the overwhelming success of Mojang and Microsoft’s juggernaut creative sandbox game, Minecraft, during the 2010s, I found it almost surprising that the IP hasn’t seen more spin-offs of this caliber already.
Its world has endless possibilities, after all, and it opens the door to bringing the world and its iconic baddies and blocky visuals to different genres. Enter Minecraft Dungeons, a top-down hack-and-slash dungeon crawler that’s family-friendly, while also providing a challenging level of difficulty for more experienced fans.
The premise is rather simple; you’re tasked with saving the villagers from the evil Arch-Illager, a particularly nasty sort who’s responsible for unleashing all manner of chaos in the area.
You’ll make your way through swamps, deserts, canyons, and of course dungeons, with often a very short cutscene explaining why you’re going there. This more often than not is simply explaining the Arch-Illager got up to no good or has part of his elaborate plan set up here, and you’re going to restore peace and put an end to it.
It’s not the best story, but at the same time, it doesn’t need to be. It’s accessible and easy to understand for younger players and links all of the levels together.
It’s the levels that really help make Minecraft Dungeons feel like a Minecraft game. Enemies are iconic and fit well into different roles of range, melee, close-combat and support, and the world’s teeming with magical touches. Those orange pixel fireflies floating through the air in the dusk, the mushrooms that chunner quietly and illuminate when you run over them, the magical ancient crypts of creeper heads.
What’s more, each of the levels is procedurally-generated to an extent. The layout every time you load it up will be different, though don’t expect it to be a completely new experience each time. Specific segments of a level, such as a puzzle, will always need to be completed and its layout is always the same. Still, even a small degree of randomness really helps Minecraft Dungeons when it comes to replayability, which is really what the gameplay loop is all about.
And that loop is very simplistic in principle; each level revolves around starting a level, killing mobs, interacting with a basic environmental object, maybe taking on a big baddie, and rinse-repeating in the next level. There’s really not much else to it. Even the basic control scheme is a doddle to get the hang of.
For those that want to ramp up the challenge, there’s a “threat slider” to manage the game’s difficulty within its three separate difficulty modes. The long and the short of it is that playing on a higher difficulty offers you the chance to score better and higher-level gear — gear that can then be enchanted (in typical Minecraft fashion) to make it more effective in battle
Level your Hero up by defeating mobs and earning XP and you’ll earn an enchantment point, too. Each piece of gear has different enchantments that you can choose from. ‘Wild Rage,’ for example, is a ranged weapon enchantment that has a chance to send any enemy hit by the weapon into a rage, making it hostile towards everyone. Pour more enchantment points into that weapon to make that particular enchantment more effective.
And once you’re done with a piece of gear, you can salvage it, removing it from your inventory and giving you a chunk of Emeralds (which can be spent getting a randomly rolled piece of gear or artifact from your Camp), as well as any enchantment points you invested into it, back. Again, it’s a simple loop, but one that means you’ve got to be managing your inventory effectively to ensure you’ve got the best gear equipped for the challenge ahead.
It was when I spent time in the aforementioned Camp that you visit between levels that Minecraft Dungeons’ use of the IP felt somewhat lackluster. While a traveling trader and a blacksmith were there to take my Emeralds in exchange for a randomly rolled bit of gear or artifact, there wasn’t anything I could ‘craft’ or collect to improve my Hero’s loadout in a less random manner. It feels like a missed opportunity, given the source material.
Upon completing all nine main levels of Minecraft Dungeons on ‘Default,’ you then unlock ‘Adventure’ mode, and completing the game on this unlocks the ‘Apocalypse’ difficulty. Playing through on these ups the challenge considerably, but you’ll be well-rewarded for your efforts, with new weapons, armor and artifacts (which grant useful abilities) only available at these difficulties.
In other words, Minecraft Dungeons is a big ol’ grind fest. What is disappointing is how few levels there are at launch. While the game’s level select screen does note that more levels will be available to buy in the near future, what is available in the game now feels a little too light.
That also applies to the amount of gear and artifacts available in the game. Having more weapons and armor with different passive abilities and enchantments would have helped players really finetune their character to suit their playstyle, which in turn benefits the co-op experience.
It’s in its co-op multiplayer where Minecraft Dungeons really excels.
While its short levels and basic gameplay can begin to feel a little stale on your ‘Adventure’ playthrough if you’re playing solo, bringing friends into the mix gives you greater freedom to mess around with the ‘Threat Level’ for each level.
It should go without saying it’s a ton easier (and more fun) taking on mobs of enemies with friends by your side, no matter how competent you are at Minecraft Dungeons on your own, and with up to four-player co-op both online and local, there’s no excuse for not dragging your friend in to help you fight off those pesky skeletons.
Despite its short story length, Minecraft Dungeons does manage to bump up its playtime thanks to its final level. A gauntlet overflowing with mobs that’ll overwhelm you in a matter of seconds, it feels like a significant spike in difficulty to the point I had to be a fair few power levels above what the game recommended I be to take it on and actually beat it.
Round it off with a frustrating final boss and you’ve got a good few hours of tearing your hair out as you run out of lives and start the level over again from the very beginning.
It is possible to beat the final boss on your own, but the spike in difficulty in this final level is one that I can see putting solo players off from ever finishing their ‘Default’ difficulty playthrough. It’s fine to angle your game towards a particular experience, but it shouldn’t come at the detriment of those who don’t want to play that way.
In many ways, Minecraft Dungeons succeeds in what it sets out to achieve: it’s an enjoyable and accessible co-op hack-and-slash dungeon crawler set within the Minecraft world that anybody can jump into.
But beyond that, the package as a whole feels underbaked. The short story length, the limited gear on offer, the uneven difficulty curve for solo players, and its lackluster ‘Camp’ area make the game feel like it was rushed out to plug the gap in Microsoft’s 2020 release schedule.
Still, Minecraft Dungeons is undoubtedly entertaining, and despite all my gripes I find myself being pulled back in, drawn to take on ever-more difficult challenges as I grind toward better gear. In particular, I’m eagerly awaiting my friends to join me. It’s just a shame there isn’t more content for us all to dive into together when the time comes.
- True to the world of Minecraft
- Simple, compelling gameplay suitable for all ages
- Great co-op fun
- Procedurally-generated levels are great for the grindy gameplay
- Playing solo isn’t quite as fun
- Not enough levels
- Needs more gear and artifacts to help players truly finetune their loadout
- Infuriating final boss
Xbox Game Studios
PC, Xbox One, Switch, PS4