Launching Minecraft Dungeons for the first time throws you into the cinematic story of the ‘Illager’ and his reign of terror that only you can bring an end to. The animation and cut scenes are fantastic and even if you’re not familiar with the Minecraft universe, you get drawn in instantly.
As you get to the menu screen, you’re asked to choose your appearance from the selection given (some of them even being DLC exclusives!). There is also the option to play online co-op and connect with your friends, though for non-PC players you will need a subscription to the online services of your respective console.
While the game is named Minecraft Dungeons, there is sadly no mining or crafting at all. The block style that is the charm of Minecraft is there and most of the characters and items are taken from the original game, but the world-building feature is completely absent. Another big difference with the original game is also the fixed top-down view. The lack of camera rotation can be a bit annoying while exploring, making the dungeons feel like a maze at times and blocking the view.
Now, Minecraft Dungeons has some content and gameplay issues that need to be addressed but it also really shines in some points. First of all, the graphics hold on really well. The environments are gorgeous with great details and depths, and the effects are vibrant and satisfying. Secondly, the music is fantastic and has range. The sound effects retain the quirky and fun Minecraft feel but the background music really is a delight! From the calm melodies of the neutral levels, passing through the epic quest ambiance, to the dungeons music building in intensity as you progress, and reaching serious tones for the boss fights—it complements the visuals and adds so much to the gameplay experience.
The world of Minecraft can be so open and so endless in possibilities that it often made me wonder: “what am I supposed to do now?”. As someone who enjoys story mode games, I was pretty excited about a narrative-driven game but it’s just really straightforward, like really straight-forward. There are no dramatic settings except that there’s a bad guy and they need to be stopped, no turn of events, barely any story development, nonexistent character interaction etc. The story is linear: clear all levels and then battle the final boss. Completing the game can take about just 3 to 4 hours and after that, you can change the difficulty level and clear it again.
The controls layout is a bit weird at first but it gets easier. The game starts slow, introducing the game mechanics, but can quickly pick up the pace, maybe even a bit too fast! It often happens for the map to suddenly be crawling with opponents and you could find yourself swarmed, so getting good weapons is a must. When playing co-op, the dungeons are much easier to clear and can be heaps of fun. The items you earn when completing the levels can also be different for every player and push you to keep on working together to get more goods.
The gearing system is simple: two weapons (one melee and one ranged), armour and three artifacts slots for special abilities. But it’s where the crafting mechanic from the original Minecraft is truly missed. The blacksmiths in the game can provide you with new gear and artifacts in exchange for emeralds, but it’s randomized so you never know what you will get. Being able to gather materials and bringing them back for the blacksmiths to craft new items would have been such a nice feature.
The weapons and artifacts are a nice new twist to the Minecraft universe. In the original game, your available choices would only be the shovel, bow, pick axe and sword but in Minecraft Dungeons you have some variety. What’s more is that ranged and melee weapons all have their own specificity, some being for heavy-hit others for DPS. The artifacts give you some really cool abilities to use when battling: buffing your attack speed, stun opponents, even using the souls of your defeated enemies to heal yourself or make explosions. As you level up you can make your gear stronger and give them neat features by enchanting them. However, until at least level 50, upgrading basically requires destroying your existing gear so you can get your enchantment points back—as these can’t be removed or swapped unless discarding the gear completely.
While the game has many issues, playing Minecraft Dungeons is really enjoyable. It’s a very good entry-level and family-friendly dungeon crawler game and would work really well for a younger audience whether they are familiar with the Minecraft universe or not. You can definitely spend hours just clearing dungeons as the game is genuinely fun and pleasing to play but you’ll really wish there was more to it.
Replayability falls a bit flat and some gameplay features could be better. To be fair, Minecraft is such a loved and popular game that this new release had a lot of expectations to fill but with more content to come (DLC maps) there’s hope for this game to become really good!