|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch|
|Dev: Mojang Studios|
|Pub: Xbox Game Studios|
|Release: May 26, 2020|
|Players: 1-4 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 1080p-4K||Fantasy Violence|
by Lucas White
Minecraft isn’t for me. I get the appeal, having access to both a creative virtual sandbox, and a cartoony survival game. I just don’t get a whole lot out of directionless wilderness in video game form. Goals, progression, and storytelling are what drive me through games, whereas when it comes to creative endeavors I look to other mediums. One thing I do love is dungeon-crawling. Give me a turn-based, first-person Wizardy clone from Japan, or a western romp full of demons and skill trees (Diablo, natch), and I’m set for hours. Minecraft Dungeons takes the Minecraft world, and smashes it into a simple Diablo clone that doesn’t go much further than the basics. As a solitary, adult gamer Minecraft Dungeons isn’t my first choice, but as a parent, it’s been a great experience.
I’m no expert on the inner workings of Minecraft, but Minecraft Dungeons seems to take the original game’s framework and mold it into an isometric action-RPG. The models look like they’re straight out of actual Minecraft, same with the environments and animations. It all has that floaty, lo-fi quality of the original, rather than say, the slightly more articulated adaptation we’ve seen in works like Telltale’s Minecraft: Story Mode. Considering this is an in-house Mojang Studios joint, I wouldn’t be surprised if Minecraft Dungeons was built on the same set of tools. Either way, that’s the look and feel here, which achieves an aesthetic making this game truly feel like part of the Minecraft world.
As a dungeon crawler, Minecraft Dungeons is all about the basics. You get to choose your character model, with more to come via DLC later on. You get one weapon slot, one armor slot, and one arrow slot. Rather than special abilities or skills, you have an additional three slots for “artifacts,” drops that grant command moves of various types. Finally, the primary equipment drops come with randomly-assigned enchantments, which you can choose one of and boost it via enchantment points gained upon leveling up. There’s a dodge roll and never-ending health potion, both of which operate on cool downs. Compared to games like Diablo or Torchlight, there isn’t a lot here in terms of complexity. If you’re a seasoned vet in this space, you aren’t going to get much out of it.
But if that’s the case, Minecraft Dungeons isn’t for you to begin with. It’s for people like my son, who is seven years-old and drunk on the Minecraft Kool-Aid. I tend to stay out of the trenches when it comes to playing actual Minecraft, despite how many times I’ve been asked to. And when it comes to games I’m interested in, it’s hard to find one we can play together on a satisfying level. So, it’s like Minecraft Dungeons ascended from the very heavens, answering our prayers and delivering us a game that acts as the ultimate compromise. It’s like chocolate and peanut butter, giving us a game in a space I tolerate, dressed in an IP the kiddo loves. I’ve had to actively put an end to our play sessions, because otherwise we never would have stopped.
So while I don’t have to use my brain that much to do well, I enjoy this brand of grinding on almost a primal level. At the same time, my youngster here with me would be way out of his depth if we tried to play something else like it. Not only does Minecraft Dungeons boil the essence down to the easy to grasp basics, it does so in a way that looks and feels good. The HD voxel stuff in Minecraft always looks great, especially paired with the modern accents like particle effects, lighting, and VO. The gameplay is also fast and furious, with plenty of opportunities to take on big groups of mobs. Loot drops often, and even assigns to specific players so everyone feels fair. Money pickups are shared too, and a hub space between levels is great for menu tinkering.
Despite its simplicity, there are several neat accoutrements that can definitely help ease fledgling dungeon-crawlers to the big leagues. For one, you can constantly recycle enchantment points. While holding onto multiple weapons might be helpful eventually, when you’re cycling through junk early on it’s a huge boon. Players will be able to experiment with different enchantments as they appear, and not worry at all about making mistakes. There’s a lot of recursion too, so learning new mechanics, buffs, and ability types as they come and go works out super well. Also, each dungeon is simply selected on a mission map, and you can toggle difficulty right on the stage select, which also displays the relative challenge, the benefits and drawbacks of each setting, and more. This game knows it’s probably introducing young players to new concepts, and facilitates learning as much as possible.
Minecraft Dungeons is a rare sort of game that’s probably only possible due to the Minecraft brand’s phenomenal success. RPGs are a relative niche, and historically you’re just supposed to happen upon them and sink or swim. Sure, there’s stuff like Pokemon, but there isn’t really an equivalent for the likes of Diablo. Mojang Studios has used Minecraft as a sort of vessel, with which they can teach that demographic the basic ins and outs of a new genre. And oldheads like myself who live and breathe this stuff can appreciate that mission, especially if they have kids to share it with. Minecraft Dungeons won’t do much for you if you’re looking for a new, true blue dungeon crawler. But if you have a little one to tag along on your expeditions, this is an accessible, cheerful, and polished romp perfect for extra bonding time.