Minecraft Dungeons is Mojang’s first attempt at creating an original spin-off based on the cult phenomenon. Although the Minecraft franchise has spawned a previous spin-off from Telltale Games, this is the first from the developers of the source material. Have they lived up to expectations or does this project need time on the chopping block?
The pixel-centric design of Minecraft lends itself very well to an isometric dungeon crawler, with blocks and slabs combining to create natural and unnatural environments. The familiar design of the popular game is sure to delight players of all ages. But thanks to the enhanced lighting of this engine, it can create some surprisingly stunning scenes.
Another notable feature of the visuals is how faithfully the levels are to the original game, while making sure it isn’t limited by only those elements. In the screenshot above for example, the lamp post looks somewhat different than what could be created in the vanilla game, but still incorporates the lantern block into it. Examples similar to this one can be found throughout the game, and are especially interesting to those with a passion for Minecraft (such as myself) to see how the developers have moulded elements of the original game to make them more interesting and fitting with the theme.
When the game was originally announced, one of my biggest fears was that the game would take place entirely underground or at least in very few biomes. Not because Minecraft doesn’t have a wide variety of biomes to source from, but because the name ‘Dungeons’ implied an underground adventure. Fortunately, my fears were misguided, with levels being based on a variety of landscapes. From Mesa canyons to a Castle inspired by Woodland Mansions, a mix of new and old biomes are represented. Its these little details in the randomly generated levels that I began to really appreciate from my years in Minecraft.
The designs of weapons, armour and artefacts all fit with the general design of Minecraft while giving off a suitable sense of power. Similarly the inventory and hotbar is comparably basic to that of the main game. Overall, despite the vastly different game designs, a great effort has been made to maintain the original designs of Minecraft while enhancing elements that would fit better with the design and genre of Minecraft Dungeons.
The gameplay of Minecraft Dungeons is no different to most other dungeon crawlers. If you enjoy them, its likely you’ll have a good time with this. Swarms of enemies can be found as you explore huge levels with multiple winding paths. These levels are randomly generated offering good replayability. Enemies can be defeated using a variety of weapons from daggers to scythes, and even after 12 hours of gameplay I’m not sure I’ve found them all yet.
Other options for weapons include long range bows and crossbows, with arrows being a limited resource that can be dropped by enemies and found in chests. Armour is used to protect and enhance your natural and supernatural abilities. Just like weapons, armour can be enchanted with up to 3 separate enchantments and 3 levels each. Much like the main game this is done through spending points earned by levelling up.
The supernatural aspect comes in the form of artefacts. Some can be used at any time such as the firework and boots of swiftness and come with a cooldown. Others have little to no cooldown but instead use the souls of enemies to power them. Some weapons and armour allow for faster harvesting of souls from enemies and this extra level of currency can be interesting to balance mid battle.
My current set of armour prioritises defence and supporting my cutlass with quick combos catching swathes of enemies, while my first artefact focuses on supporting my ranged abilities through a multishot firework crossbow. My other 2 artefacts focus on using souls through healing and a beacon powered laser that tears through enemies in a line. Being able to combine all of these together to find a style that suits me demonstrates the high amount of customisation available with this system. The customisation is supported through being able to choose a skin for your hero, though no option to customise or use your own skin was available. This is interesting as it seems the recently released Minecraft character creator could have been used perfectly.
Traversing the levels can take upwards of half an hour, though this is made easier thanks to a pop up map that can be kept up during gameplay. This map tracks areas where you have been and not been, but only hides chests and not the layout of places you haven’t visited or loot you have missed on the ground. While this may seem a little too generous, it makes it a lot easier to explore and find all the secret levels on each of the huge maps.
Overall, while the gameplay might not bring anything new to genre, the simplicity and options for customisation are appreciated while keeping with the blocky theme that comes with the brand. Above all, the game is fun and engaging and I’ve found myself already on my second playthrough. For those new to dungeon crawlers, this is a perfect place to start. Some innovations in line with the building of Minecraft would have been appreciated but could have complicated things too much if not done right.
Minecraft Dungeons isn’t anything it’s not trying to be. Its a spin-off Minecraft game in the dungeon crawler genre. It’s gameplay is fast paced and fun, it’s levels huge and winding, it’s bosses and enemies challenging and rewarding. The story is simple and engaging enough, but it’s clearly not the main focus. The developers must have worked incredibly hard to incorporate the core elements and icons of Minecraft into a vastly different game design, and it shows.
My fears for this game have been waived and I’m confident in saying that I’ll be playing Minecraft Dungeons for a long time to come. Being able to search for that perfect piece of loot with just the right enchantments is exciting, plus I have a pet Llama. The announcement of its two DLC packs and other free content updates also show just how much the developers are wanting to support this game post launch. I look forward to seeing how it evolves and affects the future of the franchise.
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