Minecraft Dungeons is pretty straightforward. So straightforward that you could probably say it’s the simplest – and shallowest – dungeon crawler around.
Minecraft Dungeons is the first foray for the blocky, voxel universe into dungeon crawling. You’re a basic Minecraft character, running around ten different worlds smashing boxy wizards, skeletons, creepers and other Minecraft enemies. There’s a little bit of a plot running throughout, but the main motivation here is to smash up enemies for loot, gain levels, and keep doing that until big numbers get bigger.
The whole game can be played in solo or co-op, and levels scale with the amount of players in-game. In solo play, you get three lives to complete each of the game’s 10 main story levels. In co-op, you’re reliant on being revived by heroes if you fall. Either way, once you’re dead, or run out of lives, you’ll have to restart the mission again.
The co-op play is missing some crucial features, though. For one, there’s no matchmaking. Cross-play isn’t enabled either, which is a massive shame. Gear dropped can’t be shared with other players. Players can’t steal each others’ gear, at least, but loot drops for every single level are fixed. This means while you’re free to play as a survival melee character, a ranged specialist or the game’s equivalent of a caster, you’re really stuck to whatever loot gets dropped. Your equipment doesn’t scale as you level, and you can’t spend your in-game currency on upgrades.
So it’s hard to really invest into any synergy between your items or enchantments, because you’ll end up just discarding them in an hour for something with a bigger number.
When you’ve run through all of the main missions, you’ll unlock a second difficulty level, adventure. When you complete the missions once more after that, you’ll unlock Apocalypse, which ramps up the difficulty and rewards once again. There’s some secret dungeons to find throughout the world, but there’s not really an endgame as such. Beat the end boss on the final difficulty, and you’re done.
The levels do look nice, and they echo the Minecraft aesthetic well. But that’s about as far as the Minecraft comparisons go. There’s no world generation or destruction like you might expect from a Minecraft game. You can’t build anything back at base camp. It’s really just Baby’s First Diablo wearing a Minecraft skin.
And that’s principally fine. The controls handle well enough, and all the attack animations and effects look nice. You can change your outfit and build on the fly, completely or partially. Different weapons and items have their own attack timers and cooldowns, and there’s plenty of variety with all the potential loadouts.
But anyone hoping for a meaty dungeon crawler with a good amount of randomisation for the endgame is going to be pretty disappointed. The whole game – which is all 10 levels replayed three times on increasing difficulty levels – will only take about 10 to 12 hours, depending on luck and whether you’re grinding solo or in co-op. It’s easier in co-op, just because all the ranged mobs have more people to target, but it’s not a challenging game by any means.
For me, as someone who grew up getting a shiver as soon as I heard the Butcher roar in the original Diablo, there’s not much incentive to replay Minecraft Dungeons over and over. The content isn’t there. The mechanics are the same as every other dungeon crawler. The world doesn’t have that depth or interactivity or interesting storylines you can find in other games. Minecraft Dungeons is competent enough, save for some bugs and geometry quirks, but it’s also missing systems and features and options for doing the basic things that you’d expect from something releasing in 2020.
But I care about all of those things because I know they exist. I know they exist because I’ve played other ARPGs. If I’m six or seven years old, and the most I know about video games is all that my parents have let me play since I was old enough to hold a controller without destroying it, I’m not going to have years or decades of experience and expectation. So for a kid, maybe five, six, seven or eight year old playing Minecraft day in and day out, Minecraft Dungeons could be what they’re looking for.
And even if it’s not, it could at least be something their parents are looking for – another inoffensive, charming, blocky game without blood or any themes that might spawn awkward questions at the dinner table. So that’s not to be ignored.
Still, there’s some lacking systems and strange design choices. There’s nothing to do with the in-game money you earn, other than buying randomised items or weapons from the merchants. You can’t buy supplies or spare arrows before heading out on a mission, which can lead to some weird situations if you’ve doubled down on an archer build and you’re starting a mission with 20 arrows. Being able to disassemble equipment into arrows or at least other randomised weapons would have made sense – it’s Minecraft, after all. Creating things is what the series is all about.
But you don’t get any of that in Minecraft Dungeons. It’s the bare basics of a dungeon crawler. It’s competent, but lacking ambition. It’s mechanically satisfying, but in the same way that eating a chip can give you a short, sweet hit of adrenaline. It lasts for the briefest of moments, so you grab a second chip, and then a third, and a fourth, until you stop yourself or the bag runs out.
Minecraft Dungeons‘ bag of tricks looks and sounds like Minecraft, but once you’ve seen its first trick, you’ve seen all it has to offer. For kids and parents looking for something inoffensive and light-hearted to play together, that might be fine. But kids are a hell of lot smarter than what most give them credit for. And adults? There’s a couple of hours of fun here, but you’ll find more sustenance elsewhere.
Minecraft Dungeons is out now on PC (through the Microsoft Store), PS4, Xbox One and Switch.