Minecraft Dungeons (Impressions)

There’s very little to dispute about Minecraft being a gaming phenomenon. With over 100 million copies sold across numerous platforms the build-em-up has a massive following. But can that standing help translate the franchise into different genres?  There’s been Minecraft: Story Mode from Telltale and while not a bad adventure the developer’s woes likely ended any chances of seeing more in the near future. So here we are with Minecraft Dungeons, that brings the blocky world into the realm on dungeon crawlers. So how does it go?

From the outset the game is very clear in its presentation is intended to place you into the Minecraft world but from an isometric style perspective overlooking your character and the world around them. The story is pretty straightforward – defeat the bad guys and save the land which is the kind of thing everyone understands. The most immediate comparison is going to be to Diablo III and it’s clearly inspired by it but worth noting it’s nowhere near the same level of complexity as that game. However if you wanted to introduce your children to the genre it’d be a great place to start thanks to controls that don’t present too steep a learning curve. Even if you’re just mashing buttons and not worrying too much about inventory specifics to start with (weapons and gear can be leveled up) you can make a decent amount of progress in the game. In that respect I suppose you could see the game is steering closer to arcade classic Gauntlet in its attempts to keep things simple but how Minecraft Dungeons fits between both these games might justify a whole different conversation.

Visually the game completely nails the look of Minecraft. Many of the familiar blocks and enemies are there to see… you can even play as Steve or Alex (that game’s default characters) if you want to. The worlds are built in the same blocky fashion and though they’re not overly large there’s plenty to keep players occupied even if they aren’t too complex. They’re not totally flat with plenty of areas that use elevation (of sorts) to good effect. These maps are not entirely static either and you will find that repeat visits will not be the same experience. With the change to the new perspective a lot of concessions to make it easy for players to move across the landscape so there’s no need to worry about having to jump up to every single block above your level.

Things I like

  • The presentation is spot on and nails the Minecraft look
  • Keys you need for doors that run away from you if you get hit and you have to chase them down again – could be frustrating for young players though
  • Pigs that are carrying around chests of goodies remind me of Golden Axe
  • Dynamite works like smart bombs in old school shoot-em-ups
  • Adjustable difficulties for more rewards which is at least something when having to level grind

Things I don’t like

  • Creatures hidden behind parts of the landscape such as trees are shown as red outlines but I wonder if instead making the trees transparent would have been better so that you could see the landscape around them
  • Arrows are a limited quantity and it’s easy to waste them as it’s not always clear what parts of the landscape will block shots – a downside of the viewpoint possibly
  • The difficulty spike in the final level of the story seems WAY too much – I’m having to now level grind on earlier stages and be relatively overpowered so as to try and complete the story. Or am I doing it wrong?
  • Finding it very hard to get loot at this point that fits my play style – even when buying items at the camp it’s rarely useful (it’s a random drop) and so I end up scrapping more than I use

That increase in difficulty leading into the final part of the story was an unexpected blocker for me and it felt like an intentional obstacle too as I was getting through the story VERY quickly at that point. It was a bit of an unnecessary frustration and I do hope there’s more to it as I like how it’s executed but there’s also a nagging feeling it might be light on the content side. Further updates could change that and the game does seem to be built on a good foundation so I’m curious to see where it might go from here.

Minecraft Dungeons is out now for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Switch. Played on an Xbox One X via Game Pass.

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