A year or two ago, if you told me Mojang Studios, the developer behind the crazily successful sandbox game Minecraft, was making a new game based on the Minecraft universe, I would have guessed they were going to pick something trendy. Since Minecraft already has several player vs player modes maybe it would be a battle royale. Even something as bland as a collectible card game wouldn’t have surprised me. My top guess would have been for them to follow in the footsteps of a certain plumber and create a kart racing game showcasing all the cute monsters Minecraft has to offer.
One thing is for sure – I never would have guessed Mojang would come up with Minecraft Dungeons, an action role-playing game of all things. I personally love ARPGs, but I would never expect them to have the broad, all-ages audience that Minecraft has garnered. Well, as usual, I am wrong. With Minecraft Dungeons, Mojang has been able to steer clear of the oh so common ARPG Mature rating while effectively keeping the core hack and slash loot fest mechanics intact (check out our MCD Tips and Tricks if you’re new to ARPGs). Does that mean they have created another cash cow capable of drawing in the already immense Minecraft player base? Well, possibly. We explore that question with our Minecraft Dungeons review.
Welcome to the action
If you are looking for an ARPG full of skill trees, hundreds of armor and weapon types, and all the trimmings that you would find in Diablo 3 or other top tier ARPGs then Minecraft Dungeons probably isn’t for you. There aren’t any skill trees or classes to be found here. In fact, the only progression you will find beyond an increase in hit points with each level gained is increasing an arbitrary power level that is based on your gear and enchantments.
This doesn’t mean Minecraft Dungeons is one dimensional, though. There may not be much depth in the weapons or armor types you find while adventuring but there is enough to create all the basic RPG archetypes. Mojang Studios went with mostly classic Minecraft gear – a cutlass, axe, bow, scale armor, and the like. The melee weapons cover the short and mid-range spectrum and offer up everything from rapid, single target damage to slow, heavy-hitting multi-target swings. The ranged weapons also offer several attack speeds, with damage output and ammo usage keeping everything in balance.
Your armor and weapons can also have enchantments, with the higher level gear having up to three slots to fill. There is a wide array of enchantments across the usual offensive, defensive, and support disciplines. Each enchantment slot has up to three randomly generated enchantments to pick from, and unique items can also add in special modifiers of their own. With a little grinding, you can find weapons, armor, and enchantment combos that complement your favored play style.
Minecraft Dungeons also incorporates many of the little bits and baubles from the original game in the form of artifacts. These short duration, long cooldown items are the perfect way to round out your character build with wonderful Minecraft flair. A fishing pole that can be used to pull monsters in and a wolf pet to fight by your side are a couple of the artifacts that will make you feel right at home in Minecraft Dungeons.
Staying True to Yourself
Simply put, being resoundingly Minecrafty is where Minecraft Dungeons excels. You have a blocky character in a blocky world and you’ll be running around killing blocky monsters. Other than foregoing first or third person views for the more standard isometric view of the genre, the Minecraft Dungeons world is Minecraft. Other than taking a few liberties on enchantments and monster abilities to add a little diversity into the mix, everything in the Minecraft Dungeons world looks and works just as you would expect it to.
This familiarity with the world is the main force that has kept me playing, and that’s a good thing. There have been too many times where intellectual properties have been applied to an offshoot game in name only. I don’t want a blocky version of Path of Exile. I want an ARPG that is iconically Minecraft, and that is exactly what Mojang Studios has given us. Carrying a block of TNT over my head or using a snowball to stun a monster, that is the authentic feeling I want. The same can be said for skeleton archers shooting me from afar or the impending doom I feel when Creepers are closing in on me from multiple directions. All of these things create a connection to the hours I’ve spent playing Minecraft and propel Minecraft Dungeons beyond a generic ARPG and into a logical continuation of my time in the Minecraft universe.
That doesn’t mean Minecraft Dungeons is a perfect conversion. While it is understandable that I can’t go around digging tunnels all over the place, I am saddened by the exclusion of crafting. Grinding maps over and over for random loot drops that you then salvage for emeralds to buy, well, more random loot won’t keep me playing nearly as long as gathering recipes and materials to craft that same random loot. I know that may sound weird since the end result is the same, but crafting is core to the Minecraft world, and taking that away from me is the one glaring omission that will ultimately push me away from the game.
In the end, Minecraft Dungeons is a light take on a genre that oftentimes takes itself much too seriously. The story is family-friendly, most levels are good recreations of the Minecraft biomes, and the gloom, blood, and gore of most ARPGs are replaced with the cute monsters and iconic items we know and love from the Minecraft universe. With a short campaign mode and lack of crafting, it may not be a hardcore offering that will give you hundreds of hours of play, but Minecraft Dungeons is a perfect way to spend a few hours playing together with friends or your kids while you wait for the next season of your favorite dungeon crawler to start up.
Note: Our reviewer played on both Xbox One and PC through Xbox Gamepass, with negligible difference between the two versions.