One of my favorite PC franchises of all time is Diablo. Between the randomized level layouts and deep RPG mechanics, I can never quite get enough of it. That’s why I’m so intrigued by Mojang Studios’ Minecraft Dungeons, despite a general indifference towards Minecraft proper. Though I didn’t expect a lot going in, Minecraft Dungeons has deftly proven that it understands the legacy of those that came before. I’m certainly looking forward to countless more hours getting stronger and exploring the secrets within.
The most immediate difference between Minecraft Dungeons and more established franchises such as Diablo is the class system, or rather, lack thereof. Traditionally, when you create a character, you pick a class that dictates your play style, abilities, and starting stats. Minecraft Dungeons takes a simplified approach and makes all players a hero. There are no stats or abilities tied to your character; instead, everything is tied to item pickups.
You have three slots for equipment — one melee weapon, one ranged weapon, and one armor — and an additional three slots for artifacts, which act as your special abilities. Each weapon, armor, and artifact has its own level and abilities that affect stats such as damage output or health. In addition, each piece of your equipment has between one and three enchantment slots, in which you can bestow one of a few additional abilities. You can invest enchantment points (a reward for leveling up) into only one of these abilities per slot. Even if you have identical items, these enchantments can be different, giving you countless possibilities for customizing your play style.
Though I still miss the class-based system of Diablo, I grew to like Minecraft Dungeons for what it is. Each weapon controls differently, so I really had to think about what was best for my current situation. When I did want to change, it was incredibly easy to do so, as any enchantment points you have invested get refunded if you salvage the equipment it’s attached to. The whole system encourages you to experiment with new playstyles as you constantly upgrade to better equipment. While I would have liked to have seen a bit more depth to the system, I appreciate that I can change up my play on the go.
At first, Minecraft Dungeons is a fairly easy experience, but as you get stronger, the game adapts. By the end of your first playthrough, you may even be struggling a little. There are three main difficulty levels, though you have to complete the prior one in order to advance. Within each difficulty, you can fine-tune your experience along a spectrum. While each level defaults to a specific difficulty state based on your current equipment loadout, you have the option of adjusting it in either direction. The higher the difficulty, the better the equipment you can obtain from it. This cycle of tackling higher difficulties in order to get better equipment so you can take on even harder difficulties changes what would otherwise be a 4-6-hour campaign into something I can play almost indefinitely.
Despite playing significantly differently than Minecraft, Dungeons retains a lot of what creates the franchise’s notable aesthetic. Classic enemies such as zombies, skeletons, and creepers litter the levels, each of which is largely based on a different environment. From the snowy mines of Fiery Forge to the marshy lowlands of the Soggy Swamp, every level looks incredibly unique and helps give the feeling of traveling on a grand worldwide adventure.
This aesthetic also extends to the game’s story. After being scorned and ridiculed in every town he went to, a lonely Illager stumbled upon a dungeon containing the powerful Orb of Dominance. As the Orb corrupted him, the newly dubbed Arch-Illager began to take vengeance on those who had wronged him, eventually unleashing a horde of baddies across the land. As the game’s hero, you must journey across nine lands to thwart crucial pieces of the Arch-Illager’s plan and take him down for good. Minecraft Dungeons doesn’t seem to take this story all that seriously, as shown through some of the opening cinematic’s more humorous moments.
Most adventures have some sort of snag, and Minecraft Dungeons is no exception. For starters, by the time I finished the game once, my camp hub area was still extremely empty. I have a few traders available to utilize, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to get more (if there are any). These traders can be used to exchange emeralds for weapons or artifacts, though the catch is what you get is entirely random. There’s no store to buy specific items from, which is a bummer when RNG isn’t on your side.
The bigger issue though is how the game runs. For the most part, Minecraft Dungeons runs fairly well, but occasionally it would get hung up for a second or so. Largely, these performance issues took place during loading screens between levels, but sometimes they’d roll over into actual gameplay.
While Minecraft Dungeons does feature a multiplayer mode, I was not able to test this feature out. Cooperative play is limited to either local players (not so easy in quarantine) or online friends; there is no online matchmaking. I can only imagine that the game would be more fun and a bit easier with a few friends, but that said, the solo experience was still pretty enjoyable.
All in all, Minecraft Dungeons is a lot of fun. Coming from more of a Diablo background, I wasn’t sure how well the simplified mechanics would jive with me, but I was pleasantly surprised. Everything about Minecraft Dungeons, from the enemies to the environments to the increased emphasis on higher-quality items, oozes a charming Minecraft feel. A few minor performance issues hold it back slightly, but not enough to keep me from coming back for a lot more.
A review code was provided by Microsoft.