Minecraft’s combination of survival and unbridled creativity has captivated millions of players worldwide since it launched in 2009. It’s the kind of game that could never have come from a major publisher. It gave momentum to the indie game movement of the 2010s, and changed the industry forever. Even after Microsoft bought Minecraft developer Mojang in 2014, they didn’t radically alter the game, and even continued developing it for platforms other than the Xbox and Windows. This hands off approach has allowed the game to continue doing its own thing and develop into what it is today.
Microsoft, who bought developer Mojang in 2014, have made sure to keep the spirit of accessibility and creativity that defines Minecraft alive, and they’ve done a great job, continuing to support it on platforms beyond Windows and Xbox, as well as building the Bedrock Edition that allows players to play together regardless of the platform or device they play Minecraft on.
There have also been a few attempts at spinoffs, the most notable of which was the Telltale series, which built a story around Minecraft using popular Youtube personalities and that classic Telltale writing. It was fine enough for what it was, but didn’t exactly translate the creativity of the games into a new form.
Now, however, there’s Minecraft Dungeons. It would be very easy to describe this game as Diablo for the Minecraft generation, because that’s pretty much exactly what the game is. If you like Diablo and Minecraft and always wished there was a game that combined the two, then have Microsoft got the game for you.
That’s the fundamental premise of Minecraft Dungeons, and it pulls it off pretty well. The game supports both the traditional click-em-up control scheme of Diablo plus a controller-based scheme (apart from PC, the game is also launching on Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Switch), that works reasonably well. I did find in both cases that the default key setup of 1-2-3+E on PC needed to be re-bound to the more modern Q-W-E+D setup that most MOBAs use, while on controller, attack defaults to X/square/Y. Fortunately everything can be re-bound to fit whichever button and key combinations you want, which already puts the game a step above PC Diablo III.
Visually, Dungeons is nice enough. It brings over the Minecraft aesthetic really well, and sticks to its parent’s block-based worlds. The game is built with Unreal Engine, and so it runs fine on just about everything. I didn’t notice any dropped frames on my 2080Ti-equipped PC, nor on an Xbox One X.
The most important aspect of any Diablo-style game is the loot, and Minecraft Dungeons cleverly treads a line between offering good loot and not making things overly complicated. In keeping with Minecraft tradition, there are no player classes. You just select a skin and equip whatever you want to play however you want. Your abilities also come from equippable items called artifacts, which go into your hotbar slots and generally activate on a cooldown.
These items might be the biggest flaw I found with the game’s itemisation so far. Generally, they just aren’t very good, and don’t feel great to use. Most of them are cooldown-based, which is fine, but the cooldowns often feel too long for what the items do. The most useful artifacts are the ones that rely on a soul gathering mechanic. These items use a charged-up meter to power their abilities, and they range from a useful body explosion knockback ability to an instant low-cooldown heal, among others.
On the other hand, weapons and armour are all pretty good and feel much better balanced. They each come with upgradeable enchants, which are essentially the special abilities that you might get from gems in Diablo, altering the behaviour of the armour. Each item can have up to three enchant slots, and each slot offers a choice of different abilities. This is a really effective way of adding gear customisation without once again complicating things. Enchants themselves need to be purchased with enchantment points, which are gained via levelling up. Once an item is no longer useful, it can be salvaged for gold, and any enchantment points invested into the item will be refunded.
For me, the biggest issue with the equipment system is that it doesn’t allow for a bow-specific playstyle. This is because bows are limited by how many arrows you pick up, and the game very much wants you to see ranged attacks as a backup option rather than your main DPS. Whether or not you have enough arrows to get through a level depends entirely on random drops. For arrow efficiency, the best bows are the scatter bows, which fire a spread of five arrows. If you find one with the enchants that offer both bonus shots and random spread shots, then you’re going to be covering the screen in arrows, at least until you run out.
Melee weapons are mostly fine, though, although I found the heavy hammer a bit cumbersome. Every melee weapon has a basic three-hit combo that mostly does the job. Some weapons get an enchant that adds a chance to randomly replay one of the combo hits, increasing it to four, but this is usually on a cooldown so it’s hard to get it to fire consistently. I found the dual dagger-type weapons to be the best to use, as they have a fast combo that hits multiple targets for good damage. It’s nothing to complain about, for sure.
A lot of people are going to find Minecraft Dungeons main campaign to be fairly short. It can be beaten in just a couple of hours if you’re familiar with the genre, but I think that younger players who aren’t familiar with games of this type will get more out of it. The game also uses the old Diablo system of multiple difficulty levels locked behind playthroughs at lower difficulties. There are, however, difficulties within difficulties here, as each of these main difficulties offers nine difficulty levels of their own. These minor difficulty levels are gated via your gear’s power level, which is a stat Destiny 2 players will be familiar with, but is essentially a gear score to determine what level of enemy you can take on.
It’s hard to know who Minecraft Dungeons is really for. As a fan of both Diablo and Minecraft, I found it pretty fun and engaging, but I also recognise that I am not personally Minecraft’s main audience, an therefore not the audience that Dungeons is being targeted to. The short and relatively easy (at least on the first difficulty, it ramps up on the second) campaign makes me think it’s a game for kids but how many kids are going to want a Minecraft-themed loot-em-up when they could be building amazing things in the parent game?
Minecraft Dungeons relies heavily on replayability for its longevity. There are two DLC expansions already planned and included in the Hero Edition if you purchase that, but I wonder how many people are going to really get deep into it. On the other hand, it’s only $30 ($40 for the Hero Edition that includes DLC and extra skins, and the base game is free for Game Pass subscribers), and maybe that’s all it needs to be: A light, decently fun little dungeon crawler that doesn’t ask for a huge time investment and offers a different take on the Minecraft universe.
Minecraft Dungeons was reviewed on PC with a review copy provided by Microsoft.
- Fun, simple dungeon crawler with Minecraft aesthetic
- Very accessible for anyone looking to get into this kind of game
- Relatively short campaign that relies on multiple playthroughs for longevity
- Not very Minecraft-like beyond the visuals