Mojang have done well to capture the look and feel of Minecraft in an isometric dungeon crawler. Minecraft Dungeons is worth persisting through the initial default mode to complete the story and then get into the real fun of adventure mode and beyond.
Minecraft Dungeons is an isometric dungeon crawler co-developed by Mojang Studios and Double 11, and published by Xbox Game Studios. It is set for release on May 26, 2020 on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Set in Minecraft’s world and taking inspiration from the Diablo and Torchlight series’, there’s a heavy emphasis on exploring procedurally-generated areas in the search for loot. You’ll be slaying hordes of monsters in this epic quest to defeat the evil Arch-Illager, an outcast who has been corrupted by the Orb of Dominance. There are also various types of puzzles to solve to unlock hidden areas and secret treasures.
You can play the game solo, but I had the most fun when playing with a friend, and you can play local co-op or online co-op with 2-4 friends. You can play co-op on the same platform only at this stage and you can’t have a mix of local and online players, it’s either/or at this stage. Mojang have said they’re looking forward to adding cross-platform play in a future free game update, so keep an eye out for that. The music in the game provides a great ambience to each biome and the creeks and groans and grinds of the surroundings as you move through them gives the world a lived-in feeling.
Players of Minecraft will recognise some familiar monsters like skeletons, zombies and the dreaded Enderman, as well as pigs, sheep and cows, however there’s no mining or crafting in the game. There are many new types of monsters, such as the Key Golem and ‘treasure pigs’ created for Minecraft Dungeons to make it new, fresh and exciting for existing Minecraft players, as well as appealing to new players to the Minecraft world. It will be interesting to see how these new monsters make their way into general Minecraft products such as the game and books, as it was cool to fight some never-before-seen monsters and learn their mechanics, plus take their loot!
When loading into the game for the first time you are given a choice of how you want your character’s skin to look. There are many presets to choose from with male/female characters and various ethnicities, but you can’t customise them further, nor choose a name. A point to note here is that character creator skins and skins purchased from the Minecraft Marketplace can’t be used in Minecraft Dungeons. Once you’re in the game, there are no character classes to specialise in. Your power and abilities come from the gear that you equip at the time which means you play the game how you want to play it. Combat is simple with left mouse button on PC to melee attack, right mouse button for range attack, numbers 1-3 activate your artifact abilities, ‘E’ is a health potion that has a cooldown timer, ‘M’ opens the map, and then F1/F2 can be used to travel to your co-op buddies.
You can equip one melee weapon, a set of armour and a ranged weapon, as well as three artifacts. Some armour items and artifacts will summon pets like a llama or wolf to aid you in battle, and they’re quite powerful too, especially when playing solo. Each item has randomised bonuses on them that can be activated using enchanment points. For example, you could add fire damage to your sword as well as a shockwave at the end of a combo. A ranged bow could have scatter shot or ricochet, and each item has a unique set of random enchantments. You earn one enchantment point each time you gain a level, and you can retrieve enchantment points back from previous enchanted weapons by salvaging them, though you will of course lose the previous item. Each item has a power rating and these average together to give your total power rating which is independent of your player level. For example, at level 34 I was equipping items with power level 41-46. The different types of enchantments you can activate on these weapons adds even further diversity in play style.
If you want to be a tank, you could equip some scale or reinforced mail armour, a two-handed sword and use artifacts that can bolster your defense and heal you. If you feel like playing more of a ranged character, equip some hunter’s armour and your bow choice, plus artifacts that compliment ranged damage and abilities. Through your adventures you will find a vast assortment of items to use and you can freely swap whenever you like. Sometimes I liked getting up close and personal with dual-wield daggers, and other times wanted to do some heavy hits from further away using a glaive. Bows vary from short and long bows to scatter and heavy crossbows, plus many other variants and you can only carry a limited amount of arrows and you can find more in supply crates but they are few and far between. It’s a really cool system and lets you change up your gameplay if you’re struggling with a particular mission/boss and adds enough diversity that repeating missions doesn’t feel stale.
Each mission in the game has six difficulty tiers that have their own power requirements. When you play co-op with friends, your collective power level is obtained by averaging all your power values. For example, I was level 34 with power rating 40 and my friend was level 24 with power rating 30. Therefore our combined power rating was 35, the average of the two ratings. Also in the mission select screen, you can click ‘Story’ which gives you lore information about that location, and you can also see there are a number of items of gear and artifacts that need to be discovered in that level which promotes replaying the levels to find all the hidden loot.
When in a mission, you have three “lives” to respawn if you die and continue playing the mission. If you unfortunately use up all your lives, you will be sent back to the camp and will have to repeat that mission. You do get to keep your XP and items so it’s a good learning experience, a chance to swap around your loot and perhaps call a friend to hop into your game to help you out. There are nine main story missions in total across varying procedurally-generated biomes such as swamps, canyons and mines, that are cleverly crafted and capture the look and feel of Minecraft. Within some of the missions, if you look hard enough you will discover hidden paths or disguised switches, and this will unlock some secret areas which were fun to explore.
Given Minecraft’s demographic being younger gamers, I went into this game thinking it’s going to be a lite version of Diablo. After the first few hours playing co-op with my brother-in-law Justin, we described the game as a mix of Minecraft versus Lego Star Wars. It was fun and light-hearted and had moments of glory, especially when a unique item drops with that special sound we love to hear and the orange glow on the map. We weren’t overly challenged by the game’s default mode difficulty though and were worried the shine would wear off quickly, particularly for the more mature gamer and veterans of dungeon crawlers. The last 3-4 mission areas got harder where the boss fights got much more challenging, and the final boss fight was hectic. It took us a few attempts to finally take down boss and then we unlocked adventure mode, the second out of three difficulty modes. We took our time exploring all mission areas and our first play through on default mode took around 7-8 hours.
We did have a couple of gripes with the general gameplay loop though. One big omission that we felt could elevate this game even higher is there’s all this loot that you’re collecting individually, however there’s no way to trade your spare or unwanted items with your co-op buddies. Your only choice is to salvage them. I understand there’s a possibility of making characters too powerful too quickly, but it would have been great to pass over a unique weapon that would suit my mate’s build better than my own.
Another gripe is with the overlay map. Pressing ‘Tab’ brings up an outline of the map that overlays the game screen. I love running around with this open in games like Diablo or Torchlight as it allows me to see where I have or have not been. If you have 4/5 chests found, this is useful to find possible corners or areas you may have run past previously. However the overlay map outline is too strong and sometimes clouds vision of the fight you’re in. It’d be great if we had a transparency slider to adjust in options, or have an alternate map mode to the side of the gameplay as opposed to over the top. You get used to how it is in the game, it’d just be nice to have some options.
Adventure mode is when our eyes opened with much better loot, there were many more mobs in each zone and we found more secret map areas. We were finding some awesome loot, but even then we were dying a lot on some of the missions given the increased difficulty. This meant we had to look more closely at our items and how we complimented each other, with one of us focused on melee and the other at range with some emergency heal options. This is the Minecraft Dungeons we were looking for and the game started to get really interesting – we were hooked. We are about halfway through the missions in adventurer mode, and once we finally defeat the boss, we will unlock the last difficulty mode of the game, apocalypse mode. It sounds super daunting and that’s an exciting prospect for us.
We did come across a couple of bugs and issues in our playthroughs so far. There was a time where we both activated a jump point at the same time which jumps your character across to another platform. Justin’s character jumped across fine but my character got stuck in mid-air. I had to use the teleport ability to get unstuck. There were also a couple of times where our characters got stuck in the terrain when we were searching for hidden switches. Again, teleporting to each other got around that. Then there is the issue of save games. At present, there is no cross-save ability as it appears the saves are stored locally. This means that the character I made on PC cannot be played on my Xbox, instead I had to make a new character to play the game on Xbox. Justin also had an issue when he bought a new hard drive. He backed up the Microsoft Store game app directory and loaded it onto his new hard drive, however when he logged into the game his character was 24 which meant he lost 10 levels and about 4-5 hours of gameplay/items. Hopefully this was an isolated incident, but one to be wary of.
As for other post-launch plans for Minecraft Dungeons, here’s what Game Director Måns Olson and Executive Producer David Nisshagen have to say:
“After launch, we’re planning to listen to community feedback and continue updating the game. We’ll be releasing two DLC packs after launch (both of which are included in the Hero Edition of the game), and we’re in the early planning stages of further ongoing updates – although naturally, the community’s response to the game will impact that direction as soon as the game releases.”
Overall I gave the game an 8.5/10. Initially feeling luke warm, the adventure mode of Minecraft Dungeons is when I really became invested in the game. It’s worth persisting through the default mode to complete the story and then get into the real fun of adventure mode and beyond. Mojang have done well to capture the look and feel of Minecraft in an isometric dungeon crawler and there is plenty of loot to be plundered. Gameplay is simple with an easy-to-follow story which will appeal to all ages and is best played co-op with friends/family. This would be a great game to play with your age-appropriate kids and is a great introduction to the dungeon crawling genre for them.
This review utilised a Windows/Xbox key provided by Microsoft/Xbox for review purposes. Minecraft Dungeons releases on May 26, 2020 on Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch and is available day 1 on Xbox Game Pass. The Standard Edition is available for USD19.99 while the Hero Edition is USD29.99 which includes a Hero Cape, two player skins and a chicken pet, as well as the first two DLC packs when they become available.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis