Developer: Mojang Studios / Double Eleven Limited
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Genre: Action, Adventure, Dungeon-Crawler
Platform: Xbox One
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Release Date: 25/05/2020
Price: £16.74 (Currently free with Xbox Game Pass)
A code was provided for review purposes.
Since 2011, Minecraft has continued to be a much loved game, so much so that it is the best selling video game of all time. Ported across a variety of platforms, it’s rare to find someone who hasn’t heard of it or a gamer who hasn’t played it. It has become particularly popular amongst the younger generation, drawn into the accompanying merch too! You name it and there’s probably a version adorned with Steve and Creepers, from duvet sets to backpacks.
So it was bound to catch everyone’s attention when Minecraft Dungeons was announced in 2018. Inspired by classic dungeon crawlers, what new steps has the Minecraft franchise taken? Let’s find out.
A Different View of the Minecraft World
The sandbox and survival element isn’t to be found in Dungeons. Instead, it’s a dungeon crawler with a narrative. The villain, the Arch-Illager, is hellbent on power, wanting to take over the land and capture the villagers to do his bidding (some dark undertones there!). So that’s illagers equal bad, villagers equal good!
A hero is needed to stop him, and that’s you! Exploring multiple biomes, the cutscenes paired with a British narrator tell you what your task is before you load into the mission. There’s a strong fantasy vibe similar to Fable and Lord of the Rings. However, it’s easy to follow, likely due to the young audience. Cutscenes are relatively short with some charming humour that can be enjoyed by anyone young or old!
One of the first things you’ll notice when you load in is that this is a top-down game, with absolutely no crafting involved. It may seem obvious this is the case, but there might be youngsters who go in because it’s Minecraft without knowing the format is quite different. It’s the Minecraft world and mobs that we know, yet the gameplay is brand new for the popular franchise.
Become the Hero
Upon starting the game, there are some accessibility options which you don’t see a lot in gaming which I’m sure will benefit may, such as text to speech and choosing a colour outline for mobs. After selecting your skin and taking part in a tutorial to teach you all the basics, you can load into an offline or online game; online allows you to play with three other players online, hosting a match or joining some else’s, though you can also have up to 4 players locally too. You will always start off at the camp, your hub area, from which you can start the missions.
The UI is very reminiscent of many RPGs and dungeon crawlers. Still, it isn’t overly complicated, making it the perfect introduction for perhaps a child’s very first game in that genre. Dungeons does a very good job of showing you what everything does, and each thing is labelled accordingly if you forget what a button does. Your main controls are shown in a bar at the bottom centre of the screen, with a big red heart, your health, in the middle. It looks like there’s a lot there, but you’re taught through them and adapt to them quickly.
Before I go into this, I’ll first talk a little about the nature of the missions. Using the mission select table at camp, you can see a map with all the missions available to play. There are a range of difficulties to choose from, though you don’t unlock the higher difficulties until later, all showing what their recommended power level is (playing missions and collecting gear helps you to level up) and what their items drop are. After the cutscene to give you some context, you spend the mission following the objectives shown in the top right corner, with a yellow icon showing you the way. It was all very clear and no-nonsense!
Fight mobs, solve puzzles, collect gear and of course take on bosses in different environments from the lava-filled Redstone Mines to the murky green waters of Soggy Swamp. It was really cool to see a menagerie of mobs, more and more introducing themselves as you progress. The majority you’d be very familiar with if you played Minecraft, so you would know their attacks and how to avoid them, for example, Creepers blowing up and Skeletons shooting arrows for a ranged attack. But how do you take them on and survive?
Which Role Will You Choose?
Perhaps the biggest element which makes Dungeons an RPG is the weapon and artefacts system. Weapons range from diamond pickaxes to cutlasses, all with their own power level. The higher the power level, the higher your own power level will go. The artefacts then follow the same system, but they are items with a cooldown to help you in battle. They can be defensive, offensive or healing, allowing you to choose if you’d prefer to be a healer with ranged attacks or a tank with close range but slow attacks. This was a great aspect as you felt like you were taking on a role in the party.
Armour likewise has a power level and is dropped in missions or found in chests too. All of your gear can be found in the inventory, which has a nice layout and is easy to equip. Another nice touch is being able to enchant your gear with enchantment points, earned from levelling up. This grants your weapon abilities such as extra damage or a chance of striking lightning. Don’t worry though, as salvaging a weapon when you acquire a higher level one will give you back the enchantment point as well as give you emeralds, the currency in the game.
Emeralds can be spent at the blacksmith or wandering trader at camp, to help you get some armour, weapons or artefacts. To be honest, it was down to luck if you got something at your level or higher, so it could often be a waste. But overall, part of the fun of the game is to grind and level up, seeing what combination is best.
Some of you may see the word grind and immediately back away! However, each time you replay the mission or lose all of your lives, resulting in a game over, the map is randomly generated. With a different layout or angle, it reduced repetitiveness despite having the same objectives and mobs. I thought this was a cool feature to have that I wouldn’t have even thought about.
With A Little Help From My Friends
As I received my review code a week before release, I tackled Dungeons on my own for a bit before my friends downloaded it from Game Pass. The difference in difficulty was immediate when I went from struggling on the default difficulty alone, particularly with bosses, to slaying mobs significantly easier. Of course, there was still a fair amount of challenge, especially as you progress, but having three other people help you out made a big change.
It was so much fun playing with friends as you encounter hilarious moments like accidentally blowing each other up with TNT or hearing someone shout in terror as a congo line of Creepers chase after them! It also reinforced the need to have someone take on a role, so you had people with abilities to cover all grounds. There were very few connection issues; loading times were reasonable, and I liked how in general travelling between sections within the missions was instant.
However, there was one issue we encountered that has an impact on the story. When playing with friends, you can all see the cutscene before a mission, though it can be slightly behind for some. One of my friends was simply not getting the cutscenes one day, and this wasn’t because he was skipping them either. The next day we played, it was working fine. It wasn’t too much of a problem when the cut scenes were short and could be summed up in a sentence or two to get him up to speed.
But then after completing the final mission, the final cutscene played for about half a second…then took us back to camp, giving us the achievement for completing the story. It was so underwhelming when the cutscene was actually a cliffhanger and hinted at more, which we had to look up. It was nothing ultra shocking, but it would have been fun to see it together and round up the game. It is my only gripe with the game, apart from the A button being the button to attack as well as revive, causing you to accidentally try and revive someone when you’re attempting to clear enemies first.
That Minecraft Atmosphere
Despite being a different take on the franchise, it remained true to the whole Minecraft feel. Every biome looked terrific with incredible detail, with lots of objects and buildings that served no part in the gameplay, but made it a living, breathing world. One moment you had the dark Redstone Mines lit up with orange flames, then the next you were walking past gorgeous autumn leaves and vibrant blue lakes. No two biomes looked alike, but each impressed me equally. The shadows and lighting, in particular, surprised me, with the shadows of eagles overheard passing over you and the light from fireplaces flickering between the shadows of metal bars. You could even see distortion above the streams of lava!
The soundtrack as well was quintessentially Minecraft. I absolutely love the Minecraft soundtrack as it’s so relaxing and unique, and Dungeons had a similar vibe going with its piano instrumentals too. The music at the camp is so calming that I could have easily fallen asleep to it, but you also had the tense music when encountering a boss or heroic music when your party is giving the mobs everything you’ve got! It certainly fits in with the genre and fantasy feel of the game.
I would argue that the content of the game is quite low as there aren’t a vast amount of missions, but for £16.74 you’re getting a lot out of it. You can work your way up to the highest difficulty on each mission, gaining some achievements and rare gear along the way, with the randomly generated maps keeping it from being stale. Apocalypse difficulty, the highest difficulty, seems impossible to me at the moment. Still, I’m sure there will be many a YouTube video of people attempting it or even speedrunning the game!
Despite my concerns about Dungeons, I was pleasantly surprised by how fun this game was! Easier and more enjoyable with friends, but with a good level of challenge and perfectly fun to play single player too. It’s charming and suited to any age range, though it is a great introduction into the world of RPGs and dungeon-crawlers for young gamers. Extraordinarily detailed and varied biomes were a joy to play through, so if you’re an Xbox Game Pass owner it’s definitely worth downloading, but a great buy if not.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Minecraft Dungeons for Xbox at the following link: Microsoft Store
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.