Minecraft Dungeons reimagines isometric action RPGs as part of the Minecraft universe. One to four players will be able to wade into combat to save the world from the Arch-Illager and get some sweet loot in the process. Players will be able to experience brand new items and enemies along with old classics.
The story in Minecraft Dungeons is extremely light. Like many games in the genre, the player character is mute, so there is no personal character development to speak of. The story hinges entirely on in-game events, NPCs, and cutscenes. There are no NPCs and no commentary about in-game events, so most of the plot relies on the short cutscenes between levels. There is just enough content for a children’s book, and the plot itself is fittingly appropriate for children.
Minecraft Dungeons is a homage to the Diablo franchise that simplifies mechanics for children. The usual barrage of stats has been pared down to the bare minimum. To my great annoyance, there is no page with the character’s total stats, so everything must be eyeballed or manually tracked.
There is no class system. In a nod to Minecraft’s freeform mechanics, the developers have opted to design equipment and weapons to suit different types of playstyles but allow players to mix and match as they please. The active abilities normally associated with a class have been replaced with a variety of artifacts that can be placed into one of three slots. Passive abilities are found on weapons and armour. Each can have up to three enchantment slots, and each slot has three randomly selected enchantments that are permanently selected and upgraded with points that are awarded from leveling up. The resulting system is very enjoyable to play. Some of the most fun I had with Minecraft Dungeons was experimenting with new builds and tweaking old ones to change up the gameplay.
The itemization is mediocre. Flexibility appears to be the guiding principle. The multiple options for item enchantments allows players to get the exact combination of enchantments on a desired item with less farming. Each level has a clear list of what items can drop there, making it easier to farm for the exact item a player wants. Most items can be found in two levels at minimum. While it is a great system to cut down on farming frustration, there is room for improvement as the level’s possible drops never change. The game could easily encourage players to try different levels by rotating the drop table every day. The big issue is how items drop in Minecraft Dungeons. While I’m not a fan of pointless item drops to clog the inventory and tickle the brain’s reward sector, the developers have taken the less is more concept a bit too far. I experienced a lot of maps that offered no rewards for taking long detours into side areas. Enchanted groups rarely drop items either.
Minecraft Dungeons is a slickly presented game for the most part, but it’s quest to be a simplified game for a younger audience has resulted in some quality of life features being dropped. The game’s emphasis on freeform classes has a major design flaw: the inability to save multiple equipment load outs. The limited number of enchantment points means players have to destroy old items to enchant their new ones, so players are forced to make a commitment when they try out new builds.
Inventory management is a pain. There is no sell to vendor, so players salvage items for emeralds and any enchantment points they may have spent on the item. There is no ability to mass salvage unwanted items, so players need to salvage items one by one instead. I do like the undo button, however, as it gives players a chance to get their item back in case of second thoughts.
The difficulty curve is a bit inconsistent. The game generally follows a linear difficulty curve. There are three general difficulties, but each difficulty level can be further tweaked with a sub-difficulty based on item level. The game offers a decent challenge that requires players to rely on a solid build and using game mechanics to stay alive. The final two levels suddenly spike in difficulty and need an adjustment to bring them in line with the other levels. The sudden change in difficulty is due to the volume of heavily armoured enemies and the generally tight corridors.
The amount of content in Minecraft Dungeons is extremely lacking. While dungeons are randomly generated to some extent, there are large chunks of maps that stay the same or shift slightly between runs. The game only has one tutorial level, ten story levels, a secret dungeon, and an ad promising a new paid DLC is coming soon that is set on an island. After players beat the game on the highest difficulty, there is no end game to speak of. While the game’s price is very accessible, the amount of content is laughable.
I did not experience a large variety of glitches with Minecraft Dungeons, but I did experience the same pathing issues. Large NPCs have difficulty with objects like chairs and tables, often getting stuck behind them. On occasion, I had a few golems get stuck on seemingly nothing at all. I found the player character did not always path around a corner well, requiring me to manually guide my character around.
The controls are good. While the genre is best known for being PC-centric, Minecraft Dungeons’ simple ability layout makes it ideal for playing with a controller. For long time mouse and keyboard players, all the main functions we have come to expect from the genre are there.
Minecraft Dungeons does an excellent job channeling the Minecraft aesthetics. Save for a few environmental decorations, everything feels like it was built inside Minecraft. The items from the original game appear to be directly copied into Minecraft Dungeons, and the artists have done an excellent job creating the new items to fit in the voxel style. The map designs pay homage to the Diablo franchise, such as the grand double staircases and the tower levels reaching high into the clouds.
The audio experience in Minecraft Dungeons is excellent. Many sound effects have been taken directly from Minecraft and the rest do an excellent job fitting into the style. The narration is the only voice acting in the game, and it is done well. The soundtrack is very low key, even the combat music has a more relaxed pace than most high intensity video game combat tracks.
Minecraft Dungeons is very good for one specific purpose: serving as the first isometric action RPG for children who are too young to handle slightly more complex or violent affairs like Torchlight or Diablo. It takes the familiar environment of Minecraft and combines it with simplified action RPG mechanics to create a very accessible experience. Unfortunately, Minecraft Dungeon is no Pixar-like affair where children and adults are equally entertained. While presented with incredible polish, the game is missing too many quality of life features and too much content to seriously contend with the many quality isometric action RPGs out there.
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