Spin-off games rarely match the heights of popularity that the original game series that they spawn from reach as most of the time these types of games are created simply to expand the world or the gameplay possibilities of the original title in question. It’s almost prophetic then seeing a brand new Minecraft game coming out as the only way it could even come close to reaching the same level of recognition as the block-building sensation is if it revolutionised the gaming scene for the entire decade and popularised an entirely new format of gaming. So you know, no pressure. Minecraft Dungeons clearly isn’t trying to be the next big step in the Minecraft world but does it at least provide a fun experience?
The story of Dungeons is barely notable and is mainly only there to give context as to why you are walking through corridors of dark forests and volcanic forges. You play as a voiceless custom protagonist who must defeat the evil Arch-Illager who has taken control of an army of the undead and fellow minions from his species and seeks to conquer the world for being very mean to him initially. That’s essentially all the story you are getting as you only see a few of the Illager’s plans take place and the rest is just to be generically evil so definitely do not think about playing this game if you are looking for a story-rich experience. There isn’t even any notable characters or really any dialogue at all aside from a single narrator who simply tells you what is happening. For the boundless and creative world of Minecraft it’s a shame to see none of that imagination being used for the story itself.
The presentation however is unmistakeably Minecraft from the blocky visuals to the sound effects used for enemies you most certainly can recognise you are playing a distinctly Minecraft title. The graphics themselves despite being an ARPG seem to fit rather well as the amount of enemies and effects you can see on screen at one time can be staggering which makes the easily recognisable silhouettes much appreciated and helps to reduce the visual clutter that sometimes plagues games of this type. I also enjoyed the music although it doesn’t really have any stand-out tracks but just provides good backing noise to all the carnage taking place on screen. The user interface is also easy to understand and gives you most of the statistics and mechanics that you need to build your character in the correct way. I also really liked a lot of the environment design as they took what essentially looks like someone’s custom Minecraft build and placed it in an entirely new gameplay genre and it fits surprisingly well despite the two gameplay styles being so vastly different. I’d say then that presentation is where this game shines and is absolutely the thing that they spent the most amount of work on.
The gameplay itself, let’s not drag this out, is baby’s first Diablo to put it bluntly. It’s an isometric ARPG dungeon crawler in which you collect loot, kill enemies and beat bosses. The game is mission-based and inbetween levels you return to a base camp to stock up on supplies, spend emeralds to get new gear and abilities and explore the secrets hidden around the area. The game has simplified the systems seen in other ARPG games by streamlining a lot of complex mechanics; for example there is no class system but instead you gain new abilities by slotting them into your ability bar and find new ones simply as part of dropped loot and you can use any weapon and armor you find which allows you to change up your character’s abilities and speciality at any time which I did appreciate. I also felt as though the difficulty is suitable for an entry-level game into the genre as it starts off fairly easy but gets progressively harder and at later levels always seems to provide a good challenge which I was actually surprised at as due to the game’s design seeming to be for younger audiences concerning the simplification of complex game systems I was expecting the whole game to be a breeze, boy was I sure proven wrong. There is a fair amount of enemy variety however just like in most Diablo-clone games it mostly just ends up being hordes of cloned enemies with stat modifiers in order to bring a spice of variety to the gameplay however I eventually found myself getting rather bored of the repetitive nature of the combat as aside from boss battles not much changes as the game goes on.
Ultimately the two biggest problems I have with the game are that it feels too much like an early access title at the current moment and that it doesn’t embrace the specific themes and creativity that the world of Minecraft initially offered to so many people. In regards to the ‘early access’ issue this definitely feels like a game that is going to be developed over time as the amount of content on offer isn’t enough to keep me engaged. I completed the main story within a few hours and after that it was just beating the exact same levels on a higher difficulty for better loot which I am aware is what most ARPG games rely on but here the gameplay variety and lack of replay value just made me feel as though I didn’t want to keep playing. The game is at a cheaper price than usual so Mojang are at least aware that this is intended as a shorter gameplay experience however the fact that they are already showing off (presumably paid) DLC is a concern as I truly believe this game will only get to become something special if new and free content is developed to help make the experience more complex and less grindy. When it comes to lacking creativity ultimately if you took away the visuals it would just feel like a simplified and under-developed Diablo clone without any of the things that make the world of Minecraft stand out from it’s competitors. For a game that has MINEcraft in the title there isn’t any point in which you do any mining or even any building which was just a gameplay aspect that was screaming them in the face to make it unique but they never addressed it. Personally if I was making a game like this I would focus on making the environments fully modular by allowing you to mine or place blocks anywhere allowing the mechanics of the original game to be shown clearly in this spin-off and help make the game distinct from other APRG as a dungeon crawler that let you literally blow up parts of the environment to get access to treasure or combat advantages would be a really cool idea.
In conclusion Minecraft Dungeons feels like nothing too special from the rest of the Diablo-like games available on the market. For price, you can play Path of Exile which is a much better and deeper game for absolutely free and for simplicity there are loads of different Diablo clone games that offer these simple systems but with far more replay value. The game is however on Xbox Game Pass which means you might get to play it as part of the package in which case I would suggest trying it out as part of an afternoon of fun as in the end I did have a fun time playing through the campaign the first time but when I was finished with my short experience I felt as though I didn’t want or need to play any more. Minecraft Dungeons hopefully will get developed and fleshed out more over time making it into something special but as it is right now I’d say try it out if you can get it for cheap but don’t expect anything big or something that will take up a lot of your time.