Minecraft Dungeons: A Shining Emerald or Lump of Coal?

26th May 2020 marks the day a lot of us Minecraft fans have been waiting for, the release of  Minecraft Dungeons but here’s the question, is it a shining emerald or just a lump of coal?

I explored the new Mojang offering for 6 hours straight when it released at 9am (BST) and thoroughly enjoyed my time in this characterful, quirky and authentic Minecraft experience. It isn’t without it’s faults but more about that later.

Let’s begin from the start in case you’re somehow unaware of what Minecraft Dungeons is all about. Minecraft Dungeons is an action-adventure game inspired by dungeon crawlers like Diablo. I must warn you now, this article (like many other articles currently circulating around the internet) will compare Minecraft Dungeons to Diablo numerous time from here on in, it’s unavoidable.

The story in Minecraft Dungeons revolves around the Arch-Illager, an outcast Illager who is banished and sent to wonder the Overworld alone. He stumbles across a mysterious orb, deep in a mountain, which contains unimaginable power. He gains the ability to control mobs and wreak havoc upon the Overworld. Only the bravest and blockiest of heroes can hope to banish his evil from the land. That’s about all the story intro we get.

The opening cut scene was good, the graphics were in the classic Minecraft style and the music and humour all worked well to set up this epic tale. However, after playing the campaign for a good amount of time I feel overall, the story is not powerful enough or conveyed in the most impactful way. In my experience there were little to no call backs to the story as I progressed through the game.

As mentioned above, the similarities people are making to Diablo are unavoidable and in a way Minecraft Dungeons should be privileged to be compared to such a behemoth within the RPG, dungeon crawling genre. The controls are very similar, even down to the buttons used to cast spells and consume health potions. This is not a bad thing because familiarity is comforting right? Who wants to learn a whole new button configuration.

I think the name of the game with Minecraft Dungeons is accessibility, bringing a whole new player base to the action-adventure, RPG genre. Without sounding insulting or risking fan backlash that could rival a creeper explosion, Minecraft Dungeons is a ‘child friendly’ Diablo. There, I said it.

However, if you want a proper challenge and to get the most out of Minecraft Dungeons then this is my suggestion and it is exactly what me and my friend did. Play the game on way above your power level. As you start each level in Minecraft Dungeons you will be able select a difficulty setting. By choosing the highest setting possible each time you enter a dungeon you will not only get fail a lot but you will lengthen the game, create some epic battles and when you do succeed gain some high level loot.

After playing solo for about 3 hours, on the recommended difficulty setting, I was already half way through the game. This means I would have been able to play through the entire game in roughly 6 hours. The dungeons themselves seemed short and every time I reached the exit I was surprised and a little disappointed, mainly because I didn’t want it to end. Shorter dungeons will be great for those looking for a shorter adventure which is again why I am suggesting this game is all about the wider appeal.

The combat in Minecraft Dungeons is chaotic but enjoyable. Drawing back the bow for maximum damage and unleashing a barrage of arrows is very satisfying. The melee combat is great too especially once I started unlocking new weapons and enchanting them with a whole array of powers.
There’re 3 main gear types in Minecraft Dungeons. Melee weapons, ranged weapons and armour. These can be changed at any point via your inventory screen. Each of these gear types can be enchanted and this is where the variation in gameplay and play style comes in. Players spend enchantment points that are gained with every level increase. 1 level equals 1 enchantment point. Players generally get a choice between 3 randomly generated enchantments and these in turn can be upgraded from tier 1 to tier 3. The variation of enchantments seemed fairly broad, ranging from the classic RPG tropes like life leech to more Minecraft specific varieties.

In addition to the gear, players will acquire artefacts that also add a great variation to the gameplay. There’re 3 slots in which players can equip their chosen artefacts. Each artefact generally has a cool down time, much like abilities and spells do in Diablo. The artefacts in Minecraft Dungeons really show off the creativity of the small development team at Mojang. My personal favourites were the artefacts that utilise the power of mob souls. When a hostile mob is slain, the released souls are collected by the player and used to power certain artefacts. The more souls collected the more powerful or effective the artefact. For example, the healing amulet can heal a player to full if they have killed a lot of mobs previously or the corrupted beacon, that unleashes a huge beam, will last considerably longer if you have collected a lot of souls before using it.

Although I really enjoyed playing solo, Minecraft Dungeons is definitely made to be played with others. Players have the option to play with up to 3 others to form a heroic crew of 4 either online via Xbox Live or in local coop by connecting extra controllers. Me and my friend played for a good few hours and both enjoyed the game in our own ways. My friend played as a long-range specialist (even though all characters have both melee and ranged weapons) and I focused on close combat, tailoring our characters enchantments and artefacts around those play styles and it worked well.

We did feel there wasn’t anywhere near as much synergy or cohesion in our abilities as there is in games like Diablo but this doesn’t take away from the fact we still need to employ teamwork and tactics in order to defeat the menacing hordes.

Expect to see and run away from all your favourite Minecraft mobs, plus a lot of new additions. One example of new mobs are the evokers. These are magical summoners who have an army of pesky fairies that constantly blocked my arrow shots. Evokers also have an ability that generates bear traps, these were highly damaging and killed us more than once when we played on the higher difficulty settings. The key to defeating these mobs and any mini boss in Minecraft Dungeons is patience, persistency and running away!

The graphics in Minecraft Dungeons are really great. It is still a block-based game but the shading, lighting and atmospheric level design make for some very impressive visuals. I played on Xbox One and the graphics were still very pretty so I imagine that on the far more powerful Xbox One X and high-end PC’s the game will look stunning.

The music in Minecraft Dungeons is classic Minecraft and could easily be lifted straight from the vanilla game. I would describe it as atmospheric and ambient. Rather than songs; the music is more dictated by the environments. The sound effects mix into the music and work together to create a feeling. The music in general is all very subtle which helps you enjoy it instead of becoming irritated by it. The most surprising moment came when I inadvertently summoned four skeleton horsemen. This prompted a rock riff worthy of the Download Festival main stage set. It was slightly jarring compared to the soft melody that had been previously playing but it was also totally badass and humorous.

Minecraft Dungeons isn’t without its flaws and criticisms. As me and my friend played the game, we found more and more issues. These included the apparent omittance of the crafting and building element that Minecraft is famous for. Also, not being able to store consumables for later use really irked me. As a self-confessed consumable hoarder, I really didn’t like the fact I was forced to use the consumables on ‘pick up’ and was not allowed to hold onto them for when I’d inevitably need them later. We also experienced a fair few, small graphical glitches but I’m sure these will be patched at some point.

In summary Minecraft Dungeons is a great game that is a welcome addition to the Xbox Game Pass. It has really fun elements that will keep the majority of gamers occupied for many hours. Minecraft Dungeons is definitely best played and experienced with a team as that’s where the games strengths really lie.

In my experience the story failed to engage me or make me connect to the overall theme. I’m sure a lot of players will enjoy the story for its humour and cartoony style I just expected and hoped for a bit more. I mainly enjoyed tackling the challenge of defeating high level dungeons with the various artefact combinations.

I think the team at Mojang have done a really respectful and authentic job of translating the Minecraft world to a new game style, the themes transfer really well.

I just can’t help thinking they missed out a few features that would have stopped gamers and critics from calling it a Diablo copy.

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