During a Minecon live-stream event in 2018, Minecraft Dungeons was announced and later previewed at E3 in 2019. Originally slated for release in April 2020, the launch was delayed until May of the same year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The game aimed to offer a classic dungeon-crawler experience, but upon playing it, I found it to be more reminiscent of child-friendly adaptations of titles such as Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Diablo III. Despite its association with the popular Minecraft franchise, there was significant hype surrounding the game, but the question remains: did it meet expectations?
Minecraft Dungeons: Differences and Similarities
The opening cinematic of Minecraft Dungeons is breathtaking, considering it is a block-based video game. The voice acting is impressive, adding an extra dimension to the already three-dimensional video. In Minecraft Dungeons, the player’s mission is to stop the Illagers from destroying the land after one of them takes the “Cube of Domination” (not a Rubik’s Cube).
The game presents Minecraft in a new light, without the elements that define it, namely mining and crafting. For some players, this detracts from the game’s purpose, which is to provide creative freedom. Minecraft Dungeons, with its set aesthetic and lack of creative freedom, may not be to everyone’s liking. However, it is not necessarily a negative aspect of the game.
The game offers a range of weaponry and items not present in regular Minecraft, adding excitement to combat and demonstrating the usefulness of artifacts. However, the game lacks explanations about how enchantments work and how to activate them, leaving players to figure it out themselves. There are similarities with regular Minecraft, such as friendly mobs like sheep and cows and food items like bread, apples, and pork.
While the changes from Minecraft to Dungeons do not bother me, I’m disappointed with the execution. The rag-doll physics, which is usually amusing in games, comes across as messy and cheap in this instance. The physics applies to all mobs but not to the player, who only sees a faded black screen with “You died” and a re-spawn counter. It would be more satisfying to see the player’s block body flop around as they try to survive.
As an adult who grew up with Minecraft, I was disappointed to find that this game feels like someone else ate the good leftovers I was looking forward to. However, from a child’s perspective, this game is a great introduction to dungeon-crawler games.
The controls and game mechanics are easier to understand than in Minecraft, with fewer buttons to keep track of. Additionally, it is difficult to get lost on any level due to the small size of each map and the hard-locked areas. While I don’t mind small levels in games, they usually allow for interaction with the environment, such as smashing objects in Diablo 3.
Although there are some interactive areas in Minecraft Dungeons, they are not particularly exciting, making it a better fit for younger players. I can imagine them getting excited when they see a pig with a big golden chest on its back running around the map, just as I get excited when I see treasure goblins in other games.
Looting and the Treasure Pig
The Treasure Pig’s slow movement makes it more kid-friendly when facing a large number of enemies, but the loot it drops is often underwhelming, consisting of just a few emeralds or low-level swords. Adjusting the difficulty can affect loot rarity, but it’s not a guarantee that rare items will be better. At the end of each level, a chest with random items is provided, which initially felt rewarding but eventually became repetitive as the items became less useful. The lack of better enchantments or improvements made the player lose interest in expecting better rewards.
As you progress through the game, the cost to purchase chests increases, but the chances of obtaining useful items remain low. The enchantments are decent but lack excitement, and levelling up is a simple task that leads to an excess of unused points.
There are only three levels for each item to spend these points on, and trashing a weapon results in the points being refunded without any consequences. This lack of consequence makes the concept uninteresting and fails to generate excitement for new weapons or items. As an adult looking for nostalgia from earlier versions of Minecraft and dungeon crawlers, this game falls short. However, as previously stated, it may be more suitable for children who desire action and exploration without much effort. Each map has hidden areas with chests containing loot that may disappoint adults but delight kids.
World and Map Details
The map in Minecraft Dungeons is easy to navigate yet still manages to incorporate some delightful details that set each area apart. Despite its simplicity, the map’s aesthetics are reminiscent of the classic Minecraft posters that showcase cross-sections of the game world. The colour scheme is flat but not overly vibrant, similar to the appearance of 2D cartoons that still appear to be 3D.
Some parts of the map necessitate searching specific regions to unlock additional areas, which is a clever concept, but the level layout can sometimes be bothersome and tedious to navigate. Ultimately, these cookie-cutter levels with different colour schemes do not add any additional value to the game. However, if players desire more, additional content is available for purchase, thanks to the inclusion of DLCs.
Although the two new maps appear intriguing, they seem to lack any real appeal for me. It appears as if they are the same as the previous areas but with a different visual design. I’m not willing to spend over $20 on DLCs that merely promise more of the same content I have already played through. There may be some new armour designs, but that alone is not enough to persuade me.
Is Minecraft Dungeons Worth Buying?
Is there a short answer to whether the game is good or not? No, not really. There are a few things that make it somewhat enjoyable, such as the block charm from Minecraft and the occasional humorous rag-dolling effect. However, there are also some significant bugs that can ruin the experience, like disappearing items and arrows that cannot be fired. The difficulty scales of the mobs seem off, making some extremely difficult to kill while others are too easy.
For children, it may be a good introduction to dungeon-crawler games as it is simple and not overly graphic. Overall, the game did not live up to its hype and was a disappointment.