Minecraft Dungeons was announced during a live-stream Minecon event in 2018 before being previewed at E3 in 2019. The original release was planned for April in 2020. This was later postponed to May 2020 due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. This game was expecting to be like classic dungeon-crawler games, while I played this I felt it to be more child-friendly versions of Baulders Gate Dark Alliance, and Diablo 3. There was a healthy amount of hype for this game as it is part of the Minecraft franchise, but did it live up to it?
What is it like?
The cinematic opening to the start of Dungeons is really stunning for a block-based videogame. With voice-acting that is done well, it adds some extra depth to an already three-dimensional video. The hero running away is definitely not vibing with what is being put down, and honestly? Totally reasonable. The set up for the players mission is to stop Illagers from destroying the land after one reject Illager took the “Cube of Domination”(No it’s not a Rubix cube.)
Through this dungeon-crawler game style, we get to explore Minecraft in a completely new light, without the two things that make it what it is, “Mine” the ability to mine for materials, and “Craft” the ability to craft tools and materials. For some this defeats the whole purpose. In Minecraft is to be able to mine and craft, giving them creative freedom, but Minecraft Dungeons does not allow this at all with its set aesthetic and no room for creative freedom. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but for some people, it defeats the whole purpose of what Minecraft is about.
With weaponry and items not seen in the regular Minecraft game, it does add some excitement as it explores how the weapons impact fighting as well as how useful artifacts can be in turning the battle in your favor. Another difference from Minecraft is that they don’t really explain how things work, such as how the enchantments work and how to activate different ones when they’re shown to have multiple options…You only really get told basic things to get you from point A to point B. Some similarities are that there are your usual friendly mobs like sheep and cows, as well as food items like bread, apples, pork. This is probably the closest to the original that this game gets.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not cut up over how much they’ve changed from Minecraft to Dungeons, but I am disappointed that they’ve done it so poorly. Sure they’ve added some rag-doll physics that always add humour to games but in this it just makes it seem messy and like some cheap gag gift you give to the cousin you don’t like. The rag-doll physics apply to every mob you face…but not to you, you just get this faded black screen with “You died” and a re-spawn counter. I thought we were the hero? We should also get to see our lifeless block body flop as the mobs try to continue killing us. Instead we get this.
As an adult who grew up with Minecraft and seeing all the updates adding better and more unique items, this game is the equivalent of looking forward to some good left-overs in the fridge just to find out someone else ate it. From the perspective of a child, this game is a good introduction to the genre of dungeon-crawlers. It is way easier than Minecraft to understand in terms of controls and the game mechanics as there aren’t that many buttons to keep track of. On top of the ease of controls, it is pretty difficult to wander off and get lost in any level of this game due to how small each map is as well most areas of the map being hard-locked from the player. I don’t mind games where some levels are small but they generally allows us to interact with the environment in one way or another, for instance in Diablo 3 we can smash books, tables, crates, fun things like that. There are a few areas in some of the maps that have environments that can be interacted with, but nothing terribly exciting which is probably why this game is better suited to young players. I can see them being excited when they see a pig with a big golden chest on it’s back running around the map, because I get the same level of hype when I see treasure goblins doing their thing.
Although the Treasure Pig moves around the map at a much slower pace, this is what makes it better for younger players, especially when you get swarmed by a large number of enemies. The negative being that they rarely drop a decent amount of loot, sometimes only dishing out a few emeralds or a low-level common sword. This can change if you feel like testing your current equipment if you change the difficulty setting manually, otherwise you’ll have to finish the entire game in order to move up to “Adventurer” for things to get a bit more difficult. With the change of difficulty, the rarity of weapons/items also changes, just like other games in this genre, but don’t expect them to be wildly more powerful than the easier difficulties. Once more, just because a weapon/item is rare it doesn’t mean that it is better than common weapons which is frustrating to no end. Following on with the topic of loot, at the end of each level you are given a chest to open that will give you some random items that may or may not be better than what you currently have.
When I first completed a level and got this chest, I was pretty surprised by it as I don’t remember any game I’ve currently played rewarding completion of levels. It definitely added to the feeling of success with completing a level which I do think is something that games don’t often have anymore. But…this feeling quickly became “oh, this again” as the more levels I completed, the less the chest would actually give items that were useful. The items I didn’t even bother looking at as it was obvious that their stats were worse than what I currently have…so I just trashed them for emeralds and went to the Blacksmith hoping I’d get a better item. This also grew tiring and I soon gave up on expecting any item to be better or have different, more useful enchantments on them..
As you progress through the game, the amount it costs to purchase the chest increases but the chances of getting anything that is useful stays the same…trash. In regards to the enchantments, they’re alright but nothing terribly exciting. In order to increase their power it requires you to level up, no big deal, right? Sure, it’s not something difficult to do but I soon found myself with more points than I knew what to do with as there were only three levels on each item that I could spend the points on. Each time you trash a weapon you get the points back so there isn’t really any consequences for destroying items. The lack of consequence to this makes the whole concept rather dull and doesn’t make new weapons or items seem like something to look forward to or something that is exciting, it’s just another thing that you can make emeralds from for some more things that may or may not be actually useful. Once again, as an adult playing this looking for some nostalgia that came from earlier versions of Minecraft and dungeon-crawlers like Baulders Gate this game is not going to give you that, well it certainly didn’t give me that. This is definitely more for young children that want some action and exploring without having to actually do too much work to get both those things. There are hidden areas in each maps (I use hidden loosely because they aren’t too difficult to find) that have chests with some loot that will leave adults disappointed but for kids it’s pretty special finding things like that.
The map is simple to read and yet it has some nice detail that clearly distinguish one area from another. I have to admit, despite the simplicity of the map itself, it is still rather pleasing to look at and reminds me of the old Minecraft posters that had the cross-sections of the world. The colours are flat but not obnoxiously so, it’s like 2D cartoons that somehow manage to make it look 3D. There are some areas on the map that require you to look around specific areas in order to unlock them which is a good idea but sometimes the way the levels are laid out make it rather annoying in order to get to what’s needed to unlock other levels. It doesn’t add anything more to the game as they all just seem to be cookie-cut-templates but with different colour schemes to them. But if you want something more…You can pay for more! Yay for DLCs!
These two maps look interesting but that’s about all the appeal they have. For me it just seems like it’s going to be the same as the other areas but with a different look to them. I’m not particularly interested in spending 20 plus dollars for DLCs that seem to promise exactly the same thing as what I’ve already worked through. There’s a chance that there will be different styles of armour as well but it isn’t enough to draw me in.
Are there any victories?
Short answer? No. Well, very few anyway. They hold on to the block charm that is present in Minecraft which eases the disappointment that this game otherwise holds. There is also the rag-dolling which sometimes has a humorous effect especially when an explosion happens and they go flying off screen. Otherwise the game is a big let-down. There are some pretty glaring bugs that often result in the game having to be restarted in order to continue on, such as certain items disappearing hard-blocking you from completing the level. Another annoying bug is that when you draw an arrow you cannot then not fire it so you better be fine with wasting arrows. The monster seem to have zones in which they will be activated, sometimes meaning that they’ll try getting to you through brickwalls. Othertimes the monsters will seemingly come from all corners of the map and swamp you, quickly making you overwhelmed. However, in saying this they are pretty easy to kill, sometimes only one-hit deaths. In contrast to this, there are some mobs that are extremely difficult to kill. This comes across as the developers not working out difficulty scales of the mobs meaning that some are extremely difficult to knock out but others are ridiculously easy to kill. It makes the weapon/item powers and enchantments seem completely pointless in regards to what they do. There isn’t much point being able to do continuous poison-damage if they die before it takes effect.
For children however, my answer is completely different. It is a simple game with not too many things to keep track of and remember which is a good way to be introduced to better dungeon-crawler games. The colours aren’t obnoxiously bright which can sometimes make games seem “too childish” and distracting. There aren’t things that are overly graphic which some children may find disturbing so don’t worry too much about that. The mobs may get overwhelming sometimes as they tend to swarm when you enter their periphery but they are pretty easy to knock-out.
That’s it. That is the most straightforward answer I can give. It is pretty awful for all the hype there was around it. I was looking forward to a new adventure, but all I was given was a ball pit in McDonald’s.