Minecraft is a huge franchise. It’s so big, in fact, that Microsoft bought the franchise and developer Mojang for $2.5 billion back in 2014.
Just as Disney planned to cash in after its acquisition of Star Wars, Microsoft had bigger plans for Minecraft. Aside from new merchandise, the company has released Minecraft: Story Mode, Minecraft Earth for mobile devices, and now Minecraft Dungeons.
After finding Minecraft: Story Mode to be decidedly underwhelming, I was skeptical when I first heard about Dungeons. But I am happy to report that the skepticism was unjustified. Dungeons has managed to thread the needle between being loyal enough to the spirit of Minecraft while still being its own distinct game.
Combat takes center stage
If you play Minecraft for the creative aspect of it – building impressive structures and the like – you may find yourself disappointed here. There are no items to craft or architectural wonders to construct. This is Minecraft Dungeons, after all. So if you entered with those expectations, they were misplaced to begin with.
No, this is a dungeon-crawling, loot-collecting action-adventure with light RPG elements. Oddly enough, it’s somewhat light on loot. I often found myself wandering snaking corridors only to find a dead-end without a chest. It’s a bit perplexing.
Anyway, to start, you create your own character. There are a number of different preset characters to choose from without customization that you might expect. Your companion – assuming you’re playing offline co-op – also creates their character.
The levels start off relatively small and have you learn the ropes. Eventually, they get larger and more labyrinthine in nature. Unfortunately, as I said, you’re not always rewarded for these mini excursions, although sometimes you may find secrets.
Weapons, armor, and items
Aside from finding loot in chests, more powerful enemies will often drop weapons and armor. Speaking of which, you can carry a melee weapon (such as a sword or a hammer) and some kind of a bow. In addition, you have one slot for armor and three slots for different items.
The items can do everything from slowly regenerate your health to damage enemies. One of the more useful items has you collect souls of the fallen, which charges up an item that – when fully charged – creates a blast radius. This is especially useful in tight situations where you have a large mob and critically low health.
In addition, there’s a slot for a healing potion. However, unlike some other dungeon-crawler games, you don’t have to collect potions. This one automatically replenishes after a cooldown period. If your health runs low before the cooldown expires, you can consume food scattered about the levels to restore health or use one of the aforementioned items.
Like much of the game, the inventory system is simple and straightforward. You can salvage items for coins on the fly. Once you return to camp, you can use the coins to buy more weapons, armor, and items. There’s also an enchantment system that allows you to upgrade your weapons and armor with special abilities such as doing extra damage or a chance to heal after landing a strike on an enemy.
The best part of the game, in my view, is that you can play in couch or online co-op. The game is designed to have a second player. In fact, it supports up to four players in total. Plus, the game’s loot system takes this into account as it is balanced to make sure that both players are rewarded evenly.
I can see how hardcore fans of games like Diablo might find Minecraft Dungeons to be a little too shallow. But considering the target audience, a simpler design is to be expected. It still manages to be fun and engaging, and it makes for a good co-op experience. This is perfect to play with a younger sibling or anyone else who is less experienced as a gamer.
Overall, I enjoyed my time in Minecraft Dungeons and look forward to playing the upcoming DLC. It’s definitely worth checking out if you already have Xbox Game Pass. As a standalone buy, it’s a reasonable price, too. Do keep in mind that it’s fairly short, though.