At its core Minecraft Dungeons presents an accessible and immediately engaging take on the sort of action-RPG where levelling and finding items and learning various abilities drives character customisation and progress. To borrow a comparison that has been used quite liberally to describe this Minecraft offshoot from Mojang – it’s Diablo, but Minecraft.
The accessibility angle is commendable, and in a sense Minecraft Dungeons could be a gateway to a wider swathe of more stat-heavy experiences – traditional action-RPGs like Diablo III, Path of Exile, or Wolcen. Using an established and iconic franchise to present a genre that may not have the same appeal or recognition is always a good thing. The biggest problem here, weirdly, is the Minecraft aesthetic.
In the sense that Minecraft isn’t simple, it’s visuals are. Players are given tools that foster and nurture limitless creativity. Minecraft Dungeons foregoes any real connection to its source outside of aesthetic and set dressing. There is depth to the mechanics and the free-flow nature of the class-free customisation, but Minecraft Dungeons is painfully simple. To the point where nothing in the actual world, save for hitting mobs, reacts to your weapon. No destructible objects, only the odd pull-this-lever to open-this-door interaction. Or, find the key.
“Minecraft Dungeons foregoes any real connection to its source outside of aesthetic and set dressing.”
Enemies continuously swarm and behave in a manner that’s more Gauntlet than true action-RPG. If one were to call Minecraft Dungeons a pick-up-and-play hack-and-slash like the arcade classic Gauntlet, with some light action-RPG elements, it’s a description that fits. More so than its actual action-RPG selling point.
Like Gauntlet you continuously need to find food to restore health, with health management being the main difficulty driver throughout. Ranged enemies will always hit your character and what this means for developing a build is focusing on enchantments and artifacts that solve the only two combat hurdles presented – crowd control and healing.
Without class-specific items or skill-trees, Minecraft Dungeons does feature a versatile and promising system where weapons and armour feature various enchantments to choose from. From a simple damage buff on a sword to a bow that periodically shoots explosive arrows with an impressive area-of-effect blast. Getting to the stage where it all clicks, the place where you can begin to experiment with different combinations, takes time. Well, it feels like it does.
The first run through the campaign takes about three hours, which then opens-up the next set of difficulty levels to tackle. Going back to the Gauntlet comparison, the arcade simplicity, and the game’s randomised dungeons, the act of playing borders on dull or monotonous for a lot of the time. And no matter the build you're always having to deal with the two aforementioned combat hurdles.
The incentive to keep going to find loot that offers multiple game-changing enchantments just isn’t here. Of course, this might sound a little hypocritical coming from someone who has spent well over a thousand hours playing Diablo III. But, the first run through each dungeon and the overall "story" doesn’t really hint at any sort of depth coming later. One of the problems you’ll have is continuously running out of arrows for your bow – and with this being a randomised drop from enemies - it highlights the surface level approach to the design.
Speaking of story Minecraft Dungeons barely has one, and the camp you setup and use to set out on dungeon expeditions features no customisation or interactivity outside of being able to hit a practice dummy or spend gems on a random piece of gear. The one aspect you’d expect to find some measure of Minecraft’s influence – a home or base to use between battle that you can customise – is completely static and uninteresting.
“Enemies continuously swarm and behave in a manner that’s more Gauntlet than true action-RPG.”
Played in co-op things naturally improve, but even this side of Minecraft Dungeons reinforces the idea that what you get is finite appeal at best – moderately fun, hack-and-slash action, with not all that much going on below its blocky surface.
Minecraft Dungeons has a few bright spots, in its release form it’s highly polished with solid visuals and effects. Outside of the static nature of the environments they’re diverse and cover the range of locations you’d expect to find in this style of experience – from snow-capped mountains to volcanic caves and fortress-like structures. Minecraft Dungeons’ fantasy look is on point. And with the game being moderately priced and a part of Xbox Game Pass – this alone lessens the ‘fun for a few hours’ blow that is Mojang’s take on Diablo.
An entry level take on a well-worn genre that after a few hours will have you heading for the exit.
What we liked
Visually polished and varied, capturing the Minecraft aesthetic filtered through a fantasy lens
Simple controls and action make it accessible to all
Co-op support is welcome and is a lot of fun
There is depth to the enchantment/artifact system
What we didn't like
Minecraft worlds without any interactivity or blocks you can destroy feels weird
Level design and mob behaviours are too simplistic to compliment build variation
Plays more like arcade Gauntlet than Diablo
A few hours of fun without much of an incentive to keep playing