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‘Minecraft Dungeons’ is another simple but satisfying entry in a blocky universe

by Blake Chapman Disclaimer: This review is of the Xbox One version of the game and was conducted on an Xbox One X. For any artist, it is difficult — if not impossible — to follow up your magnum opus with a piece of art that is even comparable. This is especially true when it comes to the world of video games. While it may take copious amounts of time and effort to create a sequel in a landmark series or an entirely new project that improves upon its predecessor, it only takes one sour note to bring all that work crumbling down. Out of any game developer in the world, Mojang Studios has been able to smoothly navigate this conflict. Since releasing Minecraft in 2011, the Swedish developer’s biggest challenge has simply been expanding that game for the last decade. Other than some smaller titles with equally small reception, the only projects Mojang Studios has worked on are a re-release of the original Minecraft for browsers, an augmented reality version of the game, and the recently released Minecraft Dungeons. This dungeon crawler lets players traverse multiple biomes from the original game while on a quest to defeat an army of the undead — with plenty of role-playing additions to boot. While it offers a very simple experience geared towards newcomers which can become frustrating at times, this dungeon crawler is overall a fun journey from start to finish.

Smooth gameplay with some hard edges

As much as Minecraft is a survival game where exploration and building are the defining principles of the experience, combat is the defining principle of Dungeons. The typical hack-and-slash elements mixed with a fair amount of magic is what players should expect since the aforementioned elements of exploration and building are not here to round out the experience. Overall, it feels streamlined and uncomplicated while still offering a satisfying new adventure. The large amount of weapons, artifacts, and armor sets allow for vast customization and new combat scenarios as well — whether you’re wielding a hammer with lightning splash damage or a pair of daggers that spawn poison clouds.
Image from Minecraft
At times, the heavy focus on combat can get you into tight spots where the random generation of levels works heavily against you. These include room layouts backing you into a corner without the ability to properly see your character model’s actions, mobs spawning in the hundreds in one room and choking you off from the rest of the dungeon, or a meager amount of enemies that can simply be picked off with arrows in the next room over. Random level design is nothing new to dungeon crawlers and therefore only adds to Dungeons in terms of exploration and replayability; yet, that does not stop it from being a very straightforward game. The campaign is strangely short, and the only offerings when it comes to open navigation lead you down dead ends the majority of the time. Overall, the combat forcing you into tight spots for no apparent reason does little to season any player, and it is more of an annoyance than anything else. While the developers said they wanted to maximize the adventurous elements of the game, a full campaign that lasts around 10 hours at the most does not work in their favor. There is not much incentive to go back and explore previous areas other than getting extra items or armor, which players will inevitably deconstruct by the end of the very next level. For more casual Minecraft fans, this adventure’s straightforwardness is merely a slight positive and such brevity is only frustrating for more experienced gamers.

Design that needed more time in the furnace

While the larger design elements of Minecraft Dungeons are — for the most part — well crafted and interesting, the smaller gameplay mechanics end up being disappointing. For starters, even though the impressive amount of equipment and custom gear you can come across is a great change of pace from Minecraft itself, it all gets pretty dizzying without a proper way to filter and organize your inventory. After only half a level, multiples of weapons and bows begin piling up. Even though the team at Mojang did not hope players would focus on a single piece of gear for the majority of the game, throughout the first half it is difficult to sift through everything — subsequently causing players to shift back to their original paladin-like setup without exploring any variation.
Image from Minecraft
When it comes to further customizing gear, the possibilities are unique on their own but overall shallow. Enchantments, which are random sets of status buffs that can be upgraded each time you level up, are numerous and effective but do little to differentiate the weapons from each other. Artifacts are wonderful gadgets that make up for the lack of a solid mage or wizard class, but they come with multiple caveats. You cannot enchant them or level them up in any way; yet, there are some with a simple “common” classification that are useful beyond what their classification would suggest. This means the evolution of power does not naturally progress with the difficulty of enemies or overall level and many artifacts end up becoming sacrifices for more emeralds.

A great amount of fun with wonderful accessibility

Dungeons’ personality and its focus on welcoming new and returning players rounds out the experience. For one, the story is interesting and engaging while not hampering down players with loads of lore. As a hero, you must journey throughout different biomes to defeat the Arch-Illiger and his mob of the undead; nothing too complicated, but still enough new characters and story beats to keep adventurers’ anticipation high. Along with the story, the difficulty settings are another example of accessibility working for all players no matter their previous knowledge of Minecraft or dungeon crawlers. While the entirety of Dungeons runs on a standard difficulty setting that unlocks subsequent modes once you finish the first and easiest one, each level also comes with tiers that determine the type of loot and abilities you pick up throughout. At times, it can lock you into a specific tier based on your team’s power in multiplayer, but overall, it increases replayability and offers unique challenges all on its own.
Featured Image: Minecraft Images: Minecraft Sources: Engadget, Metacritic, US Gamer