Minecraft Dungeons (2020)

I never have played more than about an hour or two of a dungeon crawler… I know, I know… but they never interested me, and the control scheme of just clicking on the area you want to go to was always off putting to me. Minecraft Dungeons serves as a great starter point for other crawler games, and I was surprised how much enjoyment I got out of it.

Mojang has been doing a lot of weird stuff for the past 5 years. Once they got Minecraft out from under Java, and ported it to every console they could, they really haven’t done much. A couple seasons of the Story Mode for TaleTell, and the tech demo for AR, and the VR mode. Dungeons is exactly the type of experimenting they should be doing with the massively popular franchise. Minecraft proper can only go so far at this point. Taking the world and it’s unique art style and throwing it into a new genre is a great way to breathe new life into a franchise that is still popular but dormant from a development standpoint.

Starting out, all you do is select a pre-made character, one who has no stats or any differentiating characteristics, everything is purely cosmetic. A couple cutscenes tell the entire story for the whole game. A “Illager” sets off and finds a special artifact granting him special powers. He is corrupted by the artifact and has turned a bunch of other illagers into his minions. It is your job, and a group of three others if you decide to play in multiplayer mode, to go stop him.

The story is so unbelievably light, but that isn’t really all that surprising, since Minecraft itself never had a story, it was all up to the player to invent one. And the TellTale version was just kinda out there and totally unexpected from the series, that I didn’t even really think about it at all while playing this game. It could have been a lot better, yes, but it also could have been much worse. Luckily the game didn’t vere into a lame or campy story that might have been geared towards a much younger audience.

The gameplay is fairly basic, as you start out with a basic weapon, and a secondary archery bow as well. As you progress and defeat enemies, they will drop randomized loot. Most of the loot is common with minor changes to its stats. Sometimes better than what you currently have equipped, but mostly just a bit worse or on par. This is why I really don’t like loot based games. 95% of the items you pick up are worse than the one you have equipped, or are just as good. It wastes so much time to pull up an inventory menu and go find the new item, compare it to the one you are using and swap it out. It’s just mostly never really helpful, and I went through the entire game with swapping out my main weapon 4 times.

The levels are split into certain biome sections and also given a unique appearance with the isomeric angle. The lighting really adds an atmosphere that heightens the playing experience. Levels like the swamp with it’s hazy fog and rain makes the witch's bubbling cauldron feel eerie and creepy. The lava flowing red stone mines create a mood reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings. It’s incredible the amount of space the levels cover. These levels are huge, while still confining the player to a linear type of “hallway” progression. It’s not an open world or free roaming.

One thing that I didn’t expect was actual dungeons that were hidden away from the main path of the game. These little dungeons were a bit tougher than the normal level, but with that risk, there were some rewards that were granted to those who took on the challenge. The loot was better than what was dropping outside, and usually worth it for the XP alone.

The one real issue I had with the game was that as I played through the game on normal difficulty, I was always underpowered for the level. I finished most of the 11 levels without too much trouble, and the first time. But two times I was at the end of the level, even beating the final boss for that stage and died and had to redo the entire level over again. And again, these levels are fairly long, taking 20-30 minutes in some cases, if you are trying to get everything. And even on the last level, I was so underpowered, I was required to go back to earlier levels and grind them to buff up my character. No game should ever require grinding like that. I should be able to complete the game in one go, without ever having to go back and complete levels a second or third time to gain the proper amount of XP to be able to progress through the last part of the game.

Without having much expectation of Minecraft Dungeons, or even caring about it, Gamepass has served its purpose again, granting me access to a game I normally would never have paid for. Making it essentially “free” with the subscription, makes it such a great way to experience a game I had no interest in. And I had a great time, it’s simple and basic, but prepares you for more tougher and technical dungeon crawlers, like Diablo. I’d recommend it to anyone who either likes Minecraft, or anyone who wants to get into Dungeon Crawlers without getting too in over their head.