Minecraft Dungeons is an isometric, hack ‘n slash RPG developed by studios Mojang and Double Eleven and is a spin-off of the best-selling video game of all time, Minecraft. By combining the unique visuals of the Minecraft world with a gameplay experience focused on exploration, combat, and looting, Minecraft Dungeons presents a welcoming world of action for players of all skill levels. At an indie-tier price, some fans of the genre might assume that Minecraft Dungeons is light on content, but the original Minecraft is also exceptionally cheap and there’s no denying the quality of that title. With both online and local multiplayer (as well as solo play) supported, Minecraft Dungeons is an attractive purchase for gamers looking to group up and smash some blocky foes. Does this spin-off give players the addictive gameplay and high replayability that the Minecraft brand is known for, or is this simply an unpolished and unremarkable attempt at expanding the franchise?
Illagers Versus Villagers
Although isometric RPGs are often known for their long-winded, lore-filled narratives, Minecraft Dungeons is far easier to digest. It’s a simple story of good versus evil; a dark sorcerer known as the Arch-Illager has begun to wreak havoc on the Overworld by using his evil spells and raising the dead. After ransacking your town and kidnapping the other villagers, the Arch-Illager continues his reign of terror west, moving across the various lands of the Overworld. Seeking revenge for the destruction of your home and people, you pursue the Arch-Illager with your team of companions and attempt to bring him and his army to justice.
If you go into Minecraft Dungeons looking for a compelling or at all complex story, you’ll be very disappointed. Your adventure to chase down and defeat the Arch-Illager takes you to come pretty cool places, but the narrative intrigue is simply not there. There are a handful of bosses and some interesting enemies that reinforce the storytelling, but overall, the game is awfully light on story content.
There aren’t many NPCs, you won’t pick up side-missions, and apart from the very limited cutscenes, you won’t see any other story content outside of pre-mission level descriptions. This makes sense for a franchise that’s mostly about letting the player create their own story, but that’s kind of a null point. Simply put, Minecraft Dungeons doesn’t have an interesting story, characters, or a compelling antagonist. You’re just there to smash through enemies and level up your character. This is slightly disappointing given the genre, but the lack of a good story doesn’t hurt the game too much, mainly because the game is so short.
Smash and Shoot
The gameplay in Minecraft Dungeons will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played an isometric hack ‘n slash game before. Due to its simplistic difficulty (at first) and obvious comparisons to other popular RPG series, I endearingly refer to Minecraft Dungeons as “baby Diablo”. That’s not a dig, either, it’s just the most apt description that comes to mind. Whether you’re playing it solo or with a group, Minecraft Dungeons is easy-to-learn and fairly straightforward. You create a character by picking from a list of preset outfits, then start your adventure in the burning village. Although you start with a bare inventory, you’ll quickly amass new weapons and items as you kill enemies and loot chests.
The objective of each level is fairly simple. You’ll usually run around, exploring the stage and fighting off various enemies such as skeletons, exploding creepers, huge spiders, and more. As you defeat foes and try to locate the exit, you’ll gain experience points and eventually level up. Leveling up increases your character level, allowing you to equip better weapons and armor. Gaining a level also grants you an enchantment token, which can be used to further upgrade existing pieces of gear with unique abilities. Hidden chests and pots filled with spendable emeralds encourage you to explore every side-room, but apart from these collectibles, stages have a habit of feeling a bit empty. There are multiple instances where I would travel down a side-passage expecting a chest or loot, but would find nothing but a dead-end. By the time I reached the end of the game, I was simply aiming for objectives and bypassing extra areas on the map.
The adventure is spread across nine mostly brief levels, including a spooky forest, dank dungeons, and a ravaged desert. There’s a good variety of environments, so things stay visually engaging even when exploration can feel slightly underwhelming. The combat is welcoming and the difficulty curve provides a good challenge, so if you enjoy other isometric hack ‘n slash games, you’ll probably have a good time with the minute-to-minute gameplay in Minecraft Dungeons. There are a handful of glitches and occasional frustrations that can occur, but for the most part, the game feels solid from start to finish. I was forced to restart a mission once or twice, but since levels are so brief, most setbacks felt minor.
A Better Sword to Swing With
No Diablo-clone is worthwhile without a good selection of loot, and luckily, Minecraft Dungeons has its fair share of cool weaponry and gear. Melee weapons everything from daggers and pick-axes to swords and hammers, while an assortment of cool bows make up the ranged offerings. There are also three slots that you can fill with active items, which provide quick boosts during combat. You’ll see the most variety in these items, which include healing totems, giant horns that push back enemies, elemental arrow quivers, and much more. Gear comes in common, rare, and unique forms, with some armor and weapons containing bonus stats.
Between levels, you can take a breather while you rest at camp. This is a good time to adjust and upgrade your equipment, as the game doesn’t fully pause during a mission. You can still swap weapons and armor while you’re battling, but you’ll have to do it while enemies are distracted or your immediate surroundings are clear.
When you’re not sifting through your inventory at the camp, you can also spend your precious emeralds at the Trader and Blacksmith. That said, both vendors only offer random items, which are only visible once you’ve purchased them. During my playthrough, I never received an item from the Trader or Blacksmith that was of notable worth, so I mostly avoided them. This made the emeralds end up feeling a bit worthless, as most of the best gear was picked up from chests I wandered by.
The Bottom Line on Minecraft Dungeons
While Minecraft Dungeons might not be as deeply complex or endlessly replayable as a game like Diablo III, it’s still pretty fun to play through with a friend or two. It’s a good title for players who are new to the isometric hack ‘n slash genre, due to its simpler mechanics and combat. While more experienced players will feel slightly underwhelmed by the game at first, subsequent playthroughs on the extra unlockable difficulty levels provide a nice boost of challenge.
With nine levels and a decent amount of replayability, Minecraft Dungeons is a brief but enjoyable title that warrants its indie-tier price-point. If you’re only trying to finish the story once, Minecraft Dungeons provides at least 3 – 4 hours of sword-slashing fun. While there are many hack ‘n slash RPGs that are bigger and better than Minecraft Dungeons, it’s still a fun adventure and one that’s much more enjoyable with friends.