Rarely do games in a franchise ever branch off outside of their assigned genre in a successful manner. Halo Wars and PvZ: Garden Warfare are good examples of series making mostly graceful transitions. The same can be said for Mojang Studios and Double Eleven’s hack-and-slash action-RPG Minecraft Dungeons. While the execution isn’t perfect, Dungeons remains a worthy entry point for younger fans looking to break into ARPG’s. That isn’t to say it lacks any depth however, in fact containing a sneaky amount that’ll have prospective heroes delving back into it’s many biomes and caverns to adventure as long as the content keeps flowing.
Minecraft Dungeons isn’t your typical ARPG. Outside of it sporting the family friendly Minecraft aesthetic, MD is also devoid of classes. Instead, the player is offered a wide variety of melee weapons, bows, armor types and artifacts which act as the players ability set. Each artifact has different uses that will fit a different playstyle. While a Light Feather is great for getting into the action, diving in and stunning enemies making them ripe for a slashing, a Wind Horn is more useful for clearing out foes, blasting them all back with a powerful area of effect. Finding a perfect mix of these items will be part of the loot grind throughout the journey. The same can be said for weapons and armor.
A wide variety of weapon and armor types allow the player freedom to build how they want, free of traditional class restrictions. Want to use and extremely slow hammer with speed boots? Go ahead. How successful it’ll be is unclear but MD will let you try. Playstyles are out there to be find in Minecraft Dungeons, but they’re entirely optional for a casual playthrough. Weapons and armor are beefed up by enchantments. Enchantment points are acquired by leveling up and can be applied to gear specific enchantments. These enchantments range from chain lightning that jumps from mob to mob, to cooldown reductions making artifacts usable far more frequently. With all of these enchantments being random on each piece of loot acquired, the possibilities are endless. And the best part? Upon salvaging an enchanted item, all enchantment points will be restored to the player to utilize on future gear.
With how polite MD is with enchantment points, you might think the difficulty follows suite. And on standard difficulties it does. However, if you fail to find secret levels, you may see the end of the game vastly under-leveled and unable to continue without grinding. It’s not that the secret levels are difficult to find, their triggers which are found in main levels are just easily missed on a casual playthrough. Otherwise difficulty is a solid mix of challenge, gradually ramping up to the point of players needing to coordinate their efforts and time their artifacts and potions in the endgame. And offering two advanced difficulty settings outside the default, completionists and die-hards will have their pressure plates full with Dungeons if the so choose.
Piecing all of this together in actual combat encounters often feels great, if not comparable to popular ARPG’s. Spectacular audio and visual feedback make hits weighty, and enchantment effects add powerful variety. Chaining these abilities and effects together in multiplayer (whether that be locally or online) with up to four players adds to that hidden level of depth MD doesn’t want to scare you off with but will offer to you if you’re asking.
The biggest problem encountered in the ten hours played for this review were odd bugs that only seemed to pop-up during online-play. Our party once braved the Desert Temple only to be locked out at the end by a gate that refused to close. There was another instance in which the party finished a level, clicked the victory door and were just teleported to a tiny room behind said door, stuck with no way to actually confirm finishing the level. These issues wouldn’t sting as bad if they weren’t at the very end of a long fought level, and while single-player offline play only had the loot drop from the final boss fall through the ground, these progress stopping bugs were only present in online play.
The setup is simple; A misfit Illager (ill-meaning villager) wanders into the wilderness to seek refuge from ridicule. On his trek, Archie comes across an item of great power, The Orb of Dominance. Now in possession of The Orb, Archie has become The Arch-Illager. This Arch-Illager serves as the main antagonist throughout MD’s short thirteen level story mode (nine main missions, four secret). Fighting off Archie’s hoards and thwarting his plans as the adventure continues through swamps, deserts and castles is standard-fare enough and feels at home for a Minecraft title and an action-RPG. With little more to speak of (but not by much) than it’s survival-crafting forefather the plot is thin. It leaves some to be desired. But in mission objectives give context to the illagers villainy while partially motivating the player to push forward.
Whimsical and relaxing Minecraft-esque tunes fill Dungeons maps and the hub area with the same welcoming atmosphere and authenticity as the original game. Tone is important and Dungeons nails it with it’s soundtrack. Caverns feel dangerous and ominous while the hub area camp boasts and relaxing and homey track.
From emerald pick-ups to bows twanging and everything in-between, these are the Minecraft sounds you’ve heard for close to a decade now. They compliment the experience quite nicely. Minecraft has a sound for everything that would be needed for a title like MD. Weapons, potions, chests opening. All of these sounds crucial to the genre and properly applied from an existing library. Throughout the whole experience the audio interestingly enough feels like the strongest aspect of MD outside of it’s fun and fluid combat.
The natural path Minecraft Dungeons has for level design is obvious, drawing from it’s source material to assign a biome per level. While Dungeons won’t do anything to blow you away visually, the Minecraft voxel art style works decently enough in the genre, relying more on it’s existing style known by hundreds of millions of players the world over than anything new and flashy. Menu and HUD icons looks crisp and clear which may seem unimportant but identifying items and stats with ease is crucial to fast swapping newly dropped loot while in a dangerous area.
Sporting great combat feel and excellent sound and music, Minecraft Dungeons is an action role-playing experience that feels just short of essential to fans of the genre. Options exist for dozens of different playstyles without locking yourself into a specific class and secret levels should keep players on their toes throughout their journey. The addition of something like Diablo’s Rifts to add scalable and unlimited replay value would have been a welcome way to keep hardcore player’s interest until the eventual DLC levels release. However Minecraft’s mass appeal may be the best way to get a causal loved-one into RPGs, even if it does contain some dead-ends on it’s path to being diamond in the cobblestone.