STAFF REVIEW of Minecraft Dungeons (Xbox One)

Wednesday, June 3, 2020.
by Kirby Yablonski

Minecraft Dungeons Box art When you hear the word Minecraft you no doubt think about the open world exploration game of the same name. It has been around for 11 years and has sold over 200 million copies worldwide. It is a basic looking game that has simple gameplay; however, it also has the depth and longevity that people will play for days, weeks, months and even years. Developer Mojang has recently rebranded themselves and are now Mojang Studios. It makes sense as Microsoft, who just happen own Minecraft, is looking at ways to further the brand. That brings us to this review. At the time of writing, Minecraft Dungeons was recently released on multiple platforms, and we are here to give our final impressions of the Xbox One version.

To compare Minecraft Dungeons to the original game that has been around for so long would be unfair, as they are two different style of games. Minecraft Dungeons can best be compared to the likes of Diablo, Torchlight and many other 3rd person ARPGs, whereas Minecraft is an open world exploration game where you can build pretty much anything your imagination can think of. Minecraft Dungeons may not have the depth of other ARPGs, and in many ways you can pretty much say that it is an ARPG-lite, but that does not mean there is not a lot to do to keep you busy. Add to this that the game can be played by anyone in your family, from the inexperienced gamer(s) in the house to the most die-hard of players, there are challenges suited for all skills, levels and ages.

The story of Minecraft Dungeons is a modest one. There is an unnamed Illager who tries to make friends with anyone he can; however, it seems that no one wants to hang out with him. Angry and frustrated, this lone Illager takes to the road, and once he finds what he believes is the end of it, he finds an evil orb (well, in the Minecraft universe it is a cube). He succumbs to the power of the orb and he becomes the Arch-Illager, a man who wants revenge on all those who ignored him. He goes on a rampage to destroy villages, capture the villagers, and become ruler of all. It is up to you to save the world and vanquish the Arch-Illager.

You can choose from an enjoyable selection of characters. There are visual differences, from clothes to facial features, but remember, you will be finding various armor that will change your look. The first mission you play, which opens your camp (base of operations) upon completion, is a tutorial for what lies ahead. You will learn the basics of weapon combat, enchanting your gear and using your artifacts as well consumables. Once you complete this and your camp is opened, you can choose from the various missions offered. As you progress, you will open some vendors who can provide you with level specific weapons and artifacts. I found myself visiting these vendors after each mission I completed, as I would get something special now and then. If you search the area around your camp, you will also find the odd chest full of emeralds.

The game starts at a default skill level, and as you level your character up, the level of difficulty will scale along with you. There is a total of three skill levels (default, adventure and apocalypse) and within each of these three levels are another six sub-levels. You have to finish the default skill to open adventure. Although the bump in AI difficulty is not game-stopping, and manageable, you will find yourself dying more then you did before. When you look at the sub-levels available, the game shows you how much the difficulty is multiplied over the ‘normal’ difficulty, what level of character you should be, as well as what power levels of gear you may get when they drop.

What I really enjoy about Minecraft Dungeons is that the game is relatively simple, but the more you play the more you realize that there is a level of depth to it that makes it more than it seems. You can equip so many different artifacts, which can range from healing, speed boosts or special attacks, to those that can summon animals to assist you in battle. You can also enchant your weapons and armor with enchantment coins (you get one every time you level up) that can provide you specific buffs and bonuses. These can range from weapons that create a poison cloud, or an enable an ability to stun enemies with an attack to armor that has a chance to negate a hit from an enemy, or add bonus damage when you strike. This kind of depth adds to the playability of the game, which is an incredibly good thing.

The controls for Minecraft Dungeons are very well implemented as well. It is not too complex, yet manages to allow you to do everything you need too easily. From melee attacks, ranged attacks, to using your artifacts, your healing potion or rolling away from danger, it becomes second nature in many ways. Be forewarned though, in terms of your ranged ammo, your healing potion and your defensive roll, they must be managed. You do not get infinite ranged ammo, as you collect bundles of arrows and they deplete during the use. As for your health potion and your defensive roll, once used they need to ‘recharge’ for future use, so you should keep an eye on them when you find yourself surrounded by many enemies.

Speaking of enemies (what a great Segway to this paragraph eh?), they are wide and varied, and as one would expect, they get more challenging the further into the game you go. From basic zombies, exploding creepers, annoying spiders and skeleton archers, to Minecraft Dungeons specific characters like knights with armored shields, Redstone monstrosities to a loot-pig. Yes, the latter is a real thing. Some of these enemies are simple to dispose of; however, if you run into a large number of them at the same time, you’ll find yourself in a live or die situation.

Gameplay length is varied and depends on how you play. If you race from point A to point B just to get through the game as fast as you can, your initial gaming experience will last about 5 hours or so. Minecraft Dungeons is not really a game that should be played this way. There are areas off the beaten path, secrets to be found and treasure chests to be open. Playing the game in this manner, searching every nook and cranny of the dungeons, you can expect a much longer gaming experience as well as the opportunity to find new and more powerful gear, weapons and more.

Minecraft Dungeons has an enjoyable multiplayer component. You can play with up to three others, either online or couch co-op. This allows for a good range of multiplayer experiences, especially if you are playing with friends or family at home on one screen. It is a drop-in/drop-out experience too, so players will not have to worry about exiting to a lobby to allow other players to join. Online play is pretty smooth, and you can separate from the main party and explore while you do your own thing. In terms of local multiplayer, it is a bit more restricting, as you are playing on the same screen. The in-game camera can pull back somewhat, but it is not split screen so you will have to say together throughout the whole game. In terms of the loot that drops, it is not a race to get the gear first. The game allows for gear to be dropped for each character playing, which is a nice touch.

Presentation wise, Minecraft Dungeons hits it out of the park. The traditional blocky look is recreated but with so many different areas for you to explore. Each area is themed and looks different from one another. The lighting is impressive, from the way the sun casts your shadow on the ground to the flicking of torches or the glow of mystical stones. The cuteness factor is also way off the charts, from the different armor you’ll find throughout to some of the crazy weapons that you can wield, to the cutscenes that tell the story. As for the game’s audio, the music is great. I found that it becomes ingrained in the background changing during specific areas or when pivotal battles or when new areas are discovered. Sound effects such as the wind blowing, water flowing, mine carts moving about on rails, and even your feet hitting the ground as you walk, there is a lot going on. I was impressed how in the snow under your feet actually ‘crunches’ as you walk. The large array of enemies that you face also have their own sounds, and you will be able to hear them as you approach.

Although all sounds rosy, there are a couple of things that I found that I thought took away from some of my enjoyment. They are somewhat minor, but worth mentioning. The first is that even after the game’s official launch, I found that the game would freeze for a second or two while exploring the various levels. I do not know if his has to do with the game loading what is to come next or an actual technical issue, but the pause is long enough to be noticeable. I even had one play session freeze and had to reboot. I also found the enchantment coins somewhat frustrating (IMO). They are easy to use and to apply to various weapons and armor; however, should you want them back to enchant something else, you have to ‘salvage’ (breakdown) the gear they are attached too, forcing you to delete something you might want to keep. I wish that you could just un-enchant the gear in question, for a fee if need be.

Overall, I found myself quite happy with Minecraft Dungeons. Developer Mojang Studios, along with Double Eleven, have taken the Minecraft franchise into a new realm as an ARPG that succeeds on many levels. Sure, the game may not be as deep as the hardcore ARPGs out there, but its simplicity, along with the hidden depth of character management (e.g. artifacts, armor, weapons), makes for a deeper game then some may initially think. The fact that you can be any level of gamer, from casual or new to a diehard one, and enjoy the game’s content is a testament to what they have created. You can’t go wrong with this title, whether you play the standard version on Game Pass or if you decide to purchase it outright on its own.

Overall: 8.1 / 10
Gameplay: 8.2 / 10
Visuals: 8.1 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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