Sam Nason explores the world of Minecraft Dungeons, Mojang’s latest game that puts a dungeon crawling twist on the familiar Minecraft universe
For an IP as successful as Minecraft, it is perhaps surprising that only two spin-off games have seen the light of day since the original’s release in 2009; Minecraft Dungeons is the third. Released on 26th May, Mojang’s take on the dungeon crawling genre is enjoyable, if not a little repetitive. Dungeons does away with the mining and crafting of its namesake; instead it is a hack-and-slash adventure game where you explore randomly-generated dungeon levels filled with monsters, traps and treasure.
Gameplay is incredible intuitive. One button controls your melee attack, while another controls your ranged – simple stuff. You can find new loot while adventuring, or by purchasing mystery crates in the camp afterwards with in-game currency. Enchantments can be placed on weapons to give them (or you) additional abilities, all of which are quite powerful and prove extremely satisfying to use in battle. For those who want to make their gear the best it can be, the compulsion to hunt for specific enchantments on weapons is rather satisfying and increases the replay value of the game. Evidently then there is some depth to Dungeon’s mechanics; yet it does not stray too far into complexity.
Early levels will not challenge veterans of the genre and this lack of difficulty can result in the game becoming a bit monotonous. In its final quarter, Minecraft Dungeons does become slightly tougher as waves of enemies grow in size and their abilities amplify. However by then you are almost at the end and are thirsty for more – the game’s central campaign can be whizzed through in about four hours. Options, of course, exist to play earlier levels on higher difficulties after you’ve finished the game which supplements this frustration, but it is a shame there aren’t a great deal of levels built around challenge.
Then again, veteran dungeon crawlers are not the sole target audience. Minecraft Dungeons is undeniably a family-friendly take on the genre, and it is its capacity for multiplayer that really makes the game shine. Up to four players can play, either online or locally, and work together to tackle mobs, missions and dungeons. Dungeons is definitely most fun when played with co-op in mind and makes exploring that much more gratifying. Each player can chain together whichever enchantments and weapons they see fit in order to form the most optimised team possible; the absence of specific classes means Dungeons allows a great deal of versatility in its customisation, making it accessible to newer players and a relaxing, streamlined experience for veterans.
Visually the game looks marvellous. Developed in Unreal Engine, each location looks distinct, ranging from the domestic to swamps to dungeons. The lighting especially casts a specific mood across each area, emulating the sense of a great journey as time changes around you. While not the most visually intensive, I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the villages looked in-game, bringing life to these communities that did appear a bit static in the original game; it brings the blocky style of Minecraft to life in a strangely beautiful way. Since stages are randomly generated, it also ensures repeat playthroughs don’t get too dull as you discover new paths and areas to explore.
While it is tough to top the iconic soundtrack of the original game by C418, the tracks composer Peter Hont has created for Dungeons provide a neat ambience and capture the atmosphere of each location well. My favourite track plays when you are resting at Camp between levels, marrying the nostalgic abstract twangs of Minecraft’s OST and the more intricately structured pieces of Dungeons. The camp acts as a nice respite between adventures, but I thought it was a bit of a missed opportunity; in a sprawling hub area, only one small section becomes occupied by merchants and the level select map. Having the ability to customise or develop the camp would have given it a greater degree of purpose while harkening back to the creative origins where Minecraft began.
While this is perhaps a personal problem, I thought it was worth mentioning that the game has twice crashed on me whilst playing, which led to my progress being wiped while exploring one of the wider dungeons in the game. Teething problems for a game that has just released are inevitable, and the game possesses an autosave feature to remedy this, but it is quite galling nonetheless.
Inevitably more content will drop for the game – the empty spaces on the main map screen are indicative of that – but the base game does offer a fun, if short, experience. If one is familiar to the genre and is going to play by themselves, I am unsure whether there is enough content and depth in Dungeons’ current state to warrant the purchase. That being said, Minecraft Dungeons is perfect for families seeking a cooperative gaming experience in the familiar Minecraft universe, or for fans of the series who are new to dungeon crawlers and might consider this game a gateway to more in-depth titles.
Minecraft Dungeons is available on the Nintendo Switch, XBOX ONE and PS4 for £12.99.
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