As an avid lover of Minecraft for the past ten years, I knew I’d have to give Minecraft: Dungeons a shot. After all, what more could I want in a game than for it to be a combination of Minecraft aesthetics and Diablo-esque gameplay? Being a massive fan of ARPGs like Path of Exile and Diablo—which usually promise lengthy playtime, huge replayability, and that addictive feedback loop of grinding for loot—Dungeons appealed to me, as it had been a while since I sunk my teeth into the genre.
The game—newly released, and on the Australian PC market for $29—seemed like a cheap enough entry point to not have to wait for a sale. The price point upon release was one of the biggest clues as to what I was diving in to—before even booting the game up. At about half the cost of a full-priced title, I was expecting half the content. And I was kind of right.
Firstly, one of the striking things is the aesthetic. Even though Minecraft is not often described as a “beautiful” game, the textures the levels are built out of derive straight from Minecraft—with some new variations. What makes the game aesthetically appealing, in an endearing way, are the small details and visual effects. There is a lovely bloom that coats the screen, providing a glow to everything. The animations of the water, enemies, flames, and mechanisms all moved extremely smoothly. The game runs well, and doesn’t require high-end specs to achieve this. There is a softness to the environment, which smooths out a lot of the harsher textures and makes the game a pleasure to look at. Accompany all of this with ambient music and sound effects inspired by Minecraft, and there is not much to complain about here.
So, what do you get for your money in terms of gameplay?
Well, after playing ARPGs like Path of Exile (which has been perhaps the most content-filled and most repayable of them all) and Diablo, you get…not much. Here are the biggest problems with the game, and perhaps why I would perceive it to be the most entry-level ARPG of them all:
The game is defined by limited movesets and RNG with very little payoff. The game basically allows you a melee button to swing your sword, a ranged button to shoot arrows (or any ranged abilities), and three artefact slots in the hot bar. Each of these artefacts can do things like deal damage, heal the player, stun enemies, and more. And that is the extent of it. Essentially, most of the time, you will be spamming the ranged and melee attack buttons (or mouse clicks in my case); often triggering an artefact when the situation gets hairy. But, it all feels a little bare-bones and becomes repetitive quickly. You have to rely on RNG luck, as when weapons and armour drop in-game, they are given random “enchantment” attributes. This means that if you prefer using a hammer as your melee weapon and you want one with the Fire Aspect enchantment on it, you will have to grind away until a hammer drops. This is a common feature in ARPGs, so my gripe is not with the grinding—it is more so with the fact that, even when an item drops with a desired attribute, the upgrades and customisation are extremely limited. There are three stages for each upgrade, and that’s it. You can max out an enchantment on a weapon or piece of armour pretty quickly, but then you’ll find yourself moving on very quickly to an item that dropped with better base stats. Coming from more intricate games that include things like weapon socketing, huge skills trees, and a massive amount of in-game variations, you can see why Dungeons would appeal to the less “hardcore” of ARPG players.
Apart from the simplification of a lot of aspects, the team at Mojang Studios (now newly named) have opted to create procedural maps. This means every time a player chooses a level, it will generate a different layout than the last time the same level was played; no two maps would ever be identical. But what bearing does this have on the experience? I can appreciate the effort the developers have gone through to incorporate more variety, but somehow the spaces still feel very linear—almost a “boxed-in” feeling. You can often see interesting things outside the map boundaries that you can’t get to—contributing to this feeling. The map usually splits off into alternative routes, often resulting in dead ends with no reward. You find yourself backtracking a lot because of this (if you have an explorative nature), and it becomes tedious to consistently go out of your way for little reward. It is especially tedious if you have no movement/speed modifiers, as the walk animation is quite slow and the dodge-roll is limited via cooldown. There is an in-game map and a waypoint to lead you in the direction you need to go in order to progress the narrative; so, you can choose to bypass any optional routes at the cost of minor upgrades or currency here and there.
There definitely is replayability to the game. Upon boot up, I left the difficulty on the default setting; then realised after completing one level that it was much too easy. Bumping up the difficulty modifier definitely made for more of a challenge and made the game much more enjoyable. If you choose to increase difficulty, your reward comes in the form of gear dropping at higher power levels.
The simplicity of Minecraft: Dungeons is not a bad thing. If you’re a player looking to sink time into an ARPG: I don’t recommend you pick this. The price is definitely an indicator of the amount of content you can expect to receive from the title; it could be described as a stripped-down Diablo, with less gore…and definitely more child-friendly. The simplified UI and game mechanics all lend themselves to younger players who enjoy adventure games with a light narrative. While I played the game in single player, the experience would probably be more enjoyable with friends (but, be aware that there is no online matchmaking). For the price, it provides enough value to justify the purchase, especially for long-term fans of Minecraft and those looking to enter into a dungeon-brawler type of experience. If you have never played an ARPG or dungeon-brawler game, this is a good starting point; otherwise, your experience may be tarnished by your high expectations of variety—usually provided by the genre.