Gut Check: Minecraft Dungeons

Minecraft Dungeons is an isometric, cooperative Diablo-esque action RPG that not only doesn’t do justice to the kinds of games it’s emulating, but to the Minecraft name itself. It isn’t some abhorrent mess that’s barely functional, however it is devoid of anything unique, interesting or exciting. It ultimately is a game that’s boiling down the mechanics of other games into their basest components while doing nothing with the Minecraft brand outside of rendering everything in voxels.

Minecraft Dungeons isn’t a bad game by any stretch, it’s just an incredibly bland one that might be made better with some friends. During my time with it I was confronted with just how lifeless the core gameplay is. You walk around a level that provides very few reasons to actually explore anything, hacking and slashing your way through hordes of classic Minecraft enemies using both melee and ranged weaponry.

There’s a ton of loot that drops in every level that have higher numbers and different effects on them, but they seem to lack any real visual diversity. I’ve picked up several swords and bows that all look the same, but do higher damage or have some enchantment on them that does an extra effect like a chance to replenish your arrows, or chain lighting between enemies and so on and so forth.

While I do think Minecraft Dungeons does some stuff with its lighting that makes the levels visually interesting, there seems to be very little reason to actually go exploring. You’ve got a waypoint pushing you forward, and in transit to that destination you can go down alternate pathways should you want to, but more often than not I was greeted with a big fat dead end with nary a treasure for my troubles. After a while I stopped hoping something cool would be waiting for me, and just started to power through the levels to see what else there was to experience.

It turns out that there really isn’t much going on in Minecraft Dungeons. As I progressed, I saw variations of old enemies who were now sporting armor, some familiar mobs from the base Minecraft game, and some villagers with axes that I assume are in Minecraft proper. Otherwise you spend most of your time navigating different corridors full of enemies, collecting emeralds which are your currency, and finding weapons and armor that were usually worse than what I already had equipped.

Between levels you’ll find yourself in your home base where you can buy random loot boxes with in-game currency and hopefully not get a dud of a weapon. Hopefully more things unlock as you progress, but I can’t say for certain. But in lieu of having some magic enchanter or mystic artificer or something, you can head into the menu and pick an enchantment for your weapons and armor. You also can break down the myriad of useless junk you’ve picked up along the way and apply that currency to other item upgrades. It’s a simple loop that’s very easy to understand, which I think was the point.

I suppose my biggest disappointments with Minecraft Dungeons lay with the fact that exploration has proven to have been a massive waste of time, and that the Minecraft DNA in the game is almost exclusively relegated to the visual style. I know this is an entirely different kind of game, but the fact that I can pick up a pick-axe and use it as a weapon, but not actually mine anything is wild. It seems like a slam dunk to offer some sort of crafting system in Minecraft Dungeons even if it would’ve been in place of the way you obtain new equipment that’s already included, which is finding or buying things.

I also genuinely find it frustrating that in regular Minecraft, you can’t walk 20 feet in any direction without finding something cool, but in Minecraft Dungeons there seems to be absolutely no reason to go off the beaten path. To me, the entire game just feels a complete misunderstanding of what people enjoy about the base Minecraft game itself. I get that this is supposed to be its own unique product, but I genuinely believe that injecting just a little more of that core DNA into Minecraft Dungeons would’ve gone a long way.

As it stands, Minecraft Dungeons is a perfectly fine albeit uninteresting game that you might be able to squeeze a few hours of fun out of with your friends. Sure it looks like Minecraft, it’s got those classic Minecraft enemies you love in it, but it doesn’t scratch any of the same itches that Minecraft does. While I do think the action is uninspired, it’s a solid foundation that’s worth building upon. Also, it’s easy to dismiss a lot of my criticisms by just calling this a “children’s game,” but I feel like that’s doing a disservice to children. Minecraft Dungeons feels like the first draft of a game that could be really interesting and fun, but in its current state, it’s only left me wanting for more.

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