I still remember the pain of my jaw hitting the floor when Telltale announced Minecraft Story Mode.
So imagine my complete surprise when it turned out to be quite good and got a second season.
I was less surprised about Minecraft Dungeons, though. In fact, the idea of a Diablo-lite in this blocky world seems like a perfect match.
Turns out it mostly is and pretty much what you’d expect save for some caveats.
I mean, obviously you’re not fighting a violent demon and the most impure essence of the underworld. In fact, it’s just a crazed illager.
There’s also no blood, guts, and gore, even if there are skeletons and imps aplenty.
But yeah, apart from that this will feel incredibly familiar to those who’ve played Blizzard’s hack-em-up at any point.
And it actually comes together really well. Mechanically solid, multiplayer stable, and lovingly polished.
One thing has become abundantly clear since Microsoft took over Minecraft – they see this as their jewel in the crown. This is their LEGO, if you will.
They really respect the license and will only ever put out something that has a certain stamp of quality on it.
Minecraft Dungeons definitely has that. There’s a suitable mix of wholesome and horrifying worlds to explore, with the right balance of creatures, coming at the right times.
Naturally, you start with the zombies and skeletons. One slow paced foe that comes in for a close-range attack, another that fires arrows at you from distance.
Fortunately you’ve got your own sword and bow to fend them off and before you know it you’re collecting gems and opening chests before the level’s out.
Immediately, you’ll recognise the game’s flare for creativity with surprisingly stunning backdrops and locations, all presented in the franchise’s familiar blocky style.
But therein lies a quandary – this is the least Minecraft game out there. Because even Story Mode had you building things.
The setup seems right – discovering a camp on the outskirts of a desolate town – but the real surprise is in the simplicity of it.
Over time it’ll grow, introducing a Blacksmith and Vendor, as well as additions to your home, but they will only provide you random wares that can be traded in for emeralds.
Emeralds can be gathered from killing foes, opening chests and salvaging unused weapons and armour.
There’s no actual shop for you to buy a weapon of choice, you just have to hope for luck of the draw.
You can’t craft your own weapons or armour – which actually seems mindblowing on reflection.
And perhaps most weirdly of all in this type of game – your character doesn’t really level up.
Well, they do, but not in the way you’re thinking. See, each time you gain a level, you earn an enchantment point.
That point can then be spent on either your left or right hand weapon, or armor, giving it an additional effect.
It could be enemies take fire damage from hitting you, or you fire multiple arrows at once.
You have the choice of several enchantments per item, but once you choose a category, you’re forced to max it out.
It’s a simple approach and it’s effective. But the problem is you can blaze through levels and enemies so quickly, you’ll be interchanging items – sometimes several times – per level.
Fortunately, you do get enchantment points returned to you if you do salvage the enchanted item, but it becomes clear your character has no real lasting effects in the game.
There are also charms which you can pick up and use – you can summon a wolf to fight by your side, or place a totem in the ground which increases your stats.
The point is, it always feels like you’re interchanging in Minecraft Dungeons, and sometimes that happens too quickly, especially if you’re just getting to grips with a good weapon.
I weirdly like it, though. Of course it lacks the depth of Diablo and likeminded games – it’s a game designed for families – but it presents an interesting new way to play these types of games.
I am disappointed Mojang haven’t explored any building possibilities here, though. Rather than just build a lite version of similar games, Minecraft offers a real angle to do something very different with the genre.
But my hope is this is the beginning of a franchise. It’s a natural fit for Minecraft, it’s a well-presented game, there’s already several pieces of content confirmed for the long term, and cross-platform play is coming.
Minecraft Dungeons also has some tough battles later on once you raise the difficulty, and there’s a real tension / delight in taking down the likes of the Endermen as you progress.
On your lonesome, the game does come a bit unstuck and repetition can kick in quite quickly, but with a group of friends playing together – locally or online – you can lose hours to Dungeons.
It also helps the game is both super cheap and incredibly accessible – you only need to own Gamepass to play it, which is massive in of itself.
Minecraft Dungeons is great wherever you choose to play, serving as a healthy, entertaining introduction to one of gaming’s most fulfilling and rich genres.
Whether you’ve ever played Minecraft before or not, Microsoft and Mojang have really crafted something more than just a spinoff. This is a franchise that needs time to thrive on its own. I can’t wait to see how it expands.
Minecraft Dungeons is out now on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch
Played on PC / Xbox One
Code provided by Microsoft
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