Minecraft Dungeons is the first time the Minecraft franchise has really branched out from its roots, and the decision to follow a Diablo-esque action RPG style was a brilliant move by developer Mojang. Minecraft is inherently all about exploration and adventure. But the core survival mode in vanilla Minecraft leaves a bit to be desired on the combat front. That's where Minecraft Dungeons comes in, offering a path for players to experience a more combat-heavy Minecraft that's still focused on exploration, adventure, and, most importantly, loot.
As a 4-player co-op action RPG, Minecraft Dungeons is perfect for playing with friends and family both inside your home and through the Internet. Unlike many games in this genre, however, Minecraft Dungeons is an almost perfect combination of accessibility and deep, rewarding gameplay.
It's uniquely designed to cater to gamers of all ages and, like a Pixar movie, provide content that's engaging and intriguing for veteran and newbie players alike.
Since gaining access to the beta, I've been playing alongside my 6-year-old son through our Windows 10-based PC. He uses an Xbox 360 controller; I use a Steam controller. We've each got our own characters, our own goals for how we want to fight, and we often change up character roles as we play. Sometimes he's the archer, and I'm the tank, other times he wants to explore and find more treasure while I pay extra close attention to his health bar. At all times, though, we've been having an absolute blast, and there are a couple of great reasons for that.
There's nothing like a good, local game
My son has been watching me play games for years and has slowly picked up playing on his own. These past few months, since he's turned 6, have shown a marked uptick in his ability to play games. He understands how controls work, can figure out complex inventory and crafting systems, and has a good idea of how to navigate menus and other in-game worlds. But he's still only six and often needs my help reading some things or getting past "the hard parts."
Playing alongside him with a character that can actually help him win is something that's often not possible in modern game design. While I gamed with friends in 4-player split-screen back in the N64 days, that design has largely disappeared for big-name titles in favor of online gaming instead. That's brought about a change in how I play because, quite frankly, I don't enjoy being called names by someone's spoiled 12-year-old after getting shot in Call of Duty.
Minecraft Dungeons brings back the joys of local multiplayer in a way I haven't experienced since the N64 days.
No, online competitive gaming isn't my thing. It brings about attitudes that people otherwise wouldn't have if the person they're insulting was sitting within punching range. Obviously, this isn't an issue when playing with my son. Still, I imagine friends sitting together on a couch together, exploring the partly-procedurally generated worlds with awe and wonder in a way that online gaming can't deliver.
Sure, you can play Minecraft Dungeons online with strangers or remotely located friends, but it's just not the same as having your buddies in front of a single screen. Not only that, but it's far easier to help people out when you're all on the same screen, as there's no way for players to get lost on the map because you cannot venture outside of the viewable area. This forces teamwork in a way that online play might not otherwise, and really just makes it more fun to quest together.
Simple enough for younger kids, but there's more than meets the eye
Just like regular Minecraft, Minecraft Dungeons is an incredibly deep and rewarding game that'll keep you coming back for more. The developers have put together a game that's not only easy to understand on the surface, but it's also deep and engaging enough for an older veteran gamer to play, as well. It's easy to play for short or long amounts of time, and you can quit at any time without having to worry about losing your loot. It's super friendly for those abruptly changing kid's schedules and when you have to quickly quit because you realize it's way past bedtime.
If you've been gaming for any length of time, especially on a PC, you've likely played a Diablo game. You'll know then that the content in Diablo isn't always great for younger players, whether speaking thematically or about the gameplay. Diablo can be hectic and stressful. It's a lot to take in for younger audiences who may not yet be able to multitask and take in as much visual information as seasoned gamers. So far, in my Minecraft Dungeons experience, the game will throw enough enemies at you to make things chaotic but never enough to feel like a Zerg rush.
Minecraft Dungeons doesn't pigeon hole you into a class and force you to make a big choice that will affect your gameplay early on.
Mechanically, Minecraft Dungeons is dead simple. You move with the left joystick, melee attack with the A button, and shoot arrows with the right trigger. Healing is as simple as pressing the left bumper, and it's these four main buttons that make the game easy enough for very young players to appreciate the game without being overwhelmed.
Unlike many action RPGs, Minecraft Dungeons doesn't pigeon hole you into a class and force you to make a big choice that will affect your gameplay early on. Rather, as you collect loot, weapons, and armor, you can equip what makes sense for the playstyle you enjoy. Prefer to be an archer? Specific types of armor will give you attack and range upgrades for arrows, as well as bonus arrows every time you pick up a quiver from a treasure chest, for instance.
Each item has its own stats, but all of them are very focused. Some items will add health, while others will increase attack power. There's no complicated stat system that requires players to do tons of math or create Excel spreadsheets to tweak their characters for maximum effectiveness. You simply choose a single piece of armor (which outfits you with an entire suit of armor), a single melee weapon, and a single ranged weapon. It's dead simple, and it's wonderful.
Minecraft Dungeons also won't nickel and dime you the way many games like to nowadays. Microsoft has said they're planning on at least two additional DLC packs for the game. Still, these are likely to come in the form of additional worlds to explore and new items/enemies rather than special items that turn the game into a pay-to-win scenario. This is one of the many reasons that makes games like Diablo 3, so fun to jump back into. You don't have to worry about spending a ton of money just to catch up; all you need is time to play.
If you need any proof, take our resident Xbox Editor, Jez Corden, who is absolutely enamored with Minecraft Dungeons. As someone who doesn't have kids and enjoys difficult titles like Ori and the Will of the Wisps and more mature stories like the Final Fantasy VII Remake, it speaks volumes that he's in love with a title that some might initially think is only geared toward younger audiences.
Unlimited potential for future growth
Younger children who begin playing (or even watching) now can grow into the game. Its structure is one that is friendly and accessible from the get-go and scales up in difficulty rather nicely as you progress. Like Minecraft, there's an expectation that content will continue to be delivered through official DLC packs and marketplace content. After all, when the original Minecraft debuted nearly a decade ago, it was a barren landscape compared to what can be experienced in it today.
While it's not likely that schools will be using Minecraft Dungeons to teach curriculum in the way that Minecraft: Education Edition is used, I highly doubt anyone ten years ago thought Minecraft would become an official part of school schedules worldwide, either. It's going to be some time before we see anything akin to the current thriving marketplace that regular Minecraft offers, but the upcoming DLC packs should offer additional content once you blow through the base game.
Minecraft Dungeons offers nearly a dozen differently themed areas to venture through. Within these areas, you'll find procedurally generated dungeons that are different every time you go through them. Many of these dungeons will take at least 30 minutes to go through, and upwards of an hour if you want to find all the secrets. There's tons to explore and find, like unique weapons and armor or powerful artifacts which grant special powers and abilities.
Mojang has been a fantastic developer over the years, offering up regular updates that include new, free content all the time. They've openly said that the plan is to continue to support the game over time if it's commercially successful, and with a name like Minecraft and a $20 price tag, it's hard to understand how the game wouldn't be successful.
I'm planning on playing it for a long time with my son, who has been enamored these past few days with it. Being able to jump in for 30 minutes at a time and grab new gear, find something cool and unique, or even to visit a new biome has consistently felt rewarding. The light story doesn't drag on needlessly or add filler to an otherwise pure experience, and the overall mechanics are simple enough to keep us from being frustrated even through the more difficult sections. I can't wait to see what Mojang adds to this title and hope that my son and I can enjoy it side-by-side for years to come.
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