Minecraft Dungeons is (surprisingly) only the third official game created featuring characters and assets from the original Minecraft game (the second being Minecraft Earth, a mobile game.) It is clear that Microsoft holds Minecraft near and dear to their heart, as they have continued to strongly support the original open-world game, probably for good reason. According to Business Insider, 112 Million people played Minecraft in September of 2019. It is most likely higher than that in this post-pandemic world as well. If Microsoft cares so much about the original game, they should care about Minecraft Dungeons almost as much, right?
Well, that’s what I thought at first.
Starting up Minecraft Dungeons, you are treated to some well-animated cutscenes explaining the story: A little Illager (kind of like a different, evil species of the Villagers) is shunned by his kind, Illagers and Villagers alike. One night, he stumbles across the Orb of Dominace and harnesses its energy to become more powerful than all of his kindred combined. Why such a weapon was seemingly left in some random cave atop an unorganized pile of stone, who knows. Corrupted by evil, seeking revenge, the now Arch-Illager gathers an army of Illagers to capture all the Villagers. Read that again if you have to.
You are then brought to the character creator, ready to start your journey as soon-to-be hero of the world. Already? And why isn’t there a story behind the hero? This plot is bland and mostly uninteresting, which works fine in games like the original Minecraft, since most of the entertainment comes from the player’s creativity. However, when it comes to Dungeons, the amount of freedom you have is much lower. The goal is always the same in the end: Get from point A to point B. Sure, you can play most of the levels out of order, and there are sometimes different paths to explore, but that’s not too unusual in games. Such straightforward experiences aren’t inherently bad, but it is usually worthwhile to include an interesting story.
The gameplay itself isn’t too interesting either, although it is still fun and satisfying. Not much to say on this front, it’s pretty similar to a standard dungeon game, with an emphasis on hordes of enemies rather than super strong ones. Some themes are common here: most of the enemies are related to death, as you fight necromancers, zombies, skeletons etc. You also collect souls from the enemies you defeat, provided you have soul artifacts equipped. These use souls as fuel, such as the “Harvester”, a book that “siphons the souls of the dead, before releasing them into a cluster hex of power”. These all appear in the unrealistic blocky Minecraft graphics, though.
And speaking of graphics… they look AMAZING in this game! Ever since I played the original Minecraft I always wondered how they could improve the graphics, and I think this is definitely the right path to take. All the blocky terrain and mobs look more.. plastic-like? Smooth might be a better descriptor. When combined with the shading, it looks great. The devs had a lot more power to work with when creating this game in Unreal Engine rather than Java (what the original, most popular version of Minecraft for PC runs on.) Not to say there aren’t a few hiccups, however. It is often hard to tell the difference between the terrain that the player is supposed to stay on and that which is considered “out of bounds” and kills you. This is most likely more the result of poor level design rather than the graphics, however.
Now for my biggest upset with the game: Lack of content. The base game costs $20, and while they have added DLC since, aside from 1 new, mostly uninteresting level plus some new loot, all the new content is behind a paywall of $6. The base game didn’t really have much to keep you playing for long – there are only 10 different levels using 10 different themes (11 if you count the secret Mooshroom one) with some extra levels thrown in but they feel the same to the “main” level as they share the same visuals and mobs. It doesn’t take too long to beat all these, which is probably one reason why they added 3 modes. Each mode is essentially playing through the game with varying levels of difficulty and rewards: Default, Adventure and Apocalypse. Your first playthrough is locked to the default mode and the rest can only be unlocked by finishing the game in the mode before it. I found myself quickly getting bored after playing through the game for the 2nd time, and unless you really have something for this game I don’t imagine you would feel much more compelled to push through it than I was. Not to mention the current paid DLC only adds 3 levels and there is a second one coming that follows suit, at the same price point as well.
This is why I was extremely upset to see Microsoft launch the first wave of DLC one month after the base game launched. This means that they had the DLC ready, or at least extremely close to finished at the time of the initial launch. I suspect the reason they held back on this was because you get Minecraft Dungeons for free in the Xbox game pass – the base game, that is. They likely were trying to market the game pass with this “deal”, but didn’t want to lose out on sweet sweet revenue, shoving DLC in pass owner’s faces as soon as they could. This is why I mentioned Microsoft not loving this game as much as the original Minecraft. Whether or not the developers of the game wished it to be this way, Microsoft seems to have used this game as a marketing tool, to the point that it damages the experience severely for those without the game pass, such as myself.
Minecraft Dungeons is a short, average dungeon experience damaged by big business’ never-ending desire for revenue, and those who play this game will likely feel they didn’t get their money’s worth if they don’t have an Xbox Game Pass subscription. Occult/Magic themes are prevalent throughout the whole experience, albeit only in the blocky Minecraft style.
Scoring – 65%
Magic/Occult theming throughout the game (undead enemies, sorcerers etc.)
Players use cartoony versions of real life weapons