Minecraft Dungeons Review: Lighthearted Looting

Minecraft Dungeons is a bold new direction for the Minecraft formula, and it’s a thoroughly [...]

Minecraft Dungeons is a bold new direction for the Minecraft formula, and it's a thoroughly enjoyable one. It may not seem like much of a risk to put out a game filled with loot and monsters that are built on one of the most popular modern video games, but considering how this is the first big departure from Minecraft's core building elements, there was some question of how well the dungeon crawler genre and the franchise would synergize. Playing through Minecraft Dungeons in full and a bit more shows that the two work together quite well, but that becomes apparent after even just a few hours of play.

Initial impressions of Minecraft Dungeons noted a few grievances and a lot of heart in the new Minecraft game, but one of its best attributes that hold up throughout is that it doesn't take itself too seriously, nor should it. Minecraft itself is a lighthearted property, so it makes sense that the dungeon spinoff would follow suit. Falling off a cliff, losing a life, being plunged into darkness when night befalls players, and even getting a game over never seem like enthusiasm-crushing moments. You get to keep your loot and levels even if you fail, and the game's constantly pushing you forward with motivating narrations and music that first didn't seem like it fit the tone well but becomes quite fitting the more you get used to it. We've got enough dungeon games full of doom and gloom, so it was refreshing to play one with brighter visuals that's more about success and enjoyment than dismal, challenging settings.

That's not to say Minecraft Dungeons can't be challenging though. Beating it solo and with a second player each showed that yes, it's still best played with friends, but you can make it as difficult as you want no matter how many people are on your team. A sliding difficulty bar lets you change the toughness of a level before entering, and if you can't complete your mission, moving the bar is a quick way to fix that. Better loot awaits at the higher difficulties to give some incentive to play through again, so if you missed a secret or some gear you'd been pining for during your first playthrough, there's room for error since you'll probably be playing again anyway.

One aspect of Minecraft Dungeons that I'm still undecided on even after 2.5 playthroughs is the lack of defined classes. It's a design decision that has its ups and downs, and you'll notice them quickly. Not having classes means anybody can do anything which can be a bit frustrating if you're playing with others and they start moving in on your build, but Minecraft Dungeons does its best to keep tensions low with fairly distributed loot and reserved drops. You can't trade your gear though which is definitely a bummer when you find something the other person could've used, but that just incentivizes more exploration in a way. Gear decisions rarely feel like they have weight behind them since you can change things up at a moment's notice, so there's something to be missed when there's no gravity behind the choices.

But that's not really what Minecraft Dungeons is about, so it makes sense to have no defined classes here. The classless system grows on you and looks more and more attractive with every new item you pick up that you didn't even know existed five minutes prior. Levels have very general themes to them in terms of what loot is found where, so finishing a level once or twice could very well set you up with an entirely new loadout. There's something freeing about casting out your previous build and going in the next level with a fresh, untested loadout, and that's something that would've been lost had there been defined classes.

Better loot is always the primary motivator behind these sorts of games, and as such, the story takes a backseat to that factor in Minecraft Dungeons. Following an Arch-Villager to his lair while tearing through familiar creatures like Witches, Creepers, and Redstone creations to dismantle the foundations of the antagonist's evil empire fits Minecraft Dungeons well, but it doesn't feel connected enough to the gameplay to make it memorable. Freeing good guys and smashing bad guys does the minimum job of binding events together, but it's easy to be content with what's happening in the narrative when you're just looking for your next Unique drop.

Minecraft Dungeons may not fully satisfy the hardcore looters coming from other games where they grind for gear and min-max their builds, but if you approach it with its purpose in mind, you'll likely get a lot out of it. The unlikely direction for the Minecraft formula works well in the first major departure for the franchise, and with how vast the source material is in terms of biomes and content to explore, there's a lot of room for this sort of thing to grow. It's a success from the start, and it feels like it'll only get better with age.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Minecraft Dungeons is now available for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC platforms, and it's also available as an Xbox Game Pass game. A review code was provided by the publisher, and the game was reviewed on a base Xbox One.