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GoNintendo Feature - Minecraft Dungeons Review

A finely-crafted experience

No, your eyes do not deceive you. I decided to do a written review this time around, instead of a video. Thought it might be fun to go a bit more old-school! Hopefully you appreciate the decision. As always, thanks for reading!

Just like hundreds of millions of other people, I've spent quite a bit of time with Minecraft. There were a few years there where I would play it every week without fail. At least a couple times during the week, I would hop into the game and just soak it all in. I never really had a goal, outside of building a fort or digging around to explore. I just loved the open-ended approach that let you play as you wanted, and the atmosphere that was created by the game's unique visuals and soothing soundtrack. It ended up being equal parts fun and therapeutic.

While it's been awhile since I've played Minecraft, I've definitely felt the pull in recent years. I also still have a great affinity for the brand itself. There have been plenty of other games that have tried to capture the magic of Minecraft, be it through gameplay or graphics, but they never seem to fully achieve what Minecraft managed. That's probably why the game remains extremely popular today. Often imitated but never duplicated, as they say.

Even though I haven't spent time with Minecraft in over a year, my eyes lit up the second I saw Minecraft Dungeons. Microsoft said they didn't have plans to create a Minecraft 2, but they would explore different ideas with the brand. Minecraft Dungeons is exactly that. It's a game that takes the visuals and lore of the Minecraft world and translates it into a hack-and-slash RPG, or a dungeon crawler, depending on what you like to call it. It would be a great way for me to get a bit of a Minecraft fix, all while enjoying a brand-new experience.

Now that I'm nearing the end of my Minecraft Dungeons journey, I can say that the adventure is everything I wanted it to be. Not too complex, not ridiculously simple, and something that leaves me excited to play more when I get the chance.

If you're looking for Minecraft Dungeons to provide an experience close to what you get from Minecraft, you're probably going to be disappointed. Minecraft Dungeons certainly retains the same blocky visuals of Minecraft, and you'll see numerous enemy designs you're familiar with, but that's pretty much where the similarities end. Minecraft Dungeons doesn't give you an open world to explore, you won't be mining for minerals, and you don't have to craft every piece of gear or item you need. This is Minecraft in name, not in gameplay.

Instead, Minecraft Dungeons offers up gameplay that is closer to Diablo. You'll be working your way through various levels/dungeons to beat up every enemy you see along the way. While you're on your mission to push back the evil-doers, you'll snag all sorts of loot from treasure chests. New weapons, armor, and special items can be found at almost every turn, and each level has a specific set of goodies that you'll randomly find hidden within. You're constantly swapping out your current gear for the next round of great items you found, which make you a bit stronger, faster, and better overall.

Chances are you won't find everything a level has to offer in the first run-through. There will be some secret passages in a handful of levels, as well as items that won't spawn in your first go-around. This gives you reason to go back into them and find what you missed. The pull to see what those missing items are is pretty irresistible, as loot plays such a big part in the game. Thankfully, the game keeps things fun for your multiple level play-throughs.

First up, most, but not all levels are procedurally generated. This means every time you go back in, you'll have a completely different layout. Enemies will be in new spots, the land is a completely different shape, and treasures will be scattered in randomly. This definitely helps to keep things fresh as you're grinding away for gear. Along with that, each stage has a difficulty slider that will let you lower or raise the challenge you'll take on. If you managed to run through a level no problem, you can dive back in a second time and crank things up for more of a challenge. The game will even tell you a difficulty rating based on where the slider is, so you can measure up your current level with where the slider is placed.

While you're digging around in dungeons and taking out enemies, there's plenty of gear to be found. Minecraft Dungeons has a good amount of variety in the main weapons, side weapons, spells, and armor you can pick up. When it comes to your main method of attack, there are quick, short weapons, long, fast weapons, dual-wielding approaches, one-handed options, and more. For side-weapons, there's a wide range of bows and crossbows. Depending on your level of play-style, you should be able to find something that accommodates you. The best part is picking up different weapons and finding what you do and don't like. A long, one-handed weapon might be extremely slow, but it can dish out major damage and lets you keep your distance from enemies. A short set of dual-wielded swords won't be super powerful, but you can rush in with a flurry of hits that will build up the damage quickly. It's up to you to find the attack approach that works for you.

Weapons will also have different options for leveling up as well. You may have two of the same weapon, but each one will give you different added bonuses as you level them. One scimitar could let you level it up to collect extra XP or souls from enemies, while another could allow you to set enemies on fire or have a random chance of them exploding after the final hit. No matter the weapon though, there are only three tiers to level up. That said, a weapon can have up to three different slots on it, which allows you to level it in three different ways.

The same goes for the various spells/magic you can find. Again, there's a great variety of items to find here as well. You may come across totems that let you through down temporary shields, a cube that fires out a massive laser, a book that collects souls and explodes, and more. You can equip of one of these extra goodies for use, and they can really make or break a battle. Throwing down a shield at just the right might be the reason you live to fight another day, instead of having to be revived by your friends. Again, just like weapons and armor, these extra offense/defensive items can be leveled as well.

Leveling all weapons and armor is handled through Enchantment Points. As you play through the game, the more enemies you take out, the more XP you'll get. Just as with any basic RPG, you'll eventually get enough XP to hit a new level. As you climb through the ranks, you'll earn more and more Enchantment Points. These can then be spent on upgrading your weapons and armor for the bonus effects mentioned above. The good news is that you can take back these Enchantment Points as well. If you find a new weapon that you want to use, you can simply take out the Enchantment Points you slotted into your previous weapon and use them in the new one.

It's important to point out that armor is found in full sets, instead of pieces. Most games of this style ask you to find multiple pieces that you combine into a set. A helmet, chest plate, boots, and so on. In Minecraft Dungeons, you'll uncover full sets of armor right off the bat. Your only option is to swap out one set of armor for another, meaning there's no option to mix-and-match the attributes of each. Those who play a lot of dungeon crawlers might find Minecraft Dungeons' approach to armor a bit limiting, but with the game's focus on streamlining the genre, I think the decision makes sense.

Outside of gear and loot, the name of the game in Minecraft Dungeons is wading through enemies. The game takes you through a number of different locations that are quite expansive, but the goal is always the same. Work your way through tons of enemies, side-bosses, and bosses to reach the final goal and head back to your base. There will be some enemies you'll see across all levels, and others that are exclusive to certain regions of the game. Obviously some are going to be tougher than others, and require different approaches. The usual cannon fodder can be taken out easily, but other enemies might require you to keep your distance, or focus on them above all others, as they can buff the mob around them.

While the level design is random in most cases, the theme of each level is locked in. You'll visit forests, destroyed villages, temples, mountain caverns, volcanoes, swamps, and more. The different themes really do a great job of making each area feel different, even if you're doing the same thing in all of them. The levels match the different biomes you'd get in traditional Minecraft, so you're probably going to be familiar with the thematic approach. Still though, the levels are a joy to explore, and seem to make great use of their settings to provide an engaging experience.

These levels are only enhanced by the game's soundtrack, which just like Minecraft, is absolutely fantastic. The songs here certainly pay tribute to what you'd hear in the original Minecraft in both style and tone, but they're still original tunes. Once again, I found the soundtrack to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. There's just something about the soundtrack in Minecraft that really grounds you to the experience in a deep and meaningful way, and Minecraft Dungeons does that exact same thing. This is definitely a soundtrack I'll listen to outside of the game.

Finally, and arguably most important, Minecraft Dungeons can be played with friends. That's actually how I played the entire game so far. I've played many a dungeon-crawler in my day, and while single player can be fun, I find there's no comparison to playing with buddies. Going on a grand adventure with friends at your side is sure to make the experience a more memorable one, and that has definitely been the case with Minecraft Dungeons.

Getting an online game going in Minecraft Dungeons takes a little bit of setup the first time you play, as you need to have an Xbox Live login. You don't need to pay to have this, but you'll have to go through a multi-step sign-up page to get things done. If you already have an Xbox Live account from other Microsoft games on Switch or an Xbox console, then you can plug in that information and you're good to go. I hadn't logged into my Xbox account in quite some time, so I had a few hurdles to clear, but I got everything up and running within 10 minutes.

After that, all you do is add in your friends' Xbox Live names and invite them to the game. From there on out, everything works as you'd expect with any other online game. I will note that the first day we played was just one day after launch, and there were some connection issues on the Microsoft side of things, but subsequent playthroughs were much smoother. Thankfully the game saves all the time, so you're never going to lose any loot you picked up or progress you made. The game appears to be a point now where hiccups are quite rare, and I'd imagine it's only going to get better.

There are a few more things about the online experience I want to mention. First up, Minecraft Dungeons lets you play with friends, but friends only. At this point in time, no matter what platform you're playing on, you cannot play with strangers.
Second, the game doesn't support cross-play on any platform. The good news is that Microsoft and Mojang are working to change this, and will add it as a free feature sometime down the road. Finally, when I played online with friends, we were using a separate app for voice chat with one another. While a small selection of Switch titles provide native voice chat, Minecraft Dungeons is not one.

Minecraft Dungeons has been an excellent experience, providing exactly what I hoped for. It's a dungeon crawler with a ton of charm and a lot of attention to detail. It's not overly stat-heavy or bogged down with customization options, which some might bemoan, but I find to be a welcome approach. It's not super difficult, but you can certainly make it somewhat challenging if you crank up the difficulty slider on each stage. The adventure is filled with intense battles, engaging places to explore, and multiple secrets worth hunting down. Throw in your friends and you're bound to have a lot of fun on the journey.

The only real gripe I can throw at the game is that it's rather short. While my gang has a final level to go and some secrets to hunt down, we've put 6+ hours in so far. Not exactly brimming with content, especially when compared to other dungeon crawlers out there. You can obviously play levels multiple times to grab loot you missed and dial up the difficulty as well, but you're only going to do that so many times. I'd say if you were really taking your time, you could still see everything the game has to offer in under 10 hours. It is worth noting that two DLC expansions are coming, but as you might have guessed, they'll be paid.

All in all, Minecraft Dungeons has given me a great time. It's clear a lot of time and care were put into the game, making it a wonderful addition to the Minecraft series. It doesn't feel like a quick cash-in on the brand, and expands what the Minecraft series can offer. I've had fun with almost every minute of my experience, and definitely plan on buying the DLC that comes out. Any excuse to spend more time in this game is a welcome one for me.

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