Minecraft Dungeons review: a superb and surprisingly challenging dungeon crawler

By Sean Carey,
Creepers still pack a walloping punch, Zombies can overrun you in seconds and Skeletons are just as annoying as they are in Minecraft. Minecraft Dungeons provides an interesting dungeon-crawling spin on the franchise that is not only tremendous fun but also offers a serious challenge that will have you gripped for hours.

Minecraft Dungeons Review Xbox

The game opens with a cutscene reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings intro with a booming voice that gives a brief overview of the plot. An outcast Illiger stumbles upon a powerful orb that corrupts him and gives him god-like powers. The Illager dubs himself the Arch-Illager, and driven by vengeance, sets out on a campaign to destroy every village that shunned him unless they bow and submit to his despotic ways. You take up the role of defeating his minions and bringing down the evil ruler. It's a classic tale of good versus evil, right versus wrong. The plot is somewhat basic, so don't go expecting a tonne of lore with Minecraft Dungeons, but the little story the game does have, it does well. By the end of the opening cutscene, I felt pumped and was ready to bring the fight to the evil Arch-Illager.

Getting started on the epic quest laid out before you requires you to pick a Hero from 32 pre-made characters. However, I feel as if Mojang may have missed a trick, because there is no customisation here at all - every character possess the same amount of health and power, so it's really just the skin you're picking. And while there are several options on offer, you can't choose individual hair or eye colour or skin tone. Having that little bit of customisation to really make that character your own at the beginning of the game would have been a nice touch.

Your hero also doesn't have any abilities. Instead, there are two standard attacks and an option to dodge. Standard attacks come in the form of a melee and a ranged attack via a bow and arrow combination, while other weapons can be looted from chests hidden away in dungeons or purchased from a Villager at your camp with emeralds you've collected at the beginning of each level. The same goes for armour, and each come with their own stats and different enhancements, so you can build a character that suits your playstyle. If you want to build a tank character that deals high damage, you're better off equipping a claymore or a giant hammer. If you favour speed, dual-wielding a pair of daggers and wearing some lightweight archer armour might be more your style. Each weapon and armour set has its own level — the higher the level, the more damage it can do. Both also come in different forms of rarity that offer extra abilities.

Minecraft Dungeons Review

Weapons and armour also have enchantment slots. Each time you level your character, you don't gain health. Instead, health upgrades are determined by what armour you have. The same goes for damage dealt and weapons. Instead, when you level up, you are given an Enchantment Point. These points can be used to upgrade your gear. Each piece of gear has a total of three slots with three possible enchantment options to pick from in each slot. They are random but offer upgrades such as freezing enemies, unleashing clouds of poisonous gas, or a speed boost. With all the different combinations of armour, weapons and enchantments, it's here you can really start making the character your own.

In other dungeon crawlers, the character you play as would usually have some combination of abilities or powers they could use. In Minecraft Dungeons, it's a little different, and abilities are determined by finding Artefacts. These are powerful tools that let you change your arrows into fire arrows or summon a wolf to aid you in battle. Up to three can be equipped at the same time, and when used in conjunction with the game's various weapons, they can really turn the tide of a fight in a satisfying way.

Visually, the game looks impressive. Of course, everything is in the standard Minecraft block-like style, but it looks great for what it is. Character models and animations are well made, and each level is unique in the way it looks. Levels are semi-procedurally generated, too: Mojang created a number of tiles for each level that are then randomly put together at the start of a level. This is fantastic for replayability.

Minecraft Dungeons review

Each level is fairly large, and there are several objectives you need to complete on your way through each one. These vary from rescuing villagers to destroying the Arch-Illager's buffet. To get to each objective, you're going to be battling your way through swaths of enemies, most of which you'll be familiar with from Minecraft. Illagers, Skeletons, Witches, Zombies - they're all here. Creepers also play a role, and they are just as devastating as they are in Minecraft. All the different enemies have different attacks and attributes, so gameplay never gets too stale. Coming across a group of heavily armoured Illagers forces you to hang back and attack from a distance, cautious that if you get too close, you'll be overrun. Zombies, on the other hand, are easy takedowns, so it's more fun to get up close and personal.

The game adapts the number of enemies to how many are playing in your party. I mainly played solo in my playthrough, and while at times I did find myself completely overrun, the balance was generally just right. Usually, towards the end of each level, you'll come up against a boss fight, or a higher levelled enemy. Redstone Golems, Evokers and an Enderman all provide a challenge and can really up the pace and tension. What's excellent about Minecraft Dungeons is that you can swap out your gear on the go and completely rebuild your character. If a tank build isn't working against a specific boss, you can change up your armour for something that grants you a speed boost to stay out the way of the enemy's attack.

The difficulty level is set to Default with further options being unlocked once you've completed the game's story. However, for each individual mission you play, you can up the difficulty slightly, depending on your level. This rewards you with higher-levelled versions of gear offered from the Default setting. Once you unlock Adventure and Apocalypse mode, enemies are much harder to kill, and you can earn new rewards that are extremely powerful.

Minecraft Dungeons review

I found the first few levels extremely easy. I'd cut through waves of Illagers without a care in the world, but as I progressed, the difficulty soon ramped up, and I'd find myself overrun by enemies. Health can be regenerated by drinking a health potion that's set on a cooldown timer, or by eating food that's found on enemies or in chests. You have three lives for each level. If you lose them all, you have to start again from the beginning of that level. After spending about 40 minutes searching every nook and cranny of a dungeon to then bump into a boss with just one life left is a glorious, tension-filled moment that will have you on the edge of your seat. The final boss fight had me sweating, but I won't say any more about that. You're in for a treat.

Once you've battled your way through a playthrough and defeated the boss, you'll unlock Adventure difficulty. You'll still have all your gear from your first playthrough, but the enemies are now much harder to defeat. For another challenge, beating the game on Adventure unlocks Apocalpyse mode.

One of the main gripes I had with Minecraft Dungeons was the loot. Each level/dungeon has numerous branching pathways, all filled with enemies and the expectation of some high-levelled items. Naturally, some are dead ends, but for others, a shiny chest awaits. The real kicker is when you open the chest, and it contains a piece of gear or a weapon that you already own - sometimes of a lower level. Spending a reasonable amount of time trying to find these chests, only to be rewarded with something of a much lower grade - it doesn't feel worth it. After completing a level, you're rewarded another crate. Although not often, a couple of times, I was awarded a piece of gear that I'd already collected at the beginning of that same level. However, it is still worth taking the road less travelled as Mojang has hidden plenty of secrets, including secret levels that can only be found when exploring.

On the achievement front, I earned 18 out of a possible 24 achievements through normal play. The hardest one on the list will likely be High Treason, which requires you to defeat the Arch-Illager on Apocalypse difficulty. Expert Explorer might be a bit of a grind too. Other than those two, the list shouldn't give you too much trouble.

Summary

Minecraft Dungeons is a superb dungeon crawler with something for players of all ages. Although somewhat basic in terms of weapons, armour and abilities, there is just enough variety to keep some of the more hardcore dungeon-crawling fans satiated. Surprisingly, the game does offer up a pretty intense challenge, just not so much at first. The enemies are varied in their attacks, and the boss fights are a highlight that will have you gripped until you finally land that killing blow. As long as you're not expecting too much in terms of plot, customisation and stat building, Minecraft Dungeons offers a fantastic gameplay experience that can be enjoyed either on your own or with friends.
4 / 5
Minecraft Dungeons
Ethics
The reviewer spent around ten hours avoiding Creepers, exploring dungeons and earning 18 of the game's 24 achievements. The game was played on PC, and a code was provided by the publisher for this review.
Sean Carey
Written by Sean Carey
Sean joined the team as a Staff Writer for both TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies in 2019. He games across all platforms and is always looking for an excuse to replay any of the Metal Gear Solid titles.