So, when I say that Minecraft Dungeons is too short, I don’t mean that it doesn’t offer the ‘proper’ amount of value for its £15.99 price point. Notions of value have never been objective, and with the rise of subscription services, inside and outside of gaming, ideas about which hour-count merits which price point have become increasingly elastic.
Instead, I mean that Minecraft Dungeons is mostly great fun while it lasts, but – as Mojang’s first major spin-off for PC and consoles – feels strangely incomplete; like the first third of a much larger game. As it stands, you can blast through Dungeons in an afternoon.
That will probably be a pleasant afternoon. With the exception of the final boss, which required some grinding to best, Minecraft Dungeons is a breezy action-RPG that works well as a streamlined introduction to games like Diablo.
Though it, strangely, includes no mining or crafting, Minecraft Dungeons’ gentle, catchy score, gorgeously blocky visuals, and familiar series enemies and tilesets will make Minecraft fans feel right at home.
That’s an impressive feat, given how little Minecraft Dungeons’ mechanics have in common with Mojang’s most famous work. Serving as a first step for the hack-and-slash-curious, combat here is simple and straightforward.
With an Xbox One controller in hand, you’ll press A to swing your melee weapon and pull the right trigger to fire off an arrow. That’s it! Those are the only consistent attacks from build-to-build. The rest of the face buttons are devoted to artefacts: equippable objects that grant wildly different special abilities.
Some of these provide area-of-effect boons, like projectile-blocking barriers or healing auras. Some, like winged shoes that up your walk speed to a sprint, boost your base stats for a short period of time. But others are weirder. A fishing rod lets you pull opponents toward you. A purple cube lets you fire off an energy blast.
A personal favourite let me load a firecracker into my bow, and blast explosives at enemies. Though the game is simple to pick up and play, it rewards tinkering. The simplicity of the initial skills provides a solid foundation as you work your way through Dungeons’ unlockable, escalating difficulties.
Dungeons cleverly hides some content throughout the ranks. Though it launched with just ten levels (one of which is a short tutorial), there’s still plenty of variety. Some comes from the stage themes, which range from imposing castles to pumpkin patches to crimson mines. But the stages also change from playthrough to playthrough.
Though objectives, like tracking down a key or smashing up a buffet table, remain the same, procedural generation alters the level layout each time. Additionally, features that are more challenging to navigate – like runaway rail carts that will whack half your health away and pulsating cages which spawn enemies until you destroy them in the finest of Gauntlet traditions – don’t appear until you make the jump to Adventure difficulty, which unlocks after you see the end credits.
I have a few issues with some of the nuances of the combat. Namely, the dodge roll, like the artefact abilities, has a cooldown. It’s significantly shorter, running down in a few seconds as opposed to half-a-minute, but at least on an initial playthrough, it felt like it significantly limited my build options. I could play a nimble character with speedy blades. But, the lack of a consistent dodge roll ensured that I would eat a ton of damage as I pecked away at enemies’ health.
Instead, I opted for a tank-y build with a massive hammer, heavy armour, and healing spells, which, to an extent, felt like the only option for the cheese grater of a final boss.
In short, Minecraft Dungeons is a ton of fun, but feels like the first episode of something larger – not a complete game in its own right. This notion has been hammered home by the release of the first DLC add-on, Jungle Awakens, which arrived after this review had been submitted into the void.
It’s not a free add-on, so while I can say I’m excited to see what Mojang does next with Minecraft Dungeons, I’m less eager to pay more money just to make the game feel complete.
But, as we’ve established, value is in the eye of the beholder.
Dungeons’ wildly varied maps are a delight to behold, dressing Minecraft’s blocky aesthetic up with some fantastic lighting effects. I’m increasingly convinced that much of Minecraft’s success is due to the fact that it can’t ever really look bad, no matter how low-end the machine you use to play it. Its lo-fi visuals can only improve; Dungeons exemplifies this aesthetic.
Minecraft Dungeons is simple fun, but feels prohibitively short.
Format: XBO (tested) / PC / PS4 / Switch
Developer: Mojang / Double Eleven
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Release: Out now