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Review – Minecraft: Dungeons

Despite Microsoft’s efforts to expand the Minecraft brand since they purchased it in 2014 for $2.5 billion, I don’t think anyone expected the late 2018 announcement of a new loot driven action-RPG – or that the game would hit Nintendo Switch and PS4 as well as the Xbox One and PC (available for both via Xbox Game Pass)…but 2020 has been kind of weird so far, so here we are with Minecraft Dungeons out this week on every platform under the sun.

Dungeons has been described as ‘Baby’s First Diablo’ which is a bit unkind even if it’s not entirely untrue. This is a streamlined experience, to be sure, without the extreme level of min-max number crunching necessary for high-level Diablo or Path of Exile builds. Path of Exile, for example, has a skill tree that’s more of a web with 1,325 skills on it. Calling it ‘daunting’ for new players would be an understatement. Dungeons, on the other hand, has no personal skill tree, instead tying player power advancement to the somewhat basic stats on your gear and the enchantments available for it.

Every time you level up, you’ll gain an enchantment point to spend unlocking gear enchantments. Gear pieces have up to three slots that can hold up to three enchantment options. Lower end gear might only have one slot with two enchantments to choose from, while high end gear has three slots and three enchantment options in each. My current favourite bow, for example, is a level 42 Unique called the Red Snake. The only stats are that it does 90-271 damage, has strong Charged Attacks, and a chance for arrows to explode. It has two enchantment slots, which I used for a damage boost and an attack speed boost.

If you find better gear, you salvage the outdated weapon or armour to get your enchantment points back to use on the new gear. It’s a slick system that helps minimize the ‘let me just set up my gear’ downtime that plagues other ARPG titles.

Combat is similarly inspired by Diablo-style games but made more approachable. You have a single button for melee combat and a trigger to access ranged abilities, then the X/Y/B (on the Xbox controller) buttons activate temporary buffs provided by gear – heals, attack speed increases, making your arrows move slowly but able to pass through walls…there’s a huge variety of options for these slots.

There’s no shortage of combat as you pass through the story’s nine chapters, each set in a unique biome, and three difficulty levels: Default, Adventure, and Apocalypse, each with sub difficulty levels from I to VI help tune your gameplay experience. Finish the game on Default and you unlock Adventure, then beat it on Adventure to unlock Apocalypse and the true high-level grind for gear. There are also several secret levels to find and beat, including a tribute to Diablo’s infamous Cow Level. For $26 Canadian, there’s a whole lot more here than I expected.

What I loved:

  • Surprising graphics that turn Minecraft’s blockiness into a charming look
  • Fun gameplay
  • Tons of gear to find
  • Great bang for your buck
  • I could watch enemies ragdoll over cliffs after TNT explosions all day long

What I didn’t like:

  • No crossplay at launch, but apparently coming
  • A Minecraft game with no mining or crafting?
  • Packs of enchanted mobs don’t drop good loot?