Listen. I don’t have to explain Minecraft, of all things, to anyone here. I’m sure even the most casual of gamers could explain it to me. Nothing I could say or write about it would be new, no ideas could be given that someone else doesn’t have, Minecraft is an all consuming global success that has woven its way into the human consciousness, as a peak example of the true meaning of the world meme before we started attaching the word to funny doge images.
So, in saying that, it seems kind of inevitable spinoffs are going to happen. There’s already been a few, none of which has really seemed to catch on like wildfire in the same way of the original game and have all enjoyed comparatively modest success.
The latest spinoff, Minecraft Dungeons, keeps the same Minecraft simplicity and applies it to the genre of dungeon crawling and roguelikes, with games like Diablo coming to mind for comparisons.
How do you expand a world as simple as Minecraft’s?
The answer is, of course, you don’t try too hard and let the game speak for itself in most aspects. The story is there, giving players a vague reason for why they’re travelling from dungeon to dungeon, with the evil Arch Illiger attacking local villages and generally causing unrest, with various classic biodomes being repurposed into sprawling but ultimately linear dungeons. For example, I’ve found myself going through green, jungle-like woods and firey dungeons full of lava traps, all in the blocky style we’ve come to know and love.
I’ll also confess, I only got on the Minecraft train two years ago, and I think my total play time still only amasses to about two months on and off. Despite this, I absolutely adore it, and when the mood does strike me, I can become absolutely lost in it. Minecraft Dungeons, being a simpler take on the dungeon crawler, offers that but only to a point.
The dungeons are always going to be made up of similar elements with, at best, slight layout changes, meaning players are going to be traversing familiar environments on a regular basis, because it’s a fairly small game with each zone taking about 10 minutes, provided a lot of exploration comes in, and this is reflected in its low price-tag.
Though this isn’t a bad thing, because it allows the game to focus on what it does best, which is satisfying hacking, slashing and looting. Although the linear and repetitive nature of the various dungeons doesn’t allow a lot in the way of exploration or rewards, slicing up a heap of monsters and being forced to learn the mechanics in order to survive with a steep but encouraging learning curve still feels great.
Hackin’ ‘n’ Slashin’
So, essentially, the game works like this. There’s a basic camp area where players can buy new items and artefacts which are chosen at random. The items are all your traditional armour and weapon slots, while three artefacts at a time can be equipped and used like spells. This can include passive abilities, like a snowball that automatically fires up to once a second to stun enemies, through to more active abilities for defensive and offensive purposes, such as a horn that, when used, will push all enemies back.
From here, players are free to mix and match to create a play style that suits them. A ranged mage, a close-up melee brawler, it’s up to individual players to create their character in a way they find fun to play. And where more advanced games would punish gear being mis-matched with a bigger focus on the numbers and stats, Minecraft Dungeons encourages playing around but absolutely rewards players who are looking for depth can play through on harder difficulties and the gear absolutely has all kinds of stats and percentages to get the most out of specific builds.
In other words, the game works as a great introduction for players to the dungeon crawler genre. As someone who was always hesitant to dive into it, with games all focused on a base understanding and not allowing much room for error, it’s refreshing to see a game peel everything back, start from basics again, and allow players to really appreciate what makes the genre great at its core.
In saying that, however, its simplicity can also work against it. More content is promised in the future, but as it stands, I can’t really see myself going back to it with the repetitive nature and limited environments leaving me wanting.
Minecraft Dungeons is available now for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.