Minecraft Dungeon’s releases early next week (May 26) for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Switch, and PC. While the review embargo has now lifted, Jeff Cork is still furiously working his way through this lighthearted action/RPG in an effort to deliver our review. If you can’t wait for that final analysis, I’ve also spent several hours with this co-op friendly adventure, and while I’m not ready to put down the controller, I’m unsure how long this loot grind will keep me interested.
At first glance, it’s easy to write off Dungeons as Diablo for Minecraft fans, and some of those comparisons are warranted. Up to four players team up to explore a variety of dungeons as they tear through hordes of monsters and gather loot that makes their heroes stronger. The core loop remains inviting, but its loot implementation is a little messy.
All of your skills and abilities are tied to your gear, which provides a unique spin on the traditional action/RPG class system. I appreciate the flexibility this offers because I’ve been able to sample several different abilities by simply swapping out my weapons and artifacts. One piece of equipment I acquired early was a horn that pushed enemies back and slows them down for a few seconds. This proved incredibly useful when dealing with swarms, and I really love using it to shove enemies off cliffs.
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The loot system is also flexible enough that you can create some pretty interesting builds. At one point, I become a hulking tank who reflected damage back at my foes. Another time, I experimented with a support class that slowed down enemies while I was healing my friends. You can even equip an assortment of gear that lets you summon pets and other helpers, allowing you to lead a small army into battle. Unfortunately, when it comes to character archetypes, you’re at the mercy of random drops. At one point, I acquired a really nice bow and a few artifacts that boosted my ranged attacks, so it would have been smart to play as some kind of rogue. However, I wanted play as a close-quarters tank, and unfortunately, I wasn’t getting the right gear drops to support that playstyle.
You gain enchantment tokens as you level up, which are used to power up your favorite gear. Unfortunately, the only way to retrieve those tokens is to destroy the gear they’re powering. This means you have to commit to each piece of gear; without destroying your previous enchanted equipment, you probably won’t have enough tokens to see what a promising piece of new gear is truly capable of. There have been several moments where I’ve wanted to power-up a new piece of gear and test its limits, but hesitated because I wasn’t ready to destroy my existing gear to retrieve their tokens.
Despite some clunky elements in the loot system, Dungeons is otherwise an incredibly approachable game. I’ve enjoyed powering up my hero during these early hours. Dungeons’ fundamentals are easy to grasp, and its various difficulty settings made it easy to find a challenge I was comfortable with. I’ve had the most fun plowing through dungeons with a few friends, but playing solo is also a good time. Dungeons maintains Minecraft’s unique visual style, but it also adds a few subtle visual effects that really pop and lend an appropriate amount of chaos to bigger battles. I’ve never been a big fan of Minecraft’s visual style, but the aesthetics in Dungeons don’t turn me off.
Without fully exploring the end-game options, I don’t know how (or if) any of Minecraft Dungeons’ bigger issues will be addressed. Hopefully Mojang adds more random elements to dungeons after you beat the end boss, and I’d love to see a way to power up or customize some of my favorite gear. Overall, Minecraft Dungeons takes some bold swings and provides a different flavor of action/RPG. If you’re hungry for something casual and new, Dungeon’s might be a good fit, but it won’t be for everyone.
While you wait for the full review, read our feature on the game’s development here.