When I think of a traditional dungeon crawl, I envision a group of haggard and broody adventurers decked out from head to toe in powerful gear. In Minecraft Dungeons I have a candle strapped to my forehead, a fireworks arrow that blows up mobs in a haze of colour and sparks, a purple mushroom that gives me super speed, and a llama I've summoned who spits at enemies as their attack.
It's safe to say that Minecraft Dungeons doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a hack-n-slash dungeon crawler set in the Minecraft universe and challenges up to four players to brawl their way through its spooky, blocky levels. I've blasted my way through mobs of creepers, shot a mass of burning arrows at spiders, and cleaved a path through skeletons hordes. It's bombastic, frantic fun.
The story of Minecraft Dungeons is fairly straightforward. The main villain is the Arch-Illager who after being bullied by other villagers finds a powerful artifact that grants him immense power. He then uses his newfound abilities to force all the villagers that made fun of him into slavery.
Each level in Minecraft Dungeons has a goal that normally involves freeing the villagers from the Arch-Illager's wrath. It's a light story that gives you a purpose rather than an epic narrative. Although, it does have a grand Lord of the Rings-inspired narrator who introduces the goal of each level—a nice touch.
It's refreshing to see Minecraft's world from an isometric perspective, and Mojang have improved the graphics for Minecraft Dungeons. There's a fair share of dungeons and crypts, but there are also swamps, forests, and canyons to explore. A personal favourite of mine is the Redstone Mine. Peering down the mineshafts, watching the pulleys lift out the glowing Redstone gives the level great sense of depth and character.
There are no classes or skill systems in Minecraft Dungeons; your character is defined by the items you use. You have spaces for a melee weapon, a piece of armour, and a ranged weapon, all of which you can upgrade using enhancement points. If you were to spend all your enchantment points on a piece of gear only to find a more powerful weapon down the line, you can salvage your original weapon and get the enchantment points back to spend on the new one. This recycling system gives you the freedom to try out new weapons and fun abilities without fear of losing a piece of powerful gear in the process.
You also have space for three artifacts that grant your character extra abilities and attacks. They can take the form of healing totems, magical amulets, or other items like a chunk of meat that summons a wolf ally. When using artifacts in conjunction with enchantments, you can create some pretty cool builds.
I'm currently rocking a soul-eating character build which involves collecting the souls of my dead enemies and using them to power my corrupted beacon artifact, or as I like to call it, the shooty-shooty laser cube. You can also switch out gear on the go, so if that fishing rod that reels in mobs isn't working for you, you can easily switch back to your soul collecting cube.
Combat is speedy and messy, and dungeon crawls have a light arcade feel that's perfect for casual co-op. Each level comes with a recommended difficulty, and in my experience, it's been pretty spot on. Levels are a mix of breezy hack-and-slash combat with some tougher boss battles thrown in.
Alongside your items, you also get a map of your progress through the dungeon, and a bottomless healing potion that refills after a minute or two. Each level gives you three lives, so even if you do die, you've got more chances to succeed. I've played the handful of levels multiple times (both solo and local co-op). With the difficulty set automatically, I've only wiped out three times. One of those times was when I first saw an Enderman and I was so surprised it completely decimated me.
With the multiple lives, bottomless potion, and map markers carrying you through each level, playing Minecraft Dungeon's feels closer to Castle Crashers—or even Overcooked—rather than Diablo. There's more of a focus more on players having fun brawls rather than a serious challenge. It's a dungeon crawler that manages to preserve Minecraft's sense of playfulness in an entirely different genre.