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Minecraft Dungeons - Xbox One X

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

Finally, an entry into the ARPG genre that forges its own path.  Many trends in the genre have been cast aside, for good reason and with good alternatives.  There are specific things people are looking for from a game of this type, and Minecraft Dungeons delivers in spades.  The Minecraft look suits the level design wonderfully, and adds flavor to the game.  It feels weighty, polished, and is very fun.  A really great multi-person experience that is missing from popular gaming.  I ran into a lot of bugs and glitches, but it was one of those games that delivered in spite of the technical faults.  

Character customization doesn't interest me beyond a certain point, and I knew I'd be covered in armor before long, so I breezed past that part in the very start of the game.  They have a myriad of character looks to choose from, though.  The introduction stage is fun, quick, and doesn't drone on or get overly specific about the game mechanics.  I learned a lot just from playing, and some of the more in-depth information you can figure out online, which makes for a good casual or serious playthrough.  I journeyed through the tutorial stage and the first stage of the game on my own, and the rest of the game I played with other people, both on Xbox Live and couch co-op.  It was multitudes more fun with friends.  They have a teleport feature so you can jump right back to someone else on the map if you get lost, separated, or took separate paths.  It is quick and easy to join up with people on your friends list.  For some reason, it does not have cross play and I can't figure out why for the life of me.  It did end up being a rather short game compared to traditional entries of this game type, but it is better off for it.  It doesn't require an excessive amount of grinding, loot gimmicks are non-existent, and it felt good to be able to complete the game fully without having to invest several weeks of play time.  I played several long gaming sessions with someone on the same system as me, and it saved all of their character progression onto my Gamertag's guest account.  In total, it took about 24 hours from starting to complete the final boss on Apocalypse difficulty, with approximately 20 hours of that couch co-op.  We took our time, found all of the secrets, and beat every level in each difficulty. The entire feel of the game gives you bits and pieces of classic Minecraft charm, and it all comes together very well.  The blocky level design and background scenery are fun to explore and goofy looking, while giving you those nostalgic kicks from Minecraft.  The first time you get a pickaxe for a weapon you feel complete.  Stumbling upon a creeper is still scary and dangerous.  It borrows from Minecraft at every turn, but the art style still manages to feel pristine.   Weapons and armor are varied and interesting, and the artifacts are diverse and useful.  I rarely felt that a certain weapon or artifact combination was not viable.  You get a melee weapon, one full armor piece, and a ranged weapon.  The enchantment system was great for experimenting with different weapons types, and made it fun to switch out often.  Weapons and armor can be buffed with certain random enchantments that are attached to them.  When you level up, you gain enchantment points to add those given enchantments to a weapon.  Each enchantment can go up to level three, and a piece of equipment can have one, two, or three total enchantments.  If you decide to use a new weapon, you simply salvage the old one, and you are given all of your enchantment points back.  Being able to experiment with different weapon and artifact types on the fly and not be punished for it is a wonderful feeling.  Some weapons and artifacts don't even become attainable until the final difficulty.  It made collecting loot fun because you were finding and trying new gear all the way to the end.  There is only a handful of enchantments, and some felt clearly superior to others. 

The difficulty is in limbo.  There is a difficulty slider you can adjust for each mission, ranging from your recommended power level to many levels of power above your own.  If you play strictly on the recommended one, be prepared for a breezy walk through every mission.  If you go up too high, it's near impossible to proceed, and extremely tedious.  I went one or two levels above my current power and above the recommended difficulty every time and it felt great.  The balance at that range felt perfect, and it makes me wonder why it isn't the standard throughout the whole game.  There is a revival mechanic, where it becomes night and monsters start to spawn when a character is killed.  You have until a timer counts down to revive them before you start taking direct damage from the night.  If you happen to both die, you simply get resurrected a bit further back in the level.  You get three resurrections like this per level, and if you all die again, you simply go back to camp.  You keep all the loot you gained up until that point, and can simply try again.  The lack of a death penalty was a detriment to the overall difficulty scheme.   Each stage is varied in several ways.  The map composition changes from linear with few branching paths, to labyrinthine and complex.  The art themes bounce across several Minecraft biomes.  Certain enemy types will only show up on certain missions.  There are some stage-specific ideas that pepper in a lot of the Minecraft charm such as monster spawners and pressure plate traps.  Some stages will take a long time and many enemies to get through, and others are shorter with a few simple puzzles or enemy gauntlet challenges.  It felt diverse enough in playing that I kept wanting to replay levels.  Beyond that there are hidden chests and secrets to unlock that made me scour every corner of the map.  This became a nightmare later on, because these hidden chests are often down a long, dull, deadend hallway.  The chest locations are randomized, and they are invisible and only appear when you get near them, making getting a specific piece of equipment or unique item a slog.  Backtracking through every tile of every map to make sure you found each chest was a horrible decision, considering chests drop way more consistent loot than mobs, and you could walk all the way down one of these paths and have no chest appear at all. Still, after three full playthroughs, with some added level runs to try and get unique loot, I still felt the urge to play.  The charm is unreal, and the difference between a standard ARPG and Minecraft Dungeons was stark and apparent.

There were a whole handful of glitches that cropped up throughout my playing.  The entire game crashed back to the Xbox home screen a minimum of four times.  I have not been able to enter the church building in the camp without falling through the floor to my death upon initial entry.  For a game that has a lot of traversal on specific, blocky architecture, you get caught on the geometry quite often.  Sometimes artifacts would go on cooldown and never come off.  I was able to get around that by unequipping and reequipping it.  Later, I had to salvage one entirely because it would not let me unequip.  You have a dodge roll with awkward movement and momentum.  Going down a hill with it will send you flying, and uphill you will barely move.  Also, it is seemingly only a movement option.  I could detect little to no invulnerability during the actual roll.  I forgot I had it most of the time as it wasn't a very useful or good option. There are some areas of the game that look like a tease for future content as well, most notably the broken nether portal in the main camp.  Whether it was put there as a setting or will eventually be used, only time will tell.  There is no endgame to speak of currently.  You go through the three difficulties and then that's it.  There is a secret level you can find, but it's not especially rewarding.  People looking for a super boss or content beyond the main game will be disappointed.  This is a problem I have with virtually every ARPG.  After spending so many hours building up your character, you are looking for a real challenge beyond the main game, and right now, Minecraft Dungeons doesn't have any.  There is a location on the map titled "Island Realms" that says coming soon.  You have to imagine this game will be supported with more features and content in the future, which will be wonderful.  Minecraft Dungeons was truly a treat, and I welcome more content with open arms.  The game currently feels complete, tight, and super fun with friends.  It surpassed my expectations and the gameplay is so fun it keeps me wanting to play even now, with no real objectives left.  If you like ARPGs, you'll love Minecraft Dungeons.


*DLC Update:


Three new Jungle Biome maps were added to the game, as well as three secret levels you can unlock from some of the original levels. Also added were some new weapon types and artifacts, on top of a few balance changes.


The new Jungle levels were all very fun. More of the same, but in a good way. New monsters, friendly mobs, and pickups add some flair to the new levels. They are designed well, if not better than previous levels. It added a really good amount of play time for the price point, and felt good to hop back in with some fresh content.


I have a few gripes with the secret levels added to the main level maps. The way to unlock them was randomly added to the maps, at least for one of them. I managed to unlock two of them straight away, but the level that is unlocked by going through Pumpkin Pastures simply wasn't populating in the map. At first I enjoyed playing through the whole level as the gameplay is quite enjoyable. I went through it so many times that I thought I was doing something wrong, because I searched every inch of the map and could not find the unlock. This was a poor, arbitrary design choice. There is a section of the map that has a random chance to spawn the area to unlock the new secret mission, so I began running past everything to find if it was there. After beating the level again legitimately a few times, I started this process, and the very first time I found the area, the game crashed. After a handful more tries I was able to find it again, but the whole process itself was a tiresome bore, and quite odd considering all the smart, fun, and efficient choices they had made up until now.


They also changed the way you found the entrance to a different secret level by removing a loot chest and replacing it with a lever. Overall poor decision based on the loot structure in the game.


The new jungle boss was boring and tame compared to the main game boss. As an added, stronger boss, I expected a little more versatility and difficulty. He was interesting to look at, but overall unimpressive.


Beyond those few slight missteps, the game is still very much a satisfying treat. The gameplay continues to excel and I had a great time finding and trying out the new weapons and artifacts. All wonderful, fun, and worthwhile additions. It built confidence that the upcoming DLC will be equally as polished and interesting.

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