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23 May 2020 00:31

Electronic Entertainment Expo Obsidian Entertainment Xbox

Minecraft Dungeons review

Ahead of its May 26 release on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch, Minecraft Dungeons game director Måns Olson and art director Daniel Björkefors spoke with me in a video call about the process of adapting the iconic world of Minecraft into a new experience. We also talked about what they're excited for players to see in the game, and how we ended up with a Minecraft dungeon crawler in the first place. "We wanted to make a new Minecraft game," Olson said. "If we want to get away from that and play something new, we have to move quite far from what the core of Minecraft is," said Olson. "We have a lot of people on the team who are big fans of the genre of dungeon crawlers," Olson said.

"That kind of felt like a natural fit for Minecraft because you do a lot of this adventuring in the caves, finding various mobs [enemies], finding treasure." For the cooperative multiplayer element of Minecraft Dungeons, the team also referred to cooperative first-person shooter games like Left 4 Dead and Vermintide for inspiration. So, even though the more straightforward adventuring and enemy-chasing gameplay of Dungeons is so different from the open-ended, exploratory nature of the base game, everything should look and feel like it fits in the Minecraft world. "We've taken the Minecraft spiders and we've given them the ability to shoot webs that entangle the player and ground them," Olson said, explaining how they came up with different ways to make players watch where they're going and restrict movement. While the little character started as a joke, it turned out it actually worked very well, and it's become a sort of unofficial mascot for the game, Olson said. On the broader side of art things, Björkefors said that while they're developing Dungeons levels exactly the same way as in vanilla from a software and procedural standpoint, there's a different approach to the whole mood of the game.

"It's a dungeon crawler, so it's supposed to be a little bit spooky and adventurous." The lighting changes are really noticeable in 'Minecraft Dungeons.' Image: xbox game studios A big part of that Minecraft Dungeons mood is exemplified by a gameplay mechanic that comes into play during cooperative multiplayer when one player loses all their health in combat and goes down. Olson also hopes to see more players who are fans of dungeon crawlers to jump into Minecraft Dungeons, even if they aren't as familiar with the vanilla game. "That is super exciting for me personally — watching streams of players playing the beta and saying, 'Look, I'm not a big Minecraft player normally, but this game seems like something I can get into,'" he said. It's a very loose and accessible system, meaning all ages can pick up and play Minecraft Dungeons without worrying about 'the meta' or having to spend ages fiddling with statistics to get the best results. These combat challenges graft in enemies from Minecraft lore and adapt their abilities in an appealing fashion, with some playing like bullet hell mini-games and others requiring synchronised use of the environment to pummel burly beasts.

It feels like a day at Legoland because it starts off as great fun and looks like a world of endless possibilities, but you quickly realize that it's pretty much the same thing repeated over and over again. Minecraft Dungeons becomes repetitive pretty quickly (Image credit: Mojang) That's a standard convention of the dungeon-crawler genre, but Minecraft Dungeons' issue is that even inside just nine levels, it reuses bosses. Nobody enjoys grinding at the best of times, so it's some feat for Minecraft Dungeons to make you feel like you're grinding the first time around. It isn't the best dungeon crawler out there, but it's undeniably a Minecraft game, and for some players, that's going to be the make or break factor. Minecraft Dungeons is a solid game, although disappointingly for a franchise built on creativity, there's not too much variety to be found, especially towards the end.

At the end of the day, it's a Minecraft dungeon crawler. A dungeon crawler might seem like an unexpected choice for a new game in the Minecraft franchise, but give it some lateral thought, and the concept actually makes a lot of sense. Mojang's talent for procedurally generated entertainment centred around co-op and creativity finds a happy home in the action RPG space, in fact, as playing Minecraft Dungeons quickly proves, albeit not without a few growing pains hindering the user experience at launch. Fast facts: Minecraft Dungeons (Image credit: Microsoft / Mojang Studios) Release date: May 26, 2020 Those who enjoy the high-level tinkering and endgame meta the genre is known for may, therefore, find Minecraft Dungeons somewhat inadequate in the long run, though Mojang has promised to support the game with new content far beyond launch. As a more approachable entry point for the hack and slash genre that levels the playing field against its brawnier contemporaries, Minecraft Dungeons succeeds wholeheartedly, filling a gap in the market in a way that only a Mojang creation could.

But those achievements aren't enough to avoid the sense of feeling a little shortchanged by Dungeons' light touch, with the base game only just meeting the bare minimum of what is typically expected from an action-RPG in terms of content, replay value, and player progression.