I first had the chance to check out Minecraft Dungeons way back at PAX 2019. It’s an action-RPG, similar to Diablo but with more in common with the gameplay style of Gauntlet. At the time, I spoke to Nathan Rose, Snr. Project Manager and he joked that Minecraft Dungeons is classless. “It has no class,” he laughed. “Well actually, it has a lot of class, just not classes.” And that’s the entire basis for the gameplay in Minecraft Dungeons.
See, in Minecraft Dungeons, you are what you wear. Every character can pick up every weapon, every artefact. every piece of loot and use them. Nothing is locked behind a class system which means you can build your character however you like.
This allows for an incredible amount of flexibility and freedom in how you play Minecraft Dungeons. You’ll be somewhat constrained by the loot you find, but for the most part, how you play is up to you.
Minecraft Dungeons Preview
Each character can equip a melee weapon, armour and a ranged weapon. They can also equip three artifacts. Melee weapons come in a variety of flavours — swords, hammers, sickles etc — which all function differently, attack with different speeds and deal differing levels of damage.
For ranged weapons, I’ve only seen bows and crossbows so far though that’s not to say there aren’t others available. And as for armour; there are a huge number of different armour types which grant different bonuses and give the player additional benefits.
Artifacts are your activated abilities and you can swap them out willy-nilly. The Fireworks Arrow makes your next shot fired an explosive that hits enemies in an AOE. The fishing rod pulls in the closest enemy and stuns them, allowing you to smack them around without getting hit and the Boots of Swiftness give you a brief increase to your movement speed.
Building You Up
Other artifacts include a feather that allows you to jump, Corrupted Beacon that fires a beam of energy that continuously damages enemies, a Harvester that releases souls in a damaging explosion and a Tasty Bone that summons a wolf to fight alongside you.
These are just a small number of the available weapons and artifacts in the game but already you should get a feel for how deep the customisation goes.
However, there’s still another level of depth. Weapons and armour have enchantments that can be unlocked by spending enchantment points. Each time you level up, you earn one enchantment point and there are three levels of upgrade per enchantment, costing 1, 2 and 3 enchantment points respectively. The higher tier an enchantment, the more you’re going to get out of it.
Enchanted, I’m Sure
So far I’ve seen enchantments that regain health as you explore the map, craft arrows when you’re hit by projectiles, stun enemies, deal lightning damage, fire multiple arrows at once, create poison clouds, set enemies on fire and more.
Better yet, you can stack and combo your enchantments to gain maximum effectiveness and this allows you to build your character to suit your playstyle. If you want to tank, you’d be looking to equip heavy armour and a heavy melee weapon like the hammer, whereas spell casters will want enchantments and artifacts that boos their damage-dealing ability from afar. You can even equip multiples of the same artifact to be able to use the associated ability multiple times.
Some weapons and armour can have multiple enchantments equipped and so, you can see just how much fun you can have building your ultimate character in Minecraft Dungeons. There may not be any crafting or any mining, but the way you build your character is this game’s homage to the way you build in Minecraft.
Like School on Saturday
I asked Director Mans Olsen whether there’s any risk of players not having a good time if they don’t have a mix of “classes” and playstyles. He told me;
From a design perspective, we’ve tried to make sure there’s not a very strong reliance on healing or tanking, but we do have other very coopertaive mechanics built into the game.
The idea is that you shouldn’t have to play one of those certain playstyles that’s. With that said, you can also ramp up the difficulty quite a lot towards the end of the game if you want to.
Then you may have to end up min-maxing your gear a bit, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. It’s not that we don’t consider the balance. We do want the game to be as balanced as possible.
It’s that if we ever have to make the choice we’ll prioritise having something fun.
Mixing and matching weapons, enchantments and artifacts is incredibly satisfying which helps to feed into the obsessive exploration, grinding and looting you’ll be doing in each of the sprawling, semi procedurally generated levels.
Executive Producer David Nisshagen told us that the levels are a mix of fixed key objectives and procedural paths. There are certain elements in the levels that will always be there however, there will be branching paths and areas to explore that are randomised and change. Down these randomised paths and rabbit holes are where you’ll find lots of hidden loot, which you’ll need as you push forward.
Looking the Part
Minecraft Dungeons looks and sounds exactly like Minecraft. The signature blocky style, pixellated textures and jaunty tunes are all present and accounted for. It might not play like Minecraft, but it sure as hell looks the part. Nisshagen said that the team wanted to do something different with the IP but that it should still “look and feel distinctively Minecraft.“
Being an action-RPG, Minecraft Dungeons does look and feel a little different. Nisshagen pointed out the animation and movement set as two particular things that were different. And it’s because of the game’s genre.
It’s an action-adventure game. You gotta have a bit more…I won’t say polish, but, focus quality on, on those parts of the game.
Having the tightest possible input and feedback to the player. So it really feels fun to manoeuvre around and fight mobs.
And it does. Playing Minecraft Dungeons, whether with a mouse and keyboard or gamepad, feels really great. It’s responsive and fast and simple enough that almost anyone can pick up and play. On the surface, it might seem light on and pretty limited in scope, but you could say the same thing of Minecraft.
The depth in Minecraft Dungeons is available for those players who want to explore it and for those who are happy with a simple hack n slash game, they’re going to be satisfied too.
Able to be played by one to four players, in co-op and on PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One. While cross-play between PC and Xbox One is expected at launch, Rose told me that the team wants everyone to play together. Crossplay between all platforms is the goal but it’s not likely we’ll see it at launch.
Minecraft Dungeons is easily one of the most exciting games coming from Microsoft in 2020, which might seem like an odd thing to say. However, once you start playing it, it’s very, very difficult to stop. The core loop is simple but a tonne of fun and the never-ending quest for loot, better enchantments and a stronger character pushes you to play just one more level over and over again.
I can’t wait to get my hands on Minecraft Dungeons when it’s released on May 26, 2020, and any fans of action RPGs should be very excited.