With Minecraft Dungeons’ May 26 release date looming, we’re starting to get a pretty good idea of what the game has in store, and the news is good. I’ve been playing the closed beta for a week or so, and while I can certainly see plenty in common with juggernauts of the action RPG genre like Diablo 3, when it comes to things like how character builds and levelling up work, Minecraft Dungeons really does do things differently. It makes for a refreshing change, and for the many Minecraft fans out there that have never played a hack and slash dungeon crawler, this will be a perfect entry point.
Developer Mojang has also given us more of a look at a location that isn’t featured in the beta: Redstone Mines. This setting feels very much like a classic dungeon, with stone corridors lit by torches along the walls and the glow of lava rivers underneath, while minecart rails crisscross certain areas and new enemy mobs like the Redstone Golem lurk.
Here are the things I’m loving the most.
The combat is enchanting
There are no classes in Minecraft Dungeons. Instead, your gameplay options are determined by the gear you use. Your choice of melee weapon, bow and armour – and the enchantments you apply to them – dictate how you’ll play, as do the three artifacts you can also equip to give yourself additional special abilities.
Let’s dig into enchantments first. Every weapon, bow or piece of armour you pick up will have a random number of random enchantments that can potentially be activated. At the start of the game a typical piece of gear will have three options, of which you can commit to one only. Enchanting gear uses enchantment points, which are earned by leveling up. (And indeed, that’s the ONLY thing you get for leveling up – there are no increases to base stats or anything like that. The differences between characters really are all in their gear.) Each enchantment has three tiers to activate, each of which costs more enchantment points to unlock.
There are a heap of enchantments in Minecraft Dungeons, but to give you some examples, you’ll see options like Burning – which damages enemies within melee range, Thorns – which deals damage back whenever you take damage and Thundering – which periodically triggers lightning strikes when you’re attacking.
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Each of these abilities ramps up as you upgrade them, and as you get better gear you’ll be able to have two – and eventually three – enchantments activated on each hand to hand weapon, bow and piece of armour. The examples above are all linked to melee attacks, but there are a suite of enchantments for ranged weapons too, letting you do things like pierce through enemies, ricochet arrows from one enemy to another, create explosions with every few arrows fired and so on. You can also go for other approaches – maybe you want mobs to drop more consumables? Maybe you want faster movement speed whenever you activate an artifact ability? Or maybe you want to create a trail of fire whenever you combat roll? There’s a bunch.
Each weapon, bow and piece of armour also has its own stats – damage output or defensive capability, and other buffs. Wolf Armor, for instance, will give you a certain amount of bonus health, will create a weapon damage boost aura and will have some kind of additional effect – health potions heal nearby allies, for instance.
All gear has an assigned rarity, and as you might expect, it’s the Unique items that are the real showstoppers, as their passive bonuses can be super powerful. You may have a bow that hits multiple targets and spawns poison clouds, for example. And then you get to layer enchantments on top of that.
Special abilities, meanwhile, are determined by the three artifacts you have equipped, and these offer a host of possibilities. Want to boost attack and movement speed? Use the Death Cap Mushroom. Got a hankering for fire arrows? Flaming Quiver. How about pushing back enemy mobs and slowing their movement? Wind Horn! Artifacts can also be stacked, so if you want to use Death Cap Mushroom more often, you can equip it in two of your slots.
Swapping gear and artifacts can be done at any time, making for a really flexible system. That said, if you want to free up enchantment points to put them into a new piece of gear, you’ll need to salvage points from an existing item, destroying it in the process. Even so, the system still gives players plenty of scope to test out different enchantments and find combinations that work for them, and it all adds up to combat that’s really frenetic… especially with friends.
It’s easy to turn on, tune in… and then drop out
Minecraft Dungeons offers seamless co-op for up to four players, and you can get together with friends all over the world to play online, or you can plop down on the couch with family members or flat mates to play same screen co-op. They’re both great, and fully drop in drop out, with the difficulty adjusted dynamically.
I also like the idea that – because levels reward players with enchantment points, as opposed to base stat increases – a new player can join an experienced one and quickly get enough gear to at least be able to have fun, as opposed to being impossibly far behind.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Co-op%20is%20fully%20drop%20in%20drop%20out%2C%20with%20the%20difficulty%20adjusted%20dynamically.”]
Loot is mostly either shared, or allocated individually. In online play, for instance, each player will only see their own gear drops, whereas in same screen co-op drops are colour-coded to indicate which player gets which piece. The only competition for loot is in consumable potions, like Strength (attack boost), Swiftness (speed boost) and Shadow Brew (you become invisible and your next melee attack does extra damage), which can only be picked up by one player.
It’s also worth mentioning that there’s no friendly fire in Minecraft Dungeons. There isn’t even an option to turn friendly fire on, which, given how chaotic things get, is probably a good thing. That said, TNT can hurt everyone and everything, so it’s best to give your co-op buddies a heads-up if you’re about to throw some so they can get clear of the highlighted blast radius.
You can choose your challenge
Each mission in the closed beta (bar the tutorial) lets you choose from six difficulty levels before going in. You can see at a glance what the appropriate level is for you or your party, as you’re given either an individual power level or a party power level (based, presumably, on the strength and enchantment levels of your gear and artifacts) to compare to what’s recommended for each difficulty level. And, of course, the higher the difficulty level you tackle a mission on, the better the rewards, so there’s definitely incentive to go above your power ranking in search of upgraded gear. It’s a solid system and I’ve certainly got a whole lot more out of the handful of levels in the beta than I would have otherwise.
I also really like the fact that you get a heads-up about the loot drops you can expect in each location before you go in. You’ll see the gear that’ll drop and the artifacts. Want to fight with a pickaxe (as is fitting for a Minecraft game)? Then you need to head to Creepy Crypts because that’s where they’re going to drop.
There are so many familiar pixelated faces
As a fan of Minecraft a huge part of the appeal of Minecraft Dungeons is seeing how different iconic mobs have been integrated into the game. It’s cool, for instance, coming across Evokers, as they have a similar set of attacks to vanilla Minecraft; summoning Vexes to swoop in on the player as well as fangs that rise up out of the ground and snap shut. Endermen are also suitably otherworldly, and while it’s now no longer a matter of avoiding their gaze, they do teleport about to keep you on your toes.
Creepers, meanwhile, do pretty much what you’d expect, bee-lining for the player then blowing themselves up, which is easy enough to deal with in ones or twos, but can become deadly in the midst of pitched battles in more confined areas where they can suddenly appear in clusters. Familiar faces are everywhere – Zombies lurch towards you, Skeletons stay at range and shoot arrows, Spiders shoot webs that can lock you briefly in place, Vindicators run at you with axes, Slimes jump about and get divided into smaller Slimes and so on. And importantly, the most adorable mob of them all – Chicken Jockeys – has also made it in. Any of these mobs can also spawn as more powerful enchanted versions – Elites, in Diablo 3 parlance – with buffs like Regeneration and Double Damage.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=A%20huge%20part%20of%20the%20appeal%20is%20seeing%20how%20different%20iconic%20mobs%20have%20been%20integrated%20into%20the%20game.”]
As always with this style of game, it’s all about mixing and matching enemies to create new combat puzzles to solve, and Minecraft’s existing bestiary has proven to be a great baseline to build upon to achieve that. Mojang has, however, added in some new creations to meet gameplay needs. Enchanters, for instance, do just that, casting a beam on nearby mobs to heighten their power. Geomancers, meanwhile, will try and block your movement with rows of pillars, and can also summon in stone totems that explode after a few seconds. And there’s a heap more – including the very cool-looking Redstone Golem.
What we’ve seen so far showcases a good variety of enemy types, and I’m excited about what the full game will have to offer. How will Minecraft Dungeons pay tribute to both the Nether and the End, for instance? Surely the Ender Dragon will be in the mix somewhere!
The familiar faces don’t stop with enemy mobs, either. You’ll also see cows and sheep milling about as you roam the world… and they feel awful to kill, but hey, sometimes they drop food and potions. Pigs made it in, complete with treasure chests on their backs – you won’t feel so bad about slaughtering those. And you can also equip artifacts that let you summon wolves and llamas to fight alongside you.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=You%20can%20equip%20artifacts%20that%20let%20you%20summon%20wolves%20and%20llamas%20to%20fight%20alongside%20you.”]
Everywhere you turn there’s someone or something that takes me back to vanilla Minecraft. Want to teleport back to your party if you’ve been off exploring during an online game? Just click on the Ender Pearl in your HUD. Want to try and get a better artifact? Well, the Wandering Trader has finally settled down and opened a stall in your base camp and… still demands a huge number of emeralds for not all that much. Some things never change.
It all adds up to a new twist on a familiar world, in which combat is always evolving as you find and enchant new gear, tackle higher difficulty levels and explore new biomes.