JOYSTiCK Ep. 5: ‘Minecraft Dungeons’ – Baby’s first dungeon-crawler

By: Daniel Kendle

Image taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/
wiki/Minecraft_Dungeons?scrlybrkr=5a2a8e49

Log Entry No. 47

“It’s been months since the nuclear apocalypse began. After the ‘Minecraft Story Mode’ menace failed to heed by missile launch, it grew into a virus-like form, overtaking any poor being it touches. The lands around me are ravaged, the entirety of the US Midwestern-area decimated.

Now I am forced into this bunker, surrounded by both strangers and family alike. I feel cold, callous, like all of this is my fault. In reality, it isn’t, but that doesn’t lighten my heart.

Talking to others, I have discovered a way to vanquish the vile beast that stalks these lands. Ever since I’ve written that review, I’ve never wanted to touch my school iPad again. But now with this new information, I feel compelled to destroy the ‘Minecraft Story Mode’ menace, once and for all.

Using the creature’s DNA, scientists have found a closely-linked relative on its branch of the evolutionary tree. It’s been reasoned that reviewing this “cousin” could somehow allay the menace’s madness. And if it’ll save us all from impending starvation, that’ll be good enough for me.

After saying goodbye to Mother and Father, I’ve set out across the ruined ‘scapes in order to find this other title and review it. Everything now has an ugly tint to it, and it disgusts me personally.

This journey shall take much time; I’ll be seeing the leaves fall once this is all over. But as I watch the heavens for this monster, I creep closer to the goal of rebuilding this world.”

Hello hello, welcome back to JOYSTiCK, the HPSH serial that enjoys reviewing and exploring video games. On the docket for today is ‘Minecraft Dungeons’, another spinoff from Mojang, the creators of the base game. The difference between this and ‘Minecraft: Story Mode’ is that one of these games is actually pretty good. Impossible, I know.

…..

‘Minecraft Dungeons’ was released on May 26th, 2020, originally being scheduled to release in 2019 onto PC, before being further expanded onto Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo consoles, and onto Steam in 2021. It’s safe to say that this is a game that was meant to be played across many platforms. Of course, this also means that ‘Minecraft Dungeons’ supports cross-platform play, allowing people to play together even with different consoles.

Generally receiving favorable reviews, the consensus on the game was that it was a fun, charming experience, though lacking in much depth. Companies like Gamespot and IGN gave ‘Minecraft Dungeons’ 7/10’s each. The game reached over 15 million players as of February 2022. Also, 6 DLC packs for the game were released over the course of a little over a year.

PART ONE: GAMEPLAY (AND A REVIEW OF ‘MINECRAFT’S’ COMBAT)

As mentioned above, ‘Minecraft Dungeons’ has a very fun gameplay loop, even if it is comparatively shallow against other dungeon-crawlers. Though in order to talk about combat in this title, we should probably discuss ‘Minecraft’s’ very controversial combat system.

As of the 1.9 update back in 2016, the base game’s approach to fighting changed dramatically from previous versions. Before, players attacked with a sword in quick succession, not having to worry about things like recharging between hits and timing attacks. There was also sword-blocking, which allowed players to decrease the damage taken if held.

But then, it all changed.

The most controversial addition came with the sword’s new “sweeping” attack. No longer could you repeatedly spam-click opponents, now you had to swipe, pause, then swipe again, waiting for a partially-invisible meter to fill up again. While this was great for PVE (Player Versus Entity) combat, this harshly degraded PVP (Player Versus Player) combat.

Axes also got “upgraded.” Before they weren’t very useful in a fight, doing worse than a sword. However, the ax’s power EXPLODED, with the stone ax, the second-worst ax in the game, doing 9 – yes, NINE – hearts of health, the same as a diamond sword, the second best sword in the game. It’s nuts.

Finally, shields replaced sword-blocking. While probably the least controversial of all these additions, it still has its problems.

Sword-blocking was fair. Hitting a button on your keyboard at the right time halved the damage taken, acting as a way to shrug off some hits. Now, you may be expecting shields to be useless by how I’ve been wording this, but it’s actually the opposite. Shields in ‘Minecraft’ make you a GOD.

Shields, for one thing, let you not take ANY damage from an attack. Swords blocked around half, which was fair. But when you hold up this wooden board you can negate all of an attack’s power. This would be fine if, say, the shield had a long cooldown between uses. It doesn’t though so… yeah. It’s basically a way to make you invincible, even if it probably wasn’t made for that.

Outside of those changes, combat in the base game of ‘Minecraft’ is pretty simple, with the complexity coming from putting “Enchantments” onto gear, acting as modifiers. Weapons include swords, bows, axes, crossbows, tridents, and if you’re feeling quirky, TNT and throwable potions. There’s also armor and shields, the latter mentioned before.

So, now with that section out of the way, let’s discuss ‘Minecraft Dungeons’ combat, and how weirdly simple it is.

In ‘Minecraft Dungeons,’ have 2 main weapons: a melee and ranged pair. There’s also 3 slots for “Artifacts” that give you special abilities. Finally, there’s been a decrease in armor slots, going from 4 (helmet, chest plate, leggings, and boots) down to one unified armor set. No shields, no invincibility.

This is boring.

While each piece of gear you find has unique properties, your variety of ways to deal damage is lame. There are probably hundreds of different gear available, but each functions in a largely same-y way. Armor gives you a higher health total, melee weapons let you attack close-up, ranged weapons let you attack with arrows. Artifacts are cool, but there’s far less of them, and you can’t enchant them, unlike armor and weapons.

Ah, Enchantments! They’re actually alright; each piece of gear can have up to 3 total enchantments on it at once, with 9 to choose from. They generally add interesting modifiers to your equipment. You can have something useful like Protection, which gives you even more HP, something stupid like Explorer, giving you a minuscule amount of HP for every 100 blocks crossed, to something dumb but fun, like all the enchantments that let you attack monsters with bees.

So, now that I’ve given you a run down of your available arsenal, let’s look at what dungeon-crawling is like in this game. You’re given an arcade-style map of possible locations to run through, each level being around 20 to 30 minutes in length. Pick one, adjust the difficulty slider to how hard or easy you want it to be, and head on in.

Upon running though a level, your first way to attack is with your melee weapon. Simply press or hold a button and you’ll let loose an attack, whether it be from a sword, mace, or great hammer. Every weapon in ‘Minecraft Dungeons’ has different speeds of attacks, with something like the Gauntlets having a lightning-fast flurry of punches, or the Anchor being so slow it hurts to use. This is a problem I have with weapons; some are just way too good, and others suck. Slow weapons are generally worse for wear than something that can dish out damage at a steady rate. While quicker weapons usually deal less damage per hit, you’ll never really notice this due to how easy this game is.

The first main level you pick, Creeper Woods, has enemies go down in 1-2 hits, max. Some more armored creatures take more, but that’s honestly just an exception. Like, yeah, mowing through enemies is part of the dungeon-crawling genre’s appeal, but you’ll normally only be able to kill 1 monster at a time without any Enchantments, so it’s basically just a slow-moving, sluggish system where you’re able to slay anything with a flick of a button. Lame.

Ranged combat isn’t much better. While you do have some fun in trying to manage your arrow supply, you never need to worry in the early game, as you can get arrows in the hundreds. I’m not lying when I say I’ve gotten over 1,000 arrows in my inventory at once. Using a ranged attack has you use 1 of these projectiles, streaking towards the opponent. These generally let you approach battles without having to get up close and personal.

Aside from that, artifacts add a little randomness to your experience. Some rely on souls, a collectible from fallen enemies. Filling up a bar lets you use ultra-powerful artifacts. Most don’t need souls, instead having a cooldown between uses. Fun, but nothing crazy.

My problem with ‘Minecraft Dungeon’s’ combat is that it feels so flat. No real complexity outside of Enchantments makes a slow-moving yet charming game that should feel very invigorating and fun. I don’t hate it, but I’d say I’m… disappointed.

Outside of that, there are much better aspects of gameplay! While the main gameplay loop of going around killing mobs is slow, it’s still fun. I enjoyed putting together a composition of tools to mow through enemy hoards. Like I said, this IS a fun game… just kinda weird in areas.

Now, you get items as drops from enemies, which is standard. However, you also have a hub-world of sorts, known as your camp. Here are several traders that sell you items, remove Enchantments, upgrade gear, and gift items to other players when playing multiplayer. These are nice additions to the game, though that’s all I really have to say.

PART TWO: BOSSES

The base game of ‘Minecraft’ has only 2 bosses, the Wither and the Ender Dragon. There’s also some mini-bosses, like the Elder Guardian, Warden, and Ravager. So, there really isn’t much material to go off of for a spin-off title, as you can tell. So, what did the developers add? Some pretty neat enemies, honestly!

The first boss, the Corrupted Cauldron, has a name in the literal sense: it’s a living vat of witch’s brews that spews out purple slime, random undead mobs and purple fire. It also harvests and eats the dead bodies of slain monsters to regain health through this dark, sadistic manner.

Cute.

The Nameless One is an undead skeleton king that can summon either clones of itself or skeleton soldiers to fight you, using a weapon known as a Glaive to strike. This is also an interesting fight; it feels very “Minecraft-y” without straying into the territory of weirdness. I like it!

My personal favorite boss, the Redstone Monstrosity, is the most ‘Diablo’ of all the enemies. It fights using an arsenal of exploding projectiles, heavy-hitting fists and mini Redstone cubes that chase you around.

One cool thing about this fight is that you have these interactable power cores along the sides of the arena you fight the boss in. Activating them lets loose a powerful shockwave, damaging anything within the 4 cardinal directions. These also hurt the monstrosity, making the battle even more interesting to fight.

And while this review won’t cover the story, I’m still not mentioning the final boss, as even though this game doesn’t have too much story, I feel like people would still be sad to have the ending spoiled. But all in all, these are some cool enemies, and I like them all!

I will say, however, that nothing feels super tough; I’ve never needed to grind for levels in order to beat something. This can be seen as a good thing – grinding for anything in a game is normally boring – though I wish that these were some more interesting bosses, compared to other reviews I’ve done.

PART THREE: GRAPHICS

The base game of ‘Minecraft’ has an interesting, iconic style. Using voxel-based terrain, the entire game is made up of cubes, squares, pixels, etc. while not having ultra-realistic lighting or any major notion of physics, ‘Minecraft’s’ artstyle is great. In fact, I’d say that the game would look worse for wear if everything had normal 3-D models. There would be a lot of clipping of models and architecture, so having everything have to conform to a voxel layout helps things feel very neat.

But what if you did put realistic lighting in ‘Minecraft?’

‘Minecraft Dungeons’ is a very VERY pretty game to look at. The lighting looks wonderful, the textures for new blocks and enemies are pleasant to see, animations have been updated from the clunky-yet-perfect movements of the base game to more high-fidelity work for this spin-off.

Luckily, the game doesn’t go into the uncanny-valley with them, meaning that they don’t feel out of place and creepy, contrary to ‘Minecraft Story Mode’s’ weirdly-psychotic animations. They also don’t feel like some kind of fan animation; you’ll never see character’s limbs flex and bend, keeping to a straight, box shape. While this may sound bad, this is actually great, in my opinion.

As I said, the lighting is superb, feeling like something straight out of a mod for the base game. It also has an interesting effect with the pixelated blocks, a beautiful clash of realism and… ‘Tetris.’

PART FOUR: CONCLUSION

‘Minecraft Dungeons’ isn’t perfect by any means. It has a very slow combat system, generally shallow – but still good – story, and is arguably one of the most kid-friendly dungeon-crawler games out there. However, I still think this is a very fun time, and I’d recommend it! I’m giving ‘Minecraft Dungeons’ an 8/10, because it’s one of the most chill action games out there, a strangely nice combination. Plus, it’s only $20 for the base game, a steal.

Log Entry No. 52

“After weeks of prowling humanity’s ruins, I’ve finally caught up to the ‘Minecraft Story Mode’ monster. A towering mass of dark antimatter and writhing clouds, it feeds upon once-lively lands in search of human populations.

I sprinted towards the creature’s back, leaped up, and with a single slash of my blade, I smited the creature’s core!

As the monster fell to the ground, the land around me began to change. From the caked rubble came again trees, flowers, grass. Nature returned, cities rebuilt themselves, and humans came back.

‘Hooray! They all shouted. ‘This random kid has saved all of our lives! ‘Tis a miracle!

And as I basked in the glory, I felt whole again. As if the world wouldn’t let me down, as if I had restored purity to the sanctum that is my heart, deep down in my organ structure.

I had defeated the ‘Minecraft Story Mode’ menace. My soul… was free.”

And that’s all for this episode of JOYSTiCK! See you next time, and feel free to check out other episodes thus far.

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