There's no particular reason Minecraft Dungeons needs to be a Minecraft game. Its dungeon-crawling gameplay could fit any fantasy setting, its enemies could be baddies from any monster hack-and-slash. There's no mining or crafting. And yet the Minecraft theme makes a lot of sense: it's a friendly aesthetic for a different genre, its enemies are instantly recognisable, and while you won't spend your time knocking down any walls, there's plenty of character building to get to grips with.
Due to launch in summer 2020 for PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, Minecraft Dungeons is a friendly RPG dungeon-crawler. Either alone or with a party of friends, you traverse its procedurally-generated hallways and caverns swiping down monsters and picking up loot. The better loot you acquire, the faster the enemies fall, the bigger the enemies get, the better the loot they drop.
As someone who spends their time playing Minecraft with it set to Survival mode, Dungeons directly plays into the risk and reward of venturing down into one of the main game's caverns, unsure exactly how things are going to pan out. But it's also a more structured experience - there is a firm beginning and end to each level, with bosses and mini-bosses, keys to find and traps to skirt.
On your character page you have slots for a close combat weapon, a bow and magical arrows, and an artefact with various properties. One is a horn which blows all enemies back a few paces, good for crowd control. But I mostly stuck with a kind of fixed anti-mob bubble, good for placing down in bottlenecks. There are slots for the traditional Minecraft armour types, too, with added RPG-esque levels and stat boosts attached. There's no class system in Minecraft Dungeons - just the ability to tailor your character through armour and weapons into the build you want.
You can roll to avoid traps and enemies, summon a friendly pet to help you fight, and chug health potions (although on a cooldown). And you'll need to, as Minecraft's familiar zombies and spiders soon give way to new, beefier enemies with more diverse powers. There's a floating imp thing which spews green AOE fire, and wizards with magical laser beams. Even the keys you need to locate are alive.
My favourite moment was the realisation the key I'd picked up had run away after I'd gotten smacked by an environmental trap - two blocks slamming into me from either side. Probably annoyed at me failing to roll and miss the trap in time, the key had upped and left, and required some backtracking to find. I discovered it wailing a few passages away.
A handy icon always shows you the vague route ahead, and there's a simple map overlay you can leave open across your screen showing the location of yourself and other players so you don't become too separated. Only once, when another player was on screen along with around 15 enemies spitting projectiles, did the performance slow down.
I'm curious what there is to do with the game's emerald currency, which spews satisfyingly out of treasure chests and is dropped by bigger mobs (there's also a pig mob with a treasure chest on its back you, sadly, have to slaughter to nab its prize). The demo here at Gamescom was timed, so I never saw an end screen. And I'm interested to see what other areas and enemies lay ahead. The level I saw was based on a desert temple, though there's plenty of opportunity for other biomes to offer fresh types of challenge. There's still around a year to go until the game's launch, but it's looking promising - and like Minecraft itself, there's plenty here to build on.
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