For example a crossbow with a chance to fire five arrows at once, plus a chance for each arrow to send enemies into a blind rage, makes for excellent crowd control. Meanwhile a pair of daggers that create a shockwave every fourth hit is great, but pair with an artifact that drastically increases your attack speed and you’ve essentially become a mulching machine.
When you add friends to the mix there are even more possibilities. For example one character might be geared towards constantly healing while another has a buff that makes them 40 per cent stronger when at full health. Unfortunately there’s no way to trade gear between players; you only get what the random number generators impart to you personally.
There’s a great variety of enemies and locations on offer, and I appreciate the sliding difficulty system that fundamentally changes how a lot of situations play out and encourages you to return to the same mission multiple times. Both the level layouts and game progression are fairly linear but with room for some exploration and choice, though I found it odd that many hidden paths and forks in the maps led to empty dead-ends rather than loot rewards.
As with many gear-focused games the thrill of loot does wane after a while in Minecraft Dungeons. Playing on later stages or on harder difficulties means you need to upgrade to better gear, though often it’s just gear with arbitrarily higher numbers.
But the game is generous enough and flexible enough that you can completely shift playstyles on the fly, even if you’ve been a sword user the entire time and suddenly a hammer catches your eye. You can always destroy a piece of gear to receive a complete refund of all the enchantment points you’ve invested in it, ready to outfit its replacement.
In terms of presentation this is a very pretty interpenetration of the Minecraft universe, with music and sound design that would feel right at home in the base game.
Most of the Minecraft world is silly enough to defy attempts at building a serious narrative (I feel sorry for the voice actor playing the narrator here who was forced to say “Illager” with gravitas roughly 4000 times), and the Dungeons plot is subsequently paper thin. All you need to know is you’re heroes clearing out dungeons of bad guys.
Dungeons didn’t need to be associated with Minecraft at all; it would have been the same accessible, creative, lightly mission-based dungeon crawler with any other graphical style. But if this is what we can expect from expansions to the brand going forward — quirky and high-quality experiments in disparate genres that carry the same looks and all-ages appeal as the base game — I’m all for it.
Minecraft Dungeons is out now on Xbox One (reviewed), PC, PS4 and Switch.
Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.