An official spinoff of "Minecraft," the world's best-selling video game (with more than 200 million copies sold and 120 million active players), "Minecraft Dungeons" is already starting to top best-seller charts.
"Minecraft Dungeons" forgoes much of what made "Minecraft" popular. It tosses the open world, digging, resource collecting, building and crafting for a real-time strategy, dungeon-crawler experience in the same vein as classic games such as "Diablo."
What it keeps is the blocky, pixelated aesthetic and a world that looks and feels very much like "Minecraft." Many of the allies and enemies will be familiar to veterans of the franchise, but even the many new enemies seem to fit right in.
"Dungeons" is a bit light on story but focuses on a mistreated, homeless "illager" named Archie who finds a magic artifact that gives him power but also corrupts him. He becomes the "Arch-Illager" and begins attacking villagers with an army of monsters.
Players must stop him by completing a series of quests in procedurally generated maps with randomized loot drops, eventually encountering him in his castle for a final boss fight. Quests will involve killing x number of a particular type of enemy or rescuing trapped villagers, among others.
There's a bit of hand-holding, as a quest marker directs players exactly where to go for the shortest path to complete missions, but it can (and should) be ignored at times, as there are many secret areas hidden in the levels.
There are no character classes, and any character can use any item. Instead, abilities are determined by equipment used; become a swordsman by using swords, or an archer by using a bow. As players level up, they earn enchantment points that unlock special abilities in the various weapons and armors, such as swords coated with fire or bows that shoot multiple arrows at once.
The story itself is fairly short, but the randomly generated loot, procedural dungeons and variable difficulty levels are designed to keep players coming back for more. Over time, there will certainly be more levels, characters, character skins and more added to the game as paid downloadable content.
"Minecraft Dungeons" offers neither the full complexity of a traditional dungeon crawler nor the open-world exploration of "Minecraft," but it does succeed in making a fun, replayable game that's simple to pick up and easy to enjoy with friends. Players can go into battle alone, or with up to three friends -- with local co-op, online co-op or matchmaking.
At first, the only difficulty level available is Normal. Beating the game repeatedly unlocks harder difficulty levels, which also unlocks higher-tier loot and equipment. The more times you beat the game, the stronger your character can get.
In addition to finding weapons and armor, players can also acquire artifacts that can enhance their characters' abilities. Examples include a golem kit that allows players to summon an iron golem to aid them in battle or a quiver that inflames all arrows. Three artifacts can be equipped at once, and each has its own duration and cool-down length.
Loot found during gameplay appears to be "instanced" — that is, only the player can see it and pick it up.
There's also no trading at this time, but extra loot can be salvaged for gems, which can then be traded for a chance at better gear.
Weapons included so far are swords, bows, crossbows, two-handed swords, hammers, shields and pickaxes. Along with summoning creatures such as wolves, llamas and golems, magic casting is also possible. Somewhat creepily, these magic abilities are powered by using the souls of fallen enemies. Players interested in that type of gameplay will want to acquire weapons and armor that boost soul generation.
The "Minecraft Dungeons" full campaign takes roughly 10 hours to complete, although like many real-time strategy (RTS) games before it, beating it once is just the beginning.
While much of the game, especially against random enemies in levels is fairly simple, there are some challenging boss fights. The controls are pretty simple, though, and this game serves as a pretty nice entry point into the dungeon-crawler genre. There's no gore or blood, thanks to the pixel-block aesthetic, and Microsoft has kept the game quite family-friendly.
That said, it's not just for young players, although it does lack the combat depth of some other RTS titles.
With its $20 price point, "Minecraft Dungeons" is a no-brainer to buy for anyone who is already a fan of the franchise.
Title: “Minecraft Dungeons”
Platform: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Rating: Ages 10+, has fantasy violence
Score: 8 out of 10