I used to love Minecraft – maybe even fair to say I lived in it for a short while. That’s not quite the case anymore. Minecraft is certainly still hugely popular (Business Insider reported it has 91 million players as of October 2018), but I know myself and many others have strayed away from the delightfully creative game. Mojang’s first in-house Minecraft spinoff, Minecraft Dungeons, will likely pull me back into the world of destructible blocks and charming mobs, but in an excitingly different way.Minecraft Dungeons is an action-adventure dungeon crawler that doesn’t require its players to pick a class for their journey. Instead, your gear determines your abilities, which allows you to change your strategy on the fly. Minecraft Dungeons Executive Producer David Nisshagen said this was done to allow players to have some of the flexibility and freedom seen in Minecraft.
There are no player skills or abilities either. Instead, those are decided by equippable items called artifacts. There are things like a tasty bone that can be used to summon a wolf that’ll fight alongside you and a special mushroom that gives your character a temporary speed buff. I only had a few minutes playing Minecraft Dungeons, but in the short time I had (and even more time I had watched other play), the items were fun to use and helped get out of a pinch when I encountered a horde of skeletons. Each of the items you find has a level too, and that adds up to your overall power level which helps determine what difficulty you’re best suited for. I was told the difficulty can be toggled to be easier or harder regardless of your power level.
Since there aren’t abilities or skill trees tied to character progression, the way you equip items determines your strategy. Every player gets a melee and ranged weapon along with three equippable artifacts. What you choose to put in those slots, along with the armor that determines your role in a fight, is important. If you happen to have three bones, you can equip those duplicates to summon a total of three wolves. It’s a pleasant tactic, but not necessarily the most effective if, for instance, you’re trying to navigate an area littered with traps. I saw one wolf companion get smashed between two walls, and I’d recommend avoiding that sad situation at all possible. The wolf could be summoned again shortly after, thankfully. I pretend it’s the same wolf.
You’ll earn loot in the genre standard way of slaying enemies and opening treasure chests. Loot is distributed individually, and though everyone in a party will get the same kind of reward from defeating a boss, each instance of that reward is a little different for each party member. It’s not just about power level, though. Every weapon has randomized enchantments, or equippable bonuses. These are what make your weapons special. When you get a weapon, you’ll choose between enchantments that you want to permanently equip to it. They can be things like Thundering, an enchantment that hits random enemies with thunder shocks as you attack. Then, as you unlock enchantment points by salvaging old items or leveling up, you can upgrade equipped enchantments to make your weapons more powerful. Rare, unique weapons have an additional enchantment slot.
The only thing you’ll have to fight friends for are consumable item drops like arrows or TNT. These can also be purchased with emeralds. You can reequip more (and other items) at inventory stations that are placed throughout a dungeon. I already see how these are helpful for changing a strategy on the fly which may need to happen if you’re having a hard time defeating a miniboss or boss or even an event mob, like an enderman. The enderman just as creepy as we’ve always known them to be; you’ll know when one is close when the screen distorts. Nisshagen said they won’t attack unless they’re provoked, but if they are, they can make for quite the challenge if you pick a fight in a bad spot.
If you happen to die your party member can pick you up or you’ll be sent back to your last checkpoint if everyone in your party falls. Each party has three lives to complete a mission, but a life is only expended if, again, everyone in the party falls. Nisshagen said Mojang wants Minecraft Dungeons to be accessible and not too punishing, but still have a lot of depth and challenge for the players who want to get into the complexities of building strategy through their artifacts and weapon enchantments.
Though I saw and played a desert temple that can be found in the original Minecraft, Nisshagen said there’ll be new things to explore. I did see a few new enemies, like a funny hybrid between a pig and a treasure chest called a Piggy Bank. I’m interested in seeing what other surprises await us in this unique take on Minecraft. At launch, Minecraft Dungeons will have nine biomes and more are expected to be added later.
As far as monetization goes, there won’t be any microtransactions or loot boxes in Minecraft Dungeons. There won’t be any integration with the Minecraft marketplace as of now either, but Nisshagen said it was something that could potentially be looked into if the future player base wants it. We do know that, for now, there will be crossplay between the Xbox family and PC. Nisshagen was unable to speak about other possibilities at the time.
In other Minecraft news, Mojang announced that it’s ceasing development on Minecraft’s Super Duper Graphics pack due to technical concerns. The other Minecraft project, Minecraft Earth, is currently in beta in select cities.
Miranda Sanchez is an executive editor at IGN. You can chat with her about video games and anime on Twitter.