On the surface, Diablo isn’t exactly what most people would call comforting. It’s a series about exploring dark realms and fighting all manner of undead and demonic monsters. But there’s something about its formula of exploring dungeons, gathering loot, and steadily becoming immensely powerful that makes it easy to jump into, despite the dark subject matter. That feeling of comfort is even more pronounced when you take that formula and apply it to a familiar world, like, say, the Marvel universe. Now, the same can be said of Minecraft.
Minecraft Dungeons is exactly what it sounds like. It takes the bestselling series, strips away its two most iconic features (mining and crafting), and replaces them with a light, charming experience that’s perhaps the most approachable Diablo-like game yet made. Just like its inspiration, the story — a fairly standard “evil is invading the realm” tale — isn’t really important here. Instead, the crux of the experience is the loop: gearing up; venturing into new areas to explore, battle, and gather loot; and then using your new and improved skills and gear to venture into more challenging areas.
Dungeons doesn’t innovate too much here. Rather, it streamlines the experience. You choose dungeons from a map menu, for instance, instead of exploring a large world where it’s easy to get lost. Similarly, the gear system is very easy to grasp. I received plenty of good weapons and armor regularly, and for everything I didn’t need, I could easily dispose of it in exchange for cash. Each piece of gear — you’ll have a melee weapon, a ranged bow, and armor — also has a special ability, called an enchantment, which you can level up a few times as you gain experience. If you decide to move on to a new weapon, you can get all of those enchantments back to reinvest in something else. It takes what can often be an unwieldy and complex aspect of roleplaying games and boils it down to the essentials. At the same time, it gives you plenty of freedom to experiment.
The same could be said of the combat. Minecraft Dungeons is very much a hack and slash game; you’ll spend lots of time wailing on zombies with your sword and clearing away skeletons with well-placed arrows. But there’s just enough here to make it interesting, like special abilities that let you do things like sprint and leave a trail of fire in your wake or use an explosive firework in place of an arrow. You can only have a few of these at a time, so it’s never really overwhelming, but they add enough strategy to keep things interesting. Despite this simplicity, the game still has the core elements most people expect from the genre, like interesting areas to explore, huge bosses to take down, and inventive abilities to play around with. One of the best features is a scaling difficulty, where you can choose how hard you want the action to be before you hop into a dungeon.
What really makes it work, though, are the Minecraft trappings. Dungeons is a new way to explore an incredibly familiar setting. Yes, the gameplay is vastly different from the original, but there’s something satisfying about charging into a crowd of creepers while swinging a blocky sword and firing magic spells. It helps that the world is lovingly rendered and incredibly charming, from the beautiful landscapes — I especially love the desert areas — to the wonderful soundtrack. Even when you’re surrounded by pools of lava or giant gelatinous cubes, there’s something about the Minecraft aesthetic that makes it all very light and playful. Even the puzzles can be funny, like the dungeon keys that will run away when you’re attacked.
The most apt way to describe Minecraft Dungeons is “comfort food.” It takes two things many players probably already know well, mashes them together into a surprisingly cohesive whole, and then streamlines the experience so that almost anyone can pick it up and have some fun. It’s not especially deep or innovative. For the most part, it doesn’t do things that haven’t been seen before — but in the case of Minecraft Dungeons, that’s its biggest strength.
Minecraft Dungeons is available now on the Xbox One, PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch.