underscored Minecraft Dungeons lead
CNN  — 

Minecraft is a well-respected name in the video game community. It’s been around for nearly a decade, and it’s seen several iterations ever since its modest debut, with countless updates to its core title; the hilarious cartoon-like Minecraft: Story Mode; and the AR-centric Minecraft Earth. But it’s never seen anything quite like Minecraft Dungeons before.

Minecraft Dungeons is an intriguing new direction for the series, steering into previously unknown territory. It could be described as “Diablo for kids,” as it introduces simplistic concepts we’ve seen before in loot-centric dungeon-crawling RPGs but never takes them so deep that they might turn off a varied audience.

The old saying “easy to learn but difficult to master” is appropriate here. While the game is simplistic in many ways, it’s complicated in others that make it an exciting prospect for Minecraft fans, both new and old. Whether you’re coming back to the franchise looking for something new, or you’re a newcomer to Minecraft intrigued by all the new possibilities, there’s something here for everyone.

The adventure is yours to customize

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The plot is simple enough for anyone to follow. In fact, it’s the only Minecraft adventure except for Telltale Games’ Minecraft: Story Mode to feature a narrative. An evil villager known as the “Illager” has summoned minions to march their way into the lands of innocent townsfolk to wreak havoc. You and your merry band of adventurers must conquer all of the Illager’s minions until you finally reach him and bring him down a few pegs. It’s nothing complicated — your classic adventure story that anyone who’s ever delved into the fantasy genre will recognize, with a Minecraft twist.

Customizing your character is integral to the fun. You can select a generic design for your hero at the beginning of the game, though there isn’t much to be done about the way they look. You can equip your hero with armor and weapons, but there aren’t any options to add new skins the way you can in vanilla Minecraft. If you’re looking to create the adventurer of your dreams in terms of aesthetics, you’ll be disappointed.

However, when it comes to equipping your character with viable weapons and armor and other trinkets, there are plenty of opportunities. You aren’t locked into a class chosen at the beginning of the game — things are much more fluid here. You can get one melee weapon, one ranged weapon, one piece of armor and three artifacts. Artifacts bestow a variety of different abilities on you when you find them, and they’re always good to experiment with.

While you should absolutely be sure to outfit your character accordingly for the adventure at hand, growth throughout the game is just as important as preparation. For each level you gain, you’ll earn an enchantment point, which can shake up how formidable the equipment you’ve chosen can truly be.

Enchantments can be used on weapons and armor. For instance, you could imbue your sword with the power of lightning, or even up your chances of receiving valuable gems when you slay enemies. Enchantments may be powered up through three levels, which helps make what initially appears as a simple system of gear and equipment into something much more complex and malleable.

The best thing about it all is that you can experiment by swapping in new enchantments and leveling them at your leisure with different weapons. It only takes new gear to do so — a fair trade for more powerful abilities. If there’s one thing Minecraft Dungeons absolutely excels at, it’s allowing players to maintain a fighter they feel comfortable using, altering it whenever necessary.

Fantastic fighting and foraging

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Creating a character is only part of the equation, though. Minecraft Dungeons is all about the thrill of exploration and, well, raiding dungeons. Using melee attacks or the weapons and armor you’ve chosen, you’ll need to clear out a variety of randomly generated areas that span different terrain seen in the original Minecraft, from snowy hills to caves with lava pooling around every corner.

Starting out at camp before each mission, you have the chance to go over your items and equipment to make sure you’re ready for the journey ahead. This is a good time to fuel up, change out enchantments, and respect your equipment. It quickly becomes a great advantage.

Your goal is to reach the end of each level, all the while scooping up all the loot waiting for you, either alone or with friends and family. If things get tense, you may find that you need to pop a healing potion. These are unlimited, but they can only be used every so often. You have to wait for the cool-down timer to count down before using it again, but it makes for a good fallback in the event things start to get hairy.

Should you succumb to your injuries, you can revive your character easily. If your entire team goes down, however, you’ll use up one of your shared lives. If they’re all gone, you’ll have to start over back at your camp, which means you’ll have to head into a mission again.

You’ll get to keep the gear and items you earned, but any progress will be lost. This can be frustrating, but knowing this will ensure you don’t take the game less seriously just because it’s populated with fun Minecraft mainstays. It can be easy to underestimate how difficult some of the areas can be, just because the game is fun and cartoony — but doing so will find you back at the start of each mission over and over again.

Family-friendly adventuring at a great price

That’s Minecraft Dungeons in a nutshell: simple but sophisticated, with plenty to do and lots to discover. The campaign may be a bit short, spanning just around 10 to 12 hours, but there’s plenty of value to be found in the game’s deployability. Once you finish the game on the standard difficulty setting, you can go back and complete it on harder modes to really stretch the amount of gametime you can get.

More dungeons will be making their way to the game in the near future, as Mojang has previously announced. There’s a fantastic amount of content here for the $19.99 base price ($29.99 if you’d like to pay for the additional content ahead of time). Mojang will likely continue to support the game even beyond its first two expansions, which is great news for anyone who can’t get enough of its unique blend of dungeon crawling and Minecraft attitude.

Minecraft Dungeons an excellent choice for playing games with your hardcore gaming friends or even with little ones who love watching you play the original Minecraft. It’s a lighthearted, jaunty adventure that anyone can jump in and enjoy — and absolutely perfect if you’re spending a lot more time indoors these days with your loved ones.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.