Mojang is the home-grown hero story kids dream of. It started with one man and a game about exploring caves and building houses, but Minecraft quickly turned into a worldwide phenomenon that caught the eye of Microsoft. Despite the backing of Microsoft, Mojang hasn’t produced many titles since releasing Minecraft in 2011. It’s not surprising that Mojang’s first AAA production is a Minecraft spin-off, but Minecraft is only used as a setting. Instead of simply building off of Minecraft, Mojang crafted a dungeon crawler with enough blocky charm to lure in everyone.

After being outcast from his home, the Arch-Illager wandered across the land until he found a great mystical artifact. He gained the secret knowledge of crafting golems from Redstone and controlling the undead. He decided that everyone would bow to his will or fall to his wrath. It is up to a small group of heroes to destroy the Arch-Illager and save the world.

Minecraft Dungeons made the drastic decision to abandon Minecraft’s gameplay entirely. Instead of building houses in the first person, you’re exploring caves with a third-person view. You’ll still find your regular swords and pickaxes, but most weapons in Dungeons are created specifically for the game. You can have a main weapon, piece of armor, bow, and three artifacts on you at once. Artifacts are more like special moves. You have an infinite amount, but they have to recharge for a bit after use.

Instead of exploring a large world, you’ll be going level by level through the story. As you progress, you’ll level up and earn enchantment points. Enchantments are the same as they are in Minecraft itself. Most are returning, but many are original creations as well. It was a lot of fun to mess around with specific enchantment and artifact combinations.

You won’t be button-mashing your way to victory, this isn’t a hack-n-slash. I found the combat system surprisingly deep. Each enemy is a different archetype. As expected, zombies will simply run at you, and skeletons will attempt to shoot you from a distance. Some illagers will carry shields and spears and spiders will try to trap you in webs. Depending on the type and amount of enemies you’re facing, you might have to adopt a whole new strategy.

Every weapon you’ll use has a completely different feel to it. Sure you can use different types of swords, spears, pickaxes, and maces, but you’ll know exactly what type of weapon you have by using it. It’s the same with the bow, short bow, and crossbow. The artifacts you can unlock were insane to me. Most are original creations or lifted from other dungeon crawlers, but a good many completely recontextualized common Minecraft items. The firework was my favorite. You can now it fire off in a bow to create a huge explosion wherever it hits.

You’ll encounter quite a few bosses along the way. Most bosses, such as the Redstone Monstrosity, are original to Dungeons itself. You’ll run into many familiar faces. Facing off against the Enderman, or Evoker, made for some of the tensest moments I’ve had playing games. Some bosses got annoying in tight spaces or surrounded by other enemies to fight. Those types of encounters mostly came at the end of the game.

Minecraft Dungeons tries it’s hardest to be fair and balanced. For most of my journey, I felt completely prepared for what the game laid in front of me. For some reason, the game deals you a huge difficulty spike for the final level. I had to grind for hours just to make solid attempts at the final level. I was about ten levels higher from grinding when I beat the final boss. The experience was incredibly frustrating. It made me want to give up, but I enjoyed the rest of the game so thoroughly that I felt I had to beat it.

The spike probably exists to artificially extend playtime. Minecraft Dungeons is short, extremely short. I completed most of the game’s levels in my first, four hour, sitting. my final playtime hit roughly fourteen hours. I’d argue a huge chunk of that was just grinding. While it’s short, Minecraft Dungeons is extremely replayable. I didn’t enjoy grinding levels and emeralds, but I did enjoy fighting and exploring while I did.

Minecraft Dungeons is downright beautiful. It uses the newly redesigned textures for everything. There are even a few more mob redesigns that have yet to be implemented into Minecraft itself. Everything is given a good dose of detail and shading. It created a familiar, but unique, environment to explore. They even updated Steve and Alex with a much larger color pallet. In a hypothetical invite to a certain crossover fighter, I’d hope they use these designs.

Even after nine hours that felt arbitrarily inflated, I can’t help but sing the praises of Minecraft Dungeons. This creative take on an all-star IP won’t soon be disappearing into the depths. They’ve even promised paid DLC in the future, and I can’t wait for it! By nature as a dungeon crawler, you’ll either love it or hate it. At an extremely low price or free via Gamepass, I highly recommend giving this one a shot. You won’t be mining or crafting, but even those who couldn’t get into the original will find something to love.