‘Minecraft Dungeons’, a family-friendly Diablo clone, points to the future of the brand

Gene Park

THE WASHINGTON POST – The question Helen Chiang hears most is: “Where’s Minecraft 2?”

Microsoft acquired Minecraft and its developer Mojang Studios for USD2.4 billion in 2014. Since then, its stewardship over the world’s most popular video game has been cautious and steady.

A traditional sequel to Minecraft isn’t exactly where the studio is thinking for now, said Head of Mojang Studio Chiang.

Outside of the Education Edition for schools and Minecraft Earth for the smartphone, the Minecraft franchise has mostly sailed by on the strength of the core game.

Now, though, we finally have Minecraft Dungeons, the first major spin off title from Mojang – and a likely indicator of how Minecraft grows in the future. There’s no mining or crafting; A smaller team inside Mojang wanted to make something completely different from the core premise.

Minecraft Dungeons. PHOTO: MOJANG STUDIOS

“This is more in the spirit of how we want to grow the Minecraft brand,” Chiang said. “Our plan is that we would like to take the opportunity to tell many other stories in the future.”

Minecraft Dungeons wears its influences on its sleeve as a simple, child-sanitised introduction to the action role-playing genre.

The genre is dominated by the dark and bloody Diablo series by Blizzard Games, which traffics in black magic and devilish imagery. Meanwhile Chiang, the first woman of colour to head a major gaming studio, has been playing Minecraft Dungeons with her four-year-old child.

The game is simple. Unlike Diablo, your adventurer isn’t limited by classes like warrior or mage.

Instead, you rely on grabbing new equipment with unique enchantments.

As you level up, you gain enchantment points to power up three pieces of equipment: your melee weapon, your long-range weapon and your armour. Each piece can have unique random enchantments like “casting lightning while rolling” or “attack speed up”.

You also earn experience for beating enemies and levels. The only currency is gems, which you trade in for a chance to roll for another piece of equipment.

Players also find and trade for artefacts, which give you special abilities: Anything from a huge fireball wave to improving your arrows with explosives.

This keeps the gameplay loop far simpler than anything you’d find in Diablo 3, a game that’s already cited as a great entry point for new gamers. Minecraft Dungeons only makes the genre more accessible.

This means that players looking for a long-term experience might look elsewhere for now. The entire game is short, only about five hours long. But like Diablo, it’s meant to be played on harder difficulties to find tougher enemies and even better loot.

And it’s not like the game isn’t challenging by default. I’ve been playing the Diablo series since the first game in the ’90s, and Minecraft Dungeons is more engaging and action heavy. If anything, it has more in common with Diablo’s ancestor, the multiplayer arcade brawler Gauntlet. And Dungeons, like Gauntlet, is a lot more fun with friends, who you can play with online or via local cooperative play.

It was a curious decision to leave so much of Minecraft out of Dungeons. This is not a knock on what the game isn’t, but there are some good opportunities to fuse this concept with the core Minecraft game. Importing player-created maps into “Dungeons” would tap into the original game’s thriving and boundless creative community. YouTuber Jake Baldino of the gameranx channel also noted that it would’ve been nice to import player skins into Dungeons, rather than the prefab set we get.

Dungeons started development in 2015, and Chiang said they’ll be adding more features to the game in the future.

“The team has a lot of plans for Dungeons,” said Chiang, who added that she can’t get into specifics. “We’re definitely going to take inspiration from the community on what they’d love to see in Dungeons over the next year.”

Meanwhile, Minecraft has maintained its massive popularity over the coronavirus pandemic. Microsoft announced it was giving away large chunks of Minecraft: Education Edition for free to benefit students at home. Chiang said the free edition has been downloaded 50 million times since March. Minecraft, meanwhile, continues to see more than 126 million players log on each month.