In Minecraft Dungeons, fun will take precedence over everything else

Next month a new game is being released that's described as a total passion project for the team behind Minecraft.

If there are mums and dads out there who used to play Diablo, Gauntlet or Baldur's Gate games and want to play a kid-friendly version with their young ones, this looks ideal.

Minecraft Dungeons is described as an action-adventure game set in a classic dungeon crawler style with a "lightweight narrative". 

That little bit of a storyline is there to give just a little bit of purpose to what players do, as opposed to the completely open sandbox of the original Minecraft.

But compared to most dungeon crawlers or RPG and fantasy games, this one is still very open and freeform.

Instead of choosing to be a wizard, knight, healer or whatever, every player will be able to use every single special item ('artefact') in the game they find.

"We don't have any classes. You literally are what you wear - anything you find, you can pick up and equip," David Nisshagen, Minecraft Dungeons executive producer, told Newshub.

"So you can sort of create your own character by just combining the things that you have found."

Minecraft Dungeons
Photo credit: Mojang

Players can stack artefacts however they like, too. They can only have a small number equipped at any one time, but it will allow for some crazily powerful combinations.

"I'm sure we will end up in situations where this is not fully, properly balanced but we don't really care, because it's fun," says Nisshagen.

"Fun takes precedence over fine-tuned game balance."

That's a message he keeps coming back to. Every time the developers of Dungeons were faced with a decision, they appear to have gone with the option that will make for the most fun, even at the expense of other elements normally also important to a game.

Weapons and armour come with different enchantments that give them special powers and give players a reason to pick up loads of the same type of item for different enchantments.

Monsters can use those same enchantments, too, which could make things more challenging. 

In what I've seen of a sneak peek at the game, that included zombies with three enchantments at once - 'regeneration', 'electrified' and 'frenzied'.

And despite how unbalanced the game may feel with some of the more powerful artefacts and enchantments stacked together, the difficulty can be ramped up a lot to provide a decent challenge for more skilled players. Those higher level difficulties, of course, unlock higher value items, too.

Even though it's a co-operative game, there is a certain competitive element to it. All the loot goes to the first player to find it, so expect siblings to rush in front of each other to get strength potions and such... and arguments may ensue.

In addition, you can't drop items to share them with your teammates in a bid to encourage everyone to find and earn their own stuff.

No matter how mad a player gets at their teammates, however, friendly fire is not an option in the game - apart from with TNT. So if that one sibling continuously takes all the strength potions and just keeps being a meanie, they can probably expect to be blown to smithereens, eventually.

Minecraft Dungeons.
Photo credit: Mojang

Each of the game areas are very different from each other. Redstone Mines is generally confined and dark, compared to the much more open, autumnal Pumpkin Patches, which is different again to the Creeper Woods.

But while they look different to each other, every area looks instantly, unmistakably like Minecraft, even though the game plays altogether differently from the original.

 "Yeah it's Minecraft but you don't really mine and you don't really craft," says Nisshagen.

"We focus on other parts of what's important to the brand - the visual style, of course, but we've doubled down on the adventure and exploration of Minecraft."

It's fitting he uses the word "brand" as Minecraft is now not only the highest-selling game ever with over 180 million copies sold, it's also spawned books, TV shows, movies and even educational tools that are part of the curriculum in many New Zealand schools.

Dungeons will be released while Minecraft Earth, the hugely ambitious free-to-play mobile augmented reality game, is still in a lengthy open beta testing phase. So what about other types of games? Could we see a Minecraft first-person shooter or car racing game?

"If players enjoy Dungeons, I'm sure we'll be able to do more interesting games in the future," says Nisshagen. 

Minecraft Dungeons will be released on May 26 for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC.