Flames of the Nether Review: Minecraft Dungeons realising its potential
Mojang strikes gold
Diving into Mojang’s latest DLC for their Minecraft based dungeon-crawler yields a surprising level of depth on offer, and game-changing new mode.
When Minecraft Dungeons launched in 2020 it was very interesting to see developer Mojang trying something different with the Minecraft IP. Essentially a light version of Diablo created in the world of Minecraft, the game took the unique graphical style of Minecraft and combined it with the satisfying gameplay loop of an action RPG (a la Blizzard’s Diablo series). No doubt due to the relative ease of developing new content for Minecraft, they foresaw a long roadmap of content additions which would be developed exclusively in-house.
While at launch the game was light on content, it still had massive potential. The first three DLCs Jungle Awakens, Creeping Winter and Howling Peaks were all solid additions, but the newest DLC, Flames of the Nether, beats them all hands down and finally sees Minecraft Dungeons starting to realise its potential as a deep and engaging action RPG full of compelling content.
For those who haven’t heard of Minecraft Dungeons, it’s basically a lite version of Diablo made in the Minecraft universe. Like Blizzard’s masterpiece it uses procedurally generated levels and has players continuously finding and upgrading new loot to increase the strength of their characters. By combining different weapons, artefacts and upgrades you can tailor your character to your own play-style, and even team up with a friend to take on dungeons in co-op and online modes. The combat is satisfying and there’s an ever growing variety of enemies and bosses.
The latest Flames of the Nether update is inspired by the mystical nether region, a kind of parallel dimension which exists in the Minecraft universe. There are six new missions, as well as several enemy types. Perhaps more than any other DLC before it, the new biomes here have a real sense of variety, with the new levels being well designed and balanced overall in their length and difficulty.
The first mission you’ll encounter is the Nether Wastes, a kind of crumbling fortress surrounded by pools of lava. Here you’ll first come across the new Piglin mob which has both melee and ranged attacks, and the new Blaze mob which throws fire and can cause a lot of damage up close. The mix of ruined castles and lava has a great ambience but nothing too unique compared to what we’ve seen before in previous Dungeons DLCs.
The second mission is the Warped Forest and this is where things start to get more interesting. The landscape has an organic feel with with an alien-like forest above glowing pools of lava. New mobs you’ll be fighting include the Hoglin which is an aggressive warthog which launches you into the air if it can successfully attack you and a Piglin fungus thrower whose projectiles launch a blue, poisonous cloud of gas. You’ll need to keep moving around to avoid the gas and a build which emphasises mobility or ranged attacks can really help.
The environment too can also pose a danger as blue mushrooms explode and release poisonous gas if you brush them. There’s a great ambush sequence at the end which finishes of one of the most atmospheric Dungeons missions ever made.
Next up is the Crimson Forest mission, taking place in a similar forest environment only this time all the foliage is bathed in a deep red in what is one of the most visually striking Dungeons missions. In terms of gameplay the design and feel is similar to the Warped Forest, only there does seem to be more enchanted mobs which deal more damage.
Here we also meet the new Ghast mini-boss which fires a devastating fireball. Careful timing is essential for taking it down, or just taking advantage of it’s height difference and waiting for it to get ‘stuck’ on the environment. Things continue to ramp up as the final boss consists of not one but two Ghasts at the same time. Dodging fireballs from both you really need to employ a strategic approach of attack and retreat which does the trick for defeating them using fireworks arrows.
The next mission is the Basalt Deltas which reminds me of the Giants’ Causeway in Northern Ireland with its thousands of basalt columns. Here you’ll fight lots of Blazes and also the Magma Cube mob which is like a hardened lava version of the Slime mob; when you kill them they break up into smaller versions of themselves.
The basalt columns and lava give way to stone fortress areas and here we find some interesting environmental puzzles too. You’ll have to carefully time your runs across bridges that dip into the lava, all while fighting Ghasts launching fireballs at you. Keeping your distance and launching attacks from afar is a good strategy. The difficulty ramps up again as you’ll face off against two Ghasts along with dozes of Blazes and Wither Skeletons at the mission’s finale.
Moving on the fifth level of the DLC we have the climactic mission of the Nether Fortress. The stone fortress hovers above a sea of lava and is the most difficult of the levels on offer so far. The mission has several environmental puzzles too with two separate keys required to access a series of doors surrounding a central bridge area. It’s in this main choke point that some of the best set-pieces in the entire DLC take place, as once you unlock the doors, successive waves of Wither Skeletons spawn directly outside and you’ll find yourself retreating for cover against a horde of fast moving mobs. Along with mini-boss fights including an Enderman, you’ll also encounter several ambushes that will really put your skills to the test.
Perhaps saving the best for last, the sixth mission in the DLC is the secret mission Soul Sand Valley which is unlocked by finding the map in Crimson Forest. Visually this level is really beautiful with boned coloured marble bridges suspended over clouds of glowing blue and orange gas, with purple fungi and blue flames dotting the landscape. It’s a shame the mission is fairly short as it’s arguably the most visually impressive Dungeons mission of all time.
Separate to the paid mission content in the DLC, the Ancient Hunt is probably the most interesting content addition to Dungeons since launch as it offers virtually endless possibility for randomised missions and higher tired loot. This is available to all Dungeons players, even those who don’t own the latest DLC.
To play Ancient Hunt players can access the portal from either the new Piglin merchant under the base camp, or through the map. Players then must offer some of their loot (which is never returned), along with some optional enchantment points, which will then increase their chance of finding an ‘Ancient’ mob which is a powerful new enemy type. Once a player finds and defeats an Ancient, they’ll have the chance to find ‘gilded gear’ which is now the most powerful gear in the game. From what I could tell during my play-through, the Ancient Hunt also look like the only place to collect the new gold currency which can only be spent at the Piglin merchant who sells the most powerful (and expensive) gear in the game.
I was really impressed with how much variety was on offer in Flames of the Nether, both in terms of the new missions, mobs and environments, but also with the huge potential of the Ancient Hunt mode which finally gives Dungeons some proper endgame content that is almost endlessly replay-able. Combine this with the higher Apocalypse difficultly levels and you have a huge amount of content for both new and experienced players.
Overall it feels like Minecraft Dungeons is staring to fulfil its potential as a great action RPG dungeon crawler. The combination of procedurally generated levels, large amounts of randomised loot, variety of enemies and a fun co-op mode mean this is fast becoming an easy recommendation and a very well rounded gaming experience. With two more DLCs now on the roadmap, the future for Minecraft Dungeons looks very promising indeed.
Support LaunchCannon by subscribing through Medium: https://launchcannon.medium.com/membership