Minecraft: What is it? An In Depth Review
Author: James Broomfield
What Is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a game unlike any other. Players are invited to take control of Steve, the hero of the Minecraft world; beyond that, the possibilities are endless and in the player’s hands. Unlike other titles which purport to have an open world, Minecraft does not force the player to follow a linear story or accomplish rote and uninteresting goals. Instead, the game allows the player to write a story all their own, using the most complex and immersive sandbox world available today.
Since its creation at the hands of developers Markus Persson and Jens Bergensten and their studio, Mojang, the game has held sway over millions of fans and carved out a genre all its own. Unlike many of the triple-A titles produced today, Minecraft has endured for years and maintained a loyal - and growing - following. How does Mojang continue to achieve these major benchmarks? Many factors contribute, but in the abstract, the developers care deeply about continuing to build out and improve their product.
World and Development Cycle
Chief among the jewels in the Minecraft crown are the game’s procedurally generated environment and constant development cycle. The procedural engine speaks for itself; with each new game, players are greeted by a new, randomly generated and unique world to explore. Each gameplay experience promises to be unique, and because there is no practical
edge to the minecraft map, a player can enjoy unlimited possibilities within any single game. Every mountainous peak and rocky valley etches a singular mark onto the player’s map, something that they may never see again. The engine doesn’t stop with the landscape, however. The world is also populated with a litany of flavor and danger. Entire villages, populated by NPC villagers with homes, families and worksites, contrast with dangerous underwater fortresses filled with valuable loot. These communities and buildings are seamlessly tucked into the surrounding environment, and they, too, are unique in their placements and design. No two playthroughs can ever be the same, making replay value as high as it possibly can be.
With such a fantastic game engine underpinning the experience, Minecraft seems destined for success regardless of the other features the developer and game offer. Even so, Mojang continues to invest resources into the game’s development cycle. Each subsequent patch of the game invariably adds new content to the world and new possibilities within the crafting menu. Enemies and environments never become stale, as they are constantly tweaked and augmented. What’s more, Mojang continues to release this content year after year, for free. As paid DLC models permeate the gaming marketplace and ratchet prices into the hundreds of dollars, it is refreshing to see such a focused and generous approach.
Resources and Crafting
While it may be tempting to
take it all in for a moment upon starting a new game and witnessing the aforementioned unique world, it is quickly time to get to work. The core gameplay element of Minecraft is the crafting menu, whereby various resources can be combined, refined and otherwise processed to make more and more complex items. Wood, for instance, must be harvested from a tree, converted into sticks and thereafter combined with iron to make an iron axe. Many of the most basic and elemental resources, such as wood and dirt, can be harvested by hand. For the rare and valuable materials, however, a tool such as a pickaxe or shovel will be required.
Tools are the most fundamental component of crafting in Minecraft; as mentioned, without them only the most basic crafting materials are accessible. Tools have a quality hierarchy based solely on the type of metal used to construct them. Tools made from wood, for instance, will have low durability and may be unable to harvest some materials. Tools made from diamond, on the other hand, are highly efficient and can be used to quickly gather even the hardest and most difficult of ores. Axes, picks, shovels and hoes each serve a different purpose, and tools generally can’t be used to substitute each other; one can’t hoe a field using an axe!
Using these specialized tools, resources can be collected and stored in the player’s inventory. These resources can thereafter be crafted into any number of possibilities, listed within the Crafting Menu. With each new raw material the player manages to collect, the Menu expands to represent the new possibilities unlocked by the latest resource. Cheap materials such as dirt and wood are available in abundance, but also offer only limited options within the crafting menu. Valuable minerals such as diamonds and emeralds are stored deep beneath the earth and are much more rare, but they offer powerful crafting choices. In order to access the most valuable and useful materials, players will need to descend into the earth and search for them.
Food, Farming and Animal Husbandry
Another mechanic that is important to the player experience is interacting with the flora and fauna of the Minecraft world. The land and the animals that inhabit it are vital to a successful playthrough, first and foremost due to their ability to provide the player with food.
The land itself can be farmed using a hoe and the seeds of plants such as beetroots, carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, watermelons and wheat. Most of these crops must be planted near to a source of water, and they will thereafter grow until they can be harvested. The Minecraft growing cycle is dependent upon many variables such as access to light, but the player will be able to visually identify a mature plant that is ready for harvest.
Animals can provide a quicker, if less reliable meal. At the game’s start, animals are wild and roam freely throughout the world. They will breed with other animals of the same species, and create offspring. They can be attacked and will typically drop food such as raw steak or pork, which the player can then cook and eat. A healthy food supply is a must, because in order to regenerate health, the player must eat.
While relying upon the wild for food is certainly possible, it is much easier and more efficient for some players to attempt to create their own animal farmsteads. Animals can be lured to follow the player using their favorite foods, such as wheat for cows. The player can thereby capture and breed captive animals, ensuring an adequate and constantly replenishing food and health supply. Captive animals such as chickens and cows can also lay eggs and be harvested for milk, respectively. Farms also allow the player to avoid travelling far afield from their base in search of wild animals.
Almost every animal can be captured and bred; the player can even create an aquarium or fish tank! The various possibilities for animal husbandry are too numerous to be listed here, but suffice it to say that the player’s farm can be as big as their imagination. The player can simply eat the crops and animal products as they are produced, but these resources can also be combined in specific ways to create more complex - and therefore more filling and restorative - foods like cake and pumpkin pie.
Human NPC’s and Enemies
Above and beyond the natural world of plants and animals, there are a huge number of humanoid NPC’s within the Minecraft world. Villagers are the most common, and perhaps the most useful to the player. These humans spawn in procedurally-generated villages, which are unique in their location; there can be an unlimited number of villages across the world. Villages located in different biomes will have varying designs, but the function of villagers is much the same, no matter where they are encountered. They have a bed and a job within their village, and will follow a strict schedule of sleep and work. Villagers can be traded with, and this is their primary value to the player. A villager’s occupation will determine what they are willing and able to barter, and as the player trades villagers will increase in level and gain access to more goods. The medium of exchange that the villagers use is the emerald; they will typically trade only for this valuable mineral.
Villagers share their role with a similar NPC, the wandering trader, who will also trade valuable goods to the player, but is not located in a specific area and will instead travel aimlessly. Villagers also live with a different type of neutral NPC within the village, the iron golem. This NPC serves to protect the villagers and their homes from hostile enemies, and will not attack the player unless provoked.
These few neutral and friendly NPC’s are countered by a long list of hostile humanoids, who will attack the player and pose a threat. Skeletons, spiders, zombies, drowned and creepers are the main mobs commonly encountered. Each one poses a specific threat: skeletons are accurate shooters from range, spiders are quick enemies with a jumping attack, zombies and drowned are slow-moving melee units that deal high damage at close range, and creepers are silent threats who explode nearby the player, dealing a huge amount of damage.
These mainstay enemies are typically gone during the day, and only appear and become aggressive at night, with the notable exception of the creeper, who is dangerous around the clock.
The Nether and The End
Minecraft is not merely limited to the natural earth we know. Once the player has mastered the layout of the overworld, they may choose to travel to alternate dimensions within the game: the nether, and the end. While this sounds like a complex process, it is actually quite easy in the case of the nether; a portal can be easily constructed using obsidian and fire, and it will allow the player to travel back and forth between dimensions perpetually.
The nether is a subterranean dimension that is designed to look and feel like Hell. Deep hues of red and black predominate, and the nether’s dinge and darkness hide lakes of lava and dangerous, unique mobs. Blazes, ranged enemies that shoot fire, accompany piglins and hoglins, which are essentially pig-zombies, in a quest to kill the player on sight. Nonetheless, the dimension also contains a litany of unique resources such as netherrack that have valuable uses back in the overworld. The strongest ore in Minecraft, netherrite, can be found within the nether, and is extremely rare. Netherrite tools are highly valuable and efficient, so eventually, travelling to the nether is a must.
The end is an even more dangerous dimension, and as the name implies, it is the closest that the player can get to
ending Minecraft. It is a much harder area to access, as the portal to the end requires specific rare materials to build, and can only be located in pre-determined areas. Distinguished from the nether, the end is instead a space-like dimension with a black void of sky, interrupted by small floating islands. At the center of the dimension on a large island, the player will find the Ender Dragon, the most difficult NPC in the game. The dragon is a flying mob, and the largest NPC character in the game, and many Minecraft players consider killing the dragon to be the final boss battle.
Multiplayer and Mods
A large part of the reason behind Minecraft’s sustained success is its full embrace of the online community. Multiplayer support is solid, and Mojang allows users to revert to older versions of the game for multiplayer compatibility with ease. Modding is also facilitated, with simple file pathways and clear how-to guides unlocking endless possibilities for the game’s assets. Stunning graphics packs show just how far the Minecraft engine can really go, with shimmering water, swaying trees and realistic textures at the player’s fingertips.
Multiplayer also comes at a cost, however. Other humans are far more dangerous than the world’s NPC’s, and given the meticulous, time consuming nature of Minecraft, trolling and griefing can be especially impactful. This is where the infinite world comes into play again; any player joining a multiplayer server should run thousands of blocks away from the spawn area, or prepare for a violent and hostile gameplay experience!
Final Words and Game Rank
Minecraft is a world unto itself, with possibilities far too endless and intricate to be meaningfully listed in any single article. That’s why it is so incredible and heartening to see Mojang redouble their efforts to expand the game and add depth and content. They have been doing it for nearly a decade, and we don’t expect them to stop anytime soon. The game is bug-free and consumer friendly, and beyond that, the core mechanics totally redefine the meaning of the phrases
open world. Even the inevitable shortcomings, such as age and graphical simplicity, are fixed with simple and easy modifications, made seamless by Mojang.
So what’s our verdict? We believe that Minecraft stands alone, and can’t be grouped in with any other title. It is cheap, accessible and fun for both casual and serious gamers. If we had to identify a shortcoming, our only critique would be that we would love to see more optimization for multiplayer; lag can be an issue. Overall, though, Minecraft has endless replay value and offers countless diversions. We strongly recommend it for all ages and interest levels.