Minecraft review

After a long time in various states of completion, Minecraft's official release is available. Shacknews contributing writer Steve Watts

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Minecraft moves at its own steady, meticulous pace. Developer Mojang Specification's breakthrough hit is ostensibly a building game, with a survival twist. Aside from contending with the occasional monster and newly added final boss, my ultimate goal for the purposes of this review was to create, and live long enough to appreciate what I had introduced into my world. Taking a structure from concept to execution is slow, and it can be tedious. Utilizing time during the game's twenty minute day and night cycle to obtain resources for future use can feel more like work than a video game. Minecraft can be frustrating in this regard; however, like real-world physical work, the fruits of my labor were the ultimate reward. I didn't realize just how valuable that satisfaction was until I tried the Creative Mode. Survival requires you to find or make everything you use, while Creative is more freeform and provides endless supplies of everything. I went in thinking that I would prefer creating more complex structures in a snap. While the results came quicker, it was missing a vital element: work. For me, at least, building a gigantic tower just wasn't nearly as fun without putting work into it, so I quickly gravitated back to Survival. Calling the beginning of Survival mode unfriendly would be an understatement, especially in our era of hand-holding tutorials and slow difficulty curves. Even equipped with the basic knowledge that night would bring monsters, I had to slowly learn--mostly by death--how to protect myself from the roving hordes. The progression from my first night cowering in a small mud hut to overlooking the world from my mountaintop castle later is a testament to the game's promotion of building upon experience. By the time I built my multi-story stronghold with a basement that served as my primary dig site, I felt I had gained a good grasp on the situation. Minecraft shines by letting the player learn by doing, which imbues it with a constant sense of discovery. Minecraft empowers the player, which led to me being overconfident and deciding to venture out at night. My progress was halted quickly as I was surprised by an exploding zombie in one instance or a skeleton archer who aimed perfectly to knock me into a pit of lava in another. The game sometimes felt brutally punishing when my death would lose me valuable equipment or hard-to-find building materials. Coping with those setbacks is part of accepting the game on its own terms. Begrudgingly, I would go on, start from scratch, and be more careful the next time. I probably should have been more embarrassed than annoyed, since the combat is so simplistic. Almost all of the monsters make direct lines for attacks, and beating them tends to involve whacking them with a sword or axe over and over. They reel back, approach again, and I hit them again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Every death was more about being surprised than not being able to carry myself. It may sound like a lonely, singular journey, but the reality is that Minecraft lends itself to a social meta-game. Sharing newly-discovered crafting recipes and stories with friends makes for a game experience I haven't had since the days of trading passwords for 8-bit games on the playground. The game is hard not to talk about, and I was constantly the author of my own stories that I wanted to share with friends.

Mining resources and crafting items from them are major parts of Minecraft, go figure.

The formal multiplayer takes the work ethic that defines the game, and then multiplies it. Since established servers have been running for so long uninterrupted, many have developed into sprawling mega-cities, rife with unique constructions and their own internal economy. It must have taken months and dozens of people working together to build these more complicated areas, and it's a testament of what the game can be when users work cooperatively. It's too bad that after so much time, developer Mojang has still left multiplayer structure largely in the hands of the users. I appreciate the customization available, but simple features like a server browser, or easier steps to create your own quick game, would be appreciated. The game is constantly evolving, and I don't doubt that better multiplayer structure is coming at some point. Right now the process is simply too daunting for casual users, which means that some people will inevitably miss out on one of the most awe-inspiring parts of the game. Since the game has been such a success, perhaps crossing casual lines, this is an issue. Sometimes Minecraft felt a bit like showing up late to a party. Like the complex structures that have been built brick-by-brick, the game has been iterating on itself repeatedly during its lifespan as an alpha and beta version. The learning curve might not have been so harsh if I'd been exploring from the beginning and learning new features as they came. The latest version is officially the 'finished' incarnation--hence our review--but Minecraft reads more like an MMO than anything else. Mojang has established a culture of constant updates, so the game's current state might be completely different within a year. However many additions come, though, whatever new elements or mobs are put in place, the game itself has a strong core to rely on. It can be difficult and obtuse, slow and laborious, but that results in a rewarding sense of discovery and accomplishment. Sometimes work can be fun too.
This Minecraft review is based on the latest version of the game, purchased by the reviewer.
Editor-In-Chief
From The Chatty
  • reply
    December 16, 2011 1:15 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Minecraft review.

    After a long time in various states of completion, Minecraft's official release is available. Shacknews contributing writer Steve Watts explores the world for our review

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      December 16, 2011 1:19 PM

      I confess I've never "gotten" this game, but then I haven't played it. So you build something - what then? I'm sure that is end goal enough for many players (and I don't begrudge them that), but I just feel like I need something more to do after that.

      But then I'm the guy who logged eight minutes into Terraria and haven't tried it again.

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        December 16, 2011 1:22 PM

        this is most of the appeal:

        "The progression from my first night cowering in a small mud hut to overlooking the world from my mountaintop castle"

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          December 16, 2011 1:26 PM

          Basically, this: http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2010/09/20

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            December 16, 2011 1:28 PM

            my house is made entirely of glass so that I can better survey my kingdom

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            December 16, 2011 1:43 PM

            Why is the stuff at night so dangerous, is there no way to fight stuff.

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              December 16, 2011 1:46 PM

              you can build weapons but before that you have to build a crafting table and furnace. so it takes a few days of mining to gather resources

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              December 16, 2011 1:46 PM

              you can fight things just fine, the problem is mustering the courage to walk out the door

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              December 16, 2011 6:43 PM

              There's a lot more stuff out at night time.

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              December 16, 2011 11:19 PM

              When you start out, you only have the most basic of resources, so your best weapons will be weak. Enemies spawn everywhere at night, so wandering around is ill advised until you craft some better gear.

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              December 17, 2011 9:30 AM

              The creepers mostly come at night...

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              December 17, 2011 12:23 PM

              With the new enchanted weapons and armor, mobs are less than an annoyance. You tipically go out at night to kill dozens of those pests without suffer damage, just for the experience points. It was harder, much harder in the old days. Most Minecraft gamers like me installs mo'creatures with ghosts, werewolves and TROLLS that destroys the walls of your houses with their bare firsts, to add some challenge to the mix.

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        December 16, 2011 1:32 PM

        it's the closest thing to a sandbox you'll get in games. You can build whatever you want and you set your own goals but if you don't like playing with sand then the game is not for you.

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        December 16, 2011 8:46 PM

        You should watch couple episodes of X's adventures in minecraft on youtube. This game has so much stuff you're conctantly discovering it.

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        December 16, 2011 10:10 PM

        Ever play Mario Paint?!

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      December 16, 2011 1:31 PM

      I would love to see an in-depth Shacknews feature about the now mostly defunct Shacknews Minecraft community. I envision it being a multiple part series containing interviews with MercFox1, Arctic Fox, foo, and JohnyRey.

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        December 16, 2011 1:46 PM

        TEASE! You will soon see our "Stories" series extend from Skyrim to Minecraft.

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          December 16, 2011 4:51 PM

          Minecraft is so 2009-2010, snore.

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          December 16, 2011 5:26 PM

          May I suggest you name these parts of the series "Scrolls: Part I" and "Scrolls: Part II"?

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        December 16, 2011 1:51 PM

        Do we even have a server anymore?

        • foo
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          December 16, 2011 2:10 PM

          it's still up

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            December 16, 2011 9:32 PM

            As a matter of fact, I visited out of curiosity while working on this review. It was totally abandoned, but you guys built some amazing stuff there.

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            December 17, 2011 12:55 AM

            what's the ip!!

      • foo
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        December 16, 2011 2:10 PM

        i'm game

        • foo
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          December 16, 2011 2:11 PM

          we should make it a video interview with all of us on google+

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            December 16, 2011 9:06 PM

            Fuck it. We should. Kind of like a one off video podcast.

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              December 16, 2011 11:04 PM

              It should be done with the gravitas of a Ken Burns documentary

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        December 16, 2011 8:48 PM

        that would be fantastic

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        December 16, 2011 11:20 PM

        Was this not good enough for you fartknockers?

        http://www.shacknews.com/chatty?id=24624526#item_24624526

        It was a time of High Adventure. We set foot upon the lands with no clue what laid in store for our group. In the beginning, it was slow, grueling work just to get a small settlement up. While we expected our new adventure to follow similar rules and physics from our training (SP), we found the opposite to be true. The first season in the new world was very tough for us. We lost young Bobby one morning when he chose to look much to far into the distance. Upon doing this, he seized up and died, disappearing almost instantly. After seeing this, Ted freaked out and quickly went to the toolshop and crafted a small watercraft which he intended to use to escape the hell-world that punished those who looked too far into the distance. He tossed his boat into river, but when he hopped in, the god damned boat just disappeared under him. As we watched from the shore, Ted jerkily moved into the distance, seemingly able to tread water with his bare feet. At this point, it was obvious he had been possessed by some unseen force. We never saw Ted again.

        Within days, our group had pulled themselves together, extending our village and making a few small others, which we connected with sand paths. By this time, we had exhausted the above ground resources. The decision was made to head underground. Work began quickly and the results were immediate. Supplies of stone and coal became plentiful. Of course, it wasn't long before our bad luck reared its ugly head in our faces again. Billy was deep in the mines in search of diamond. He had crushed some blocks with his pick and was gathering the materials in the place of those blocks. He was killed instantly when our world's cruel God made the blocks re-appear where he was standing.

        Word of our survival and settlement spread around the land. More builders and miners arrived ready to work. This must have angered our God. Items that were built or destroyed flashed in and out of existence. The group was growing more worried and angry. They blamed the group leader, Merc, for these problems, saying that he lacked the faith (bandwith) to keep them satisfied. This is when Merc made a deal with what some natives to be the Devil himself, a figure calling himself foomanjee. With a name like that, he was obviously some kind of Arab or foreigner, and that's not something we like. The foomanjee won over the settlers heart soon, though, as our world was no longer plagued with the strange phenomenon that had cursed our progress thus far. Some called this new era the golden age of our existence, as new buildings and monuments of great size and extravagance sprung up all over the land. In the back of my mind, I knew this was too good to be true.

        Those who called themselves "True Believers" often spoke of a Savior (notch-christ) who would give us new and exciting technologies and advancements that would benefit all aspects of life and survival. The Believers would babble on and on about how things would improve. Things would change, but often at the cost of destroying things we had taken for granted in times past. Bickering and arguments grander than the most epic structures in our world became increasingly commonplace. Some who bought into the hope the Savior promised soon turned into black-hearted heathens who denounced anything related to the deity. A few of these men vowed never to return to this world, even if the Savior made things better. What was once a great and beautiful land full of churches, casltes, and giant dick-islands had devolved into a two-sided wall of hate.

        When things looked their bleakest, the Believers started spreading the news that the Savior had fixed our problems! Obviously, some took the news with a grain of salt, while others were re-energized with the new possibilities. Many of the original settlers wanted to stay in their home and live according to the new way of life that had been granted by the Savior. This did not sit well with some of the later-arriving settlers who cared more about their aesthetically pleasing structures than survival itself. The group was at a crossroads. At this time, the prophet foomanjee revealed a plan to completely leave our beautiful world to the hippies who didn't believe in war or pain and the other things that make this life worth living. The group had now split, with foomanjee and Merc leading the group into new, dangerous lands. It would not be easy - in fact it was to be much harder than ever before. These men still chose to follow, as they knew in their hearts that they would be total fags if they stayed in no-pain lego-land.

        These were the real mean - the pioneers of a new world.

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      December 16, 2011 5:37 PM

      Good review, I totally agree that when you die and you have something like diamonds in your inventory it is beyond frustrating. It took me forever to find enough diamonds to create a diamond pick-axe, only to fall into a lava pit before I could even mine anything. And I'll admit to not having picked up the game since that episode. But over all I enjoy the game, and think your review is spot on.

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        December 16, 2011 6:36 PM

        I would be terribly disappointed if the toned down, or let you keep items upon death. The fact that you do drop all your stuff when you die, makes personal achievements all the better. Players simply have to be more careful when lugging around valuables. In some situations, I've built myself small safe rooms deep in the mines, with gardens, pigs for breeding, and trees for wood, assuring I had everything I would need to operate in a hazardous environment as safely as possible. Items like a diamond pick axe stays in a safe box unless I fully intend to mine something that actually requires it.

        And of course if your gear doesn't end up in lava at death, you can always go back and pick it up.

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      December 17, 2011 10:31 AM

      This Minecraft review is based on the latest version of the game...

      ...should read: This Minecraft review is based on the 1.0 version of the game

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      December 17, 2011 10:58 AM

      I've actually written a philosophical work about the society creational aspect of minecraft multiplayer.


      Normally, people found societies, villages and co. out of necessity; co-operate to get stuff you normally wouldn't, stick together for safety reasons and need for community.


      Those things dont really exist in Minecraft; Everyone can get up a farm. Everyone can dig for redstone.
      Yet, people still long for a sense of community, share duties, co-operate on projects and are willing to trade.

      And ye also got griefing assholes >_>

      Kind of a mircroscopic model of the whole world, aint it? :3

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      December 17, 2011 12:26 PM

      "Minecraft shines by letting the player learn by doing, which imbues it with a constant sense of discovery".

      So true. It is the opposite line that has been followed by many console games. "Click here" with a shining red arrow. "Congratulations! You have dig a block. Now put it in the craft-o-matic to get your first stone pick tool!". Etc, and this has played much to Minecraft advantage. The early days without wikis where shackers exchanged info on crafting things were ultra-entertainment...

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      December 19, 2011 9:25 AM

      Minecraft just doesn't have enough depth for me to get hooked.
      I admit it's fun at sometimes but it's not enough just to run around and build stuff without any real scaling in difficulty. It starts to feel too much like work, after you get a bit of armor, the mobs are just annoying.

      IMHO the game needs a good dose of actual AI or something or ramped/up/mob scaling to make it more interesting for me.