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Review: Minecraft

Table of Contents

Quick Info

Gore & Brutality Magic Sex Civility Religious Objections
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Additional Notes
This game is also available for Linux! This game uses a permadeath feature. You can buy in-game items with real money. This game requires a stronger computer. This game offers Achievements (or similar awards)!

Summary of major issues
Violence in Minecraft generally amounts to swinging a weapon at something until it falls over. If you want, you also have the option to disable monsters completely, so you don't need to attack anything. The other potential problem is that there's a variety of magical elements in the game, including potions, witches, and a "hell" dimension known as the Nether.

Mods are extremely popular with this title, and may introduce some objectionable content (though most are perfectly clean).

Screenshots

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A quiet village

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Facing off with a deadly Creeper

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A laboratory powered by a nuclear reactor (modded game example)

General Information

Genre:Survival / Building ESRB Rating:E10+ - Everyone (10+)
License:Commercial My Rating:Children (6+)
Played on:Martha, Thaddeus
Available from: Slightly complicated; see below
Save System:Minecraft has an autosave feature that runs in the background. This seems to primarily exist to keep you from losing progress due to a crash, as the game more properly saves when you return to the menu or exit.

Game Overview

Minecraft is one of those games that had a drastic impact on modern gaming, and as new updates continue to bring in new things to see and experience, gamers aren't going to be forgetting about it any time soon. By now, just about everyone who plays video games already knows what this game is about, but for those of you who are just hearing about it now, allow me to give you a brief introduction.

The game's name is very self-explanatory. Most of your time will be spent mining stone and ores from deep underground. Above ground, you'll spend your time gathering wood, harvesting crops, and raising animals. Once you have the resources you need, you can use them to craft new and better items. Or to put it another way, you spend a lot of your time either mining or crafting.

Technically, you're going through all of this effort to prepare for a grand climactic battle with a powerful monster known as the Ender Dragon. However, that's not really considered important and the majority of people playing the game completely ignore the End dimension and let the dragon go about his business.

Everything is up to you. Because of the large amount of freedom Minecraft gives players, it's often compared to an endless box of LEGO bricks or a giant sandbox. Neither description really encompasses all of the possibilities though. For example, one of the key aspects of the game is that it creates its world as you explore, making every journey into the unknown completely unique. You might find ancient temples filled with traps and valuable treasures, or you might discover a thriving village. Or, should you be truly daring, you can create a doorway to the Nether, a realm that is perhaps best described as the offspring of a deep cavern and Hell itself.

Of course, one of the things that has made this game what it is today its huge and organized modding community. A lot of people, including myself, prefer to play with dozens (if not hundreds) of mods installed. The majority of mods out there are just as inoffensive as the vanilla game; their main purpose is to add new things to see and fancier items to craft. For example, many mods give you modern industrial equipment like ore processing machines or various types of power generation. Others provide additional types of crops or new environments to explore. The possibilities are truly endless.

This is easily one of the best games out there, especially for younger gamers. The amount of customization is insane, and it's easy to get lost in the endless worlds it provides. While there are some monsters to fight, everything is depicted in a very child-friendly manner. Alternatively, you can even turn off hostile creatures altogether and play the game without them.

If you haven't already, consider giving this game a try. It's really worth the price of admission.

Pros

Play any version, old or new
The Minecraft launcher allows you to choose which version of the game you want to play. Aside from making modding easier, this also allows you to choose which features you want to use. You see, unlike a lot of games, each new version of Minecraft brings more than just bugfixes. Every release builds on the one before it, adding new content and occasionally adding new features. In some cases, core mechanics are altered. Thus, by letting you control the version you're using, you can stick with the old features you like or change to the new ones. Personally, I tend to prefer the 1.6 branch, as the mods I like best are generally not available for later releases.


It's as hard as you want
There are several difficulty settings to choose from, and in a bit of twist, you can change between them at any time. Setting the difficulty to Easy, Normal, or Hard means that monsters will spawn in dark areas or on the surface during the night. These settings also allow you to fine tune just how strong the monsters are. On Easy, they are only really dangerous in large numbers or in tight spaces. On Hard, you're going to need to build your base with defenses of some sort to help keep them manageable.

A fourth difficulty setting is Peaceful, which disables monsters and the game's hunger mechanics, allowing you to concentrate on gathering materials or building something cool. Personally, I prefer Easy, but like so much else in Minecraft, this is entirely up to you.

There are also three different game modes. The default game mode is called Survival, and as the name implies, has you try to survive in a wild, untamed world. Dying in a Survival mode game results in you dropping everything you're carrying, followed by you respawning a few moments later. Thus, death is inconvenient and can be a bit of a pain, but it's not final. Next, there is Creative mode, which gives you an infinite supply of every item in the game, including many items you cannot normally use. When playing a Creative mode game, you're basically the god of the game's world, free to do whatever you want without regard to anybody's restrictions. Monsters will ignore you, nothing can anything hurt you, and you can even fly around like gravity doesn't exist.

The third game mode is Hardcore mode, and this is a challenging mode for those that feel Survival is too easy. On Hardcore mode, the difficulty is locked to Hard, you will NOT respawn upon dying, and if you do die, then your saved game is erased -- ie, it turns the normally friendly game into a dangerous permadeath challenge. Don't plan on building anything frivolous in this mode, as you need to keep your strength up. Every block will count.


Huge world to explore and reshape
Since the world is created as you explore, it feels like the it continues endlessly in all directions. In reality there is a limit on how far you can travel, but the limit is so high that you'll probably never be able to reach the world boundary by walking there. Additionally, the world is made up of what are known as biomes. A "biome" is a type of environment; a desert or forest, for example. The vanilla game already has a number of different biomes to explore, but some of the popular mods exist solely to add more diversity to the game world. Effectively, the Minecraft world is as large and varied as our own.


Changing how the game looks is easy
You can easily change how Minecraft looks in two ways. The first is to install a "resource pack". These are custom made sets of textures for the game's objects. Fans of the game have produced dozens of them, and installing a texture pack is as simple as placing a zip file in a specific directory. If you want to spend the time on it, you can even make them yourself using the image editor of your choice.

You can also change how your character looks by uploading a new skin to your account. This can be done through the new launcher or via the website. Making a custom skin is quite easy, and it can be done using any image editor. There are also tools online like Skincraft that can assist you. Instead of having you create your skin pixel by pixel, tools like Skincraft have you assemble your skin by dressing a base character as if it was a paper doll.


Easy mod management
Mods are at the heart of Minecraft's popularity, and the modding community has provided some very simple tools to manage your installation. One of the main ways this is done is through "modpacks". These are premade and configured collections of mods, and they are often built around a central theme or concept. You'll need a tool like the Technic Launcher or the Twitch client to install a modpack, but all it takes is a few clicks and you're ready to go. If you're new to the idea, I'd suggest getting the Twitch client (links below) and installing the Tech World 2 modpack. This modpack isn't very big, but it does contain most of my favorite mods, and since it focuses on heavy industry, it's pretty straightforward for fans of the vanilla game. Another good modpack for beginner to intermediate players is Feed the Beast's Monster modpack, which can also be found via the Twitch client. It's a lot more complex though, so be prepared for a learning curve.

If you want, you can even make your own "modpack" by gathering and installing the mods yourself. However, I'd strongly suggest using the Twitch client to do this, as it can handle most of the details itself and even has a nifty catalogue like feature for finding and installing new mods. Unfortunately, there's a reason modpacks are popular: see the Cons section of this review.


Easy server management via Realms
All Minecraft games work using a client-server model. Now, you can create your own servers and host everything locally, but if you're not a computer guru you can also use the Minecraft Realms service. This service allows you to create and manage your own servers, and there are also extra perks that come with playing the game this way, such as pre-made worlds for you to explore and experience. However, like most quality hosting services, the Realms service is not free. Instead, you rent your Realm for $7.99 a month.

Using the Realms service is entirely optional, as you can create your own servers with a little work or just play alone. Technically, the single player mode uses its own server, but this is handled automatically and behind the scenes.


In-game achievements and guides
Minecraft isn't on a service like Steam or Origin, but it does contain a special menu listing various achievements. These are a little different than the ones found in other games, as they have prerequisites. In other words, you need to complete the achievements in a specific order. This also acts like a guide to walk you through the basics of the game; the earliest achievements are for things like viewing your inventory or creating a workbench, while later on they are for things like finding diamonds or building a Nether portal.

Something new added in version 1.12 is a recipe book. This is an in-game guidebook that lets you view crafting recipes for any items you can make. Prior to this version, you needed a mod like NEI in order to have an in-game crafting guide.


Cons

Modded games require stronger computers
Vanilla Minecraft handles itself fairly well. The problems come in when you start adding various mods to the game. Some mods are fine and won't affect your experience much, but there are a few that simply choke your average machine. Sadly, it's not always clear which mods will be a pain in the processor, so you'll need to experiment a bit to weed them out. Tools like the Twitch client can help with this, as they allow you to switch specific mods on and off, allowing you to narrow down the culprit.


Mods can be unstable or difficult to set up
One benefit of using a modpack is that someone else has already spent the time and energy setting up, configuring, and ensuring the various mods they've chosen play well together. There's nothing preventing you from using your own set of mods, but it's not as easy as dropping the files into a directory. Technical issues, such as the ever-present id conflicts, will make it hard to get them working. Even if that is resolved, some mods simply don't work together, and a few mods are just naturally unstable. This is the end result of too many cooks working on the same dish; most mods are made by amateur programmers working on their own, and with thousands of mods out there, developers can easily tread on each other's toes.


Time consuming
Even if you're playing in Creative Mode, it's easy to lose track of time when indulging yourself in this game. In fact, it's also easy to get lost thinking about what you'll do or try next long after you've put the game down, creating a distraction even when you're not at the computer. This can become an issue if you're not careful.


It gets complicated
Crafting items is done by placing other items on a 3x3 or 2x2 grid. Most of the time, you'll need to place them in a specific pattern to create the item you want. It's easy enough to remember some recipes, such as the recipe for a pickaxe or sword, but things get complicated pretty quickly. Thus, there is no shame in having the game's official wiki open and checking it as you play the game.

Later versions of Minecraft help you out by including a recipe guide in the game itself, and if you're modding an older version, there are some mods like NEI that provide the same feature.


Vandalization is common
This was the game that popularized the term griefer. As much as it can be fun to build large and impressive things with friends, it's also tempting to do something to ruin or vandalize other people's creations. This can resolved by playing single player games, but only to a point.

You see, one of Minecraft's most famous monsters, Creepers, are mobile bombs that home in on players and explode one they're close enough. These explosions rip holes in the landscape, your buildings, and you. If a chest is destroyed by one of these blasts, the items that had been stored within it are scattered about and might be lost. I wouldn't be surprised if Creepers were the main reason you can disable monsters.


Concerns and Issues

Minecraft Realms require a subscription
As mentioned above, you can rent multiplayer servers from Mojang, the company behind Minecraft. These packages are known as "Realms", and cost about $7.99 per month. This is entirely optional, and is completely unnecessary for single player games.


Potion brewing and magical enchantments
Sooner or later, you'll come across magical potions and empowered items. Most potions offer useful buffs or magical healing, but there are also potions designed to be used offensively. Those do direct harm or cause troublesome debuffs, making the target less able to defend themselves in a fight. Later on, you'll be able to brew them yourself using such things as fermented spider's eyes and other ingredients.

You'll also encounter tools, weapons, and armor with magical enchantments of various types. For example, a sword may be enchanted to do more damage to giant spiders while a chestplate might provide magical resistance to fire. As you'd expect, you'll be able to place these enchantments on items yourself once you've built the right devices.


Magical or strange creatures
Aside from the Ender Dragon, there are a number of hostile creatures that can appear in the game. Most of them only spawn during the night or in very dark areas, so as long as you get to bed on time and keep the local area well lit, they aren't much of a risk.

Your typical monsters include zombies, skeletons, and giant spiders, but there are a number of unique creatures that are only found in Minecraft. These include creepers, endermen, and zombie pigmen. Depending on your difficulty setting, zombies can turn villagers into more zombies, and there may be little baby zombies running about.

Witches and Illagers are also present. The former is a hostile villager who throws potions at you, while the Illagers are a relatively new nuisance that acts as a hostile faction.

All of this can be bypassed by playing on Peaceful, making it optional.

By the by, there is a popular creepypasta character known as Herobrine. This evil entity is something of an internet legend, and does not really exist. The developers of Minecraft are aware of the story, and occasionally play along with little references to him in official artwork and the game's changelogs. Of course, there are mods to include him in your game, if you really wanted to.


Mild violence
While combat is somewhat common in Minecraft, it's never been one of the game's strong points. Essentially, you just swing a sword at your target until it falls over. You can also shoot things using bows and arrows, but keeping enough arrows on hand requires a lot of preparation, so swords are typically the go-to weapon.

Although you're going to be using your weapons on monsters most of the time, you can also attack and kill other things, like the peaceful villagers, the local animals, or even other players. Outside of specific mods, there's no real point in going after the villagers, as they leave behind any resources. As for fighting and killing other people's characters, it goes without saying that you should probably only play the game with people you know or just play alone if PvP servers are an issue for you.

However, unlike the killing a player or a villager, there is a reason to attack and kill the various animals in the game. As in real life, this is how you acquire resources such as raw meat and leather pelts. You could also acquire wool by killing sheep, but this isn't the best idea. You should make and use a pair of shears instead, as this item will allow you to gather the wool without harming the sheep, and they'll grow another coat in a few minutes.

In fact, most of the wildlife found in the game can help you in one way or another without you having to harm them, so killing animals is entirely optional. You can even manage your food supplies without using any form of meat. Even better: mods often provide alternative ways to get animal products, and they can feature a mind-boggling number of completely vegetarian foods. Pam's Harvestcraft, for example, contains the means to make tofu, which you can substitute for eggs or meat in almost all recipes.


Other ways to die
Monsters aside, there are plenty of other ways of getting yourself killed. These include falling from a great height, burning alive, and starving to death. The last one isn't a risk on Peaceful, as this difficulty also disables your hunger meter. However, the other two will still be a serious risk when exploring the Nether or mining carelessly. Lava is one of the greatest dangers in the game, so be careful when you dig around.

On the plus side, if you're not playing a Hardcore mode game you'll respawn and can hurry back to where you died to recollect your things.


The Nether
The Nether is a fiery Hell is all but name. There are no demons here, but the monsters that are present are much more dangerous than the usual creatures you'll encounter. Aside from the fire and brimstone theming, there is also a material known as "soul sand". It's basically a soft, sand like substance, but instead of being made of small grains, it appears to be comprised of fog containing many screaming faces.

I know some people may object to me calling the Nether a depiction of Hell, but er, check the debug screen when you next visit the Nether. The name for the current biome is always displayed on this overlay, and in the Nether, it simply reads "Hell".


Mods can get way worse
The majority of mods that are out there are just as family friendly as the vanilla game, but there are some exceptions. These can include more graphic violence, guns, magic that uses blood or sacrifices to work, and even some depictions of witchcraft. There are also a few mods that try to add sexual content, though with the blocky style of Minecraft's graphics, this typically comes off as strange rather than titillating. The good news here is that the nastier mods rarely appear in curated modpacks, meaning that you'll need to install and configure them yourself.


Buying Minecraft

Minecraft is available from several places, but the problem with this is that there are actually several different editions of the game, and I don't honestly know how unified they are. In the past, the various editions were had different content and features, and buying one didn't give you access to any of the others. Additionally, as far as I know, modding is only possible through the Java (or Desktop) edition of the game.

So, I'd recommend buying the game through Minecraft.net, which is the game's homepage. The Java edition is the one you'll typically want, especially if you plan on trying out some of the game's mods.

Once you have a valid account, you can install the game directly via the game's website or one of the alternate launchers, such as the Technic Launcher or the Twitch Client. These will allow you to install and manage your game in a way that's both easy and mod-friendly. Note that managing Minecraft installations is only one of the Twitch client's many features, so parents should give it a look before letting their children run wild with the program.