Minecraft Review: The Ultimate Sandbox or An Outdated Miracle?View All Reviews
Minecraft is a sandbox video game developed by Mojang. Minecraft was created by Markus "Notch" Persson in the Java programming language and was released as a public alpha for personal computers in 2009 before officially releasing in November 2011, with Jens Bergensten taking over development around then. It has since been ported to various platforms and is the bestselling video game of all time, with over 180 million copies sold across all platforms and over 112 million monthly active players by 2019.
Minecraft, a game with the visual complexity of a cardboard box that was released in the same year with Borderlands, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Uncharted 2, has sold more copies than all of these games combined.
If you fell in love with Minecraft at first sight, you know why that is, even if you can’t quite put it into words. If you don’t know what’s so special about this cubic world, let this review lead you down the rabbit hole.
What’s the deal?
When you boot Minecraft, you appear in a procedurally generated world — a new one each time — and are left there to survive. As the night approaches, you will need to get a shelter or you’ll be eaten by a mob of monsters.
When you survive your first night and learn the basics, you get into the main gameplay loop. You chop down trees, dig underground to mine ores, harvest or grow food, and build structures. And well, that seems to be the whole thing for many people.
Sure, technically, there’s an end goal of going into the Nether and defeating the Ender Dragon, but most people who’ve played Minecraft never heard about that guy. And we’d argue that’s a good thing.
The best part
Minecraft is a sandbox game with many options of what to do for fun. The best part is, the game doesn’t push you towards any of them. You don’t see NPCs that would direct you towards the Ender Dragon, you don’t see a memo telling you what you should do next. You have the liberty to decide what you want to do on your own.
The game gives you a world to explore. For someone who’s launching Minecraft for the first time, it’s a wild frontier kind of experience. There’s a whole world in front of you, and no one is holding your hand to guide you through it. You feel what Lewis and Clark must have felt when they were going through an unknown land, potential danger in any bush — a mix of awe and anxiety.
After you’re done with the exploration bit, there comes construction. Since it’s a sandbox, you can spend the entire playthrough exploring the vast randomly generated dungeons and fighting skeletons for loot. But most Minecraft players discover the joy of building sooner or later.
The game area is a bunch of blocks you can destroy and place wherever you want, so it lends itself to large-scale construction. Once you’ve conquered the difficulties of the survival mode or enter the creation mode, the game basically becomes a 3D pixel art canvas where you can create masterpieces like this.
If you’re technically inclined, you can discover the other side of Minecraft building — redstone machines. This rare material can be used in a way that resembles an electric circuit. Place a source of redstone “electricity” somewhere, connect it via a redstone “wire,” and you can change a block in the distance: make a lamp light up, make a door open, or make a piston move.
Throw in a set of basic logical operators and some ingenuity into the mix, and you can develop a machine like this.
While the initial awe you feel when discovering the world of Minecraft will last you a long time, it doesn’t stay forever. Once you work your way around things, it can become a grind, not a game. You pop up in a world, gather the essentials, go underground to get the best armor and weapons, do the exact amount of exploring to get you to the biome that has the ingredients you need, rinse and repeat.
For someone who has never played the game, it may feel weird. How can anyone find mining rock for ten minutes to find a bit of iron ore entertaining? Funnily enough, this gameplay loop remains entertaining, but in a more relaxed, almost meditative way.
While many people who grew up to love Minecraft do a playthrough once in a while, there is no magic left to the game. Instead of following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, you run errands in your backyard. Water the plants, cut the grass, pet the dog. It feels good, but you don’t feel as intrigued by the world as you were on the first playthrough.
The solution to this is quite simple — mods. Minecraft base game is good in and of itself, but it’s the fan modifications that make it feel great again for the veteran players.
Building-focused mods like these give you more engineering opportunities: you can construct nuclear reactors and many more machinery in them.
Mods like RLCraft are focused on giving you a new world to explore. Sure, it’s the same procedurally generated block-based realm, but shifting the rules and adding new things to it lets you get that exploratory feeling again.
In the end, this is the biggest problem with Minecraft. It’s minimalistic and doesn’t hold your hand. This makes it so infinitely replayable that the things you can do in Minecraft become too mundane.
Despite how much the company tries to make the game more captivating, they’ve been consistently failing to. Each new update only expands a bit on one of the core elements of the game: exploration and building. Each update, you get a couple of blocks, a couple of new animals, and some minor bug fixes.
Minecraft may be doomed by its simplicity and you may fall out of love with it as you play more and more. But don’t let that fact discourage you from trying one of the best games in the world.
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