Mojang officially launched the Better Together update for Minecraft this week. This unifies the console and mobile versions of Minecraft into "one beautiful shiny edition of Minecraft". It includes cross-platform play and infinite worlds as well as dedicated servers and 4K HDR graphics. It's the largest update to Minecraft history. So why not return to the game that popularized survival-crafting and give our verdict with a brand new review?
Minecraft is a completely different beast than it was in 2009, when it was a small, developmental, one-person project. Since the early days of grassroots Minecraft, when its genius was spread via word of mouth through school playgrounds around the globe, the IP has accumulated billions of dollars in capital, generated a worldwide following of passionate devotees and been bought out by an industry giant. It has also spawned numerous spin-off games and Hollywood movies, as well as endless crates and merchandise and the successful careers many prominent YouTubers. It's cultural reach is not slowing down. You can still find a young person wearing a creeper shirt in almost any part of the globe.
The success of Minecraft has been both a blessing and a curse. Minecraft's expansion to every platform makes it difficult for first-time users to get started. There are several Minecraft editions: Pocket Edition Minecraft for mobile, Virtual Reality Minecraft, Pocket Edition Minecraft on console, two PC versions, Nintendo 3DS Edition Minecraft and Minecraft: Story Mode. Not to mention all the updates, add-ons, and modded editions that have been inconsistently released over the eight-year history of the game.
This raises many questions for the uninitiated. Minecraft: Pocket Edition technically works the same way as Minecraft: Pocket Edition on Windows 10 and Windows 10. However, there are some differences in gameplay, performance, and features. Windows 10 Edition is also available on PC, but has distinct advantages and disadvantages when compared to the original Java version. The most recent version, 1.12.2 is available through Java on Windows PC. However, I will need to purchase the Switch version if I want the exclusive Nintendo-themed digital goodies. Wait, which platforms have Minecraft Realms? And why are there two versions? It's like navigating through a minefield.
The Better Together update, released this week by Mojang, is the first step in Mojang's mission to simplify and streamline Minecraft. It brings the Bedrock version (the engine that powers mobile, console, and Windows 10) into one standard, cross-platform product. There are still many issues here, including the lack of information on a PS4 update or the confusing existence of an "old" and a "new" Minecraft version for console owners. But it's a step in the right directions.
Cross-platform convergence offers many benefits beyond the novel idea of a Nintendo Switch player fighting zombies alongside a Xbox One player. User's worlds, progress, and achievements can now be shared across multiple platforms. This is a great feature for a game that was built on the rewarding investment of creating something you own.
Better Together is also a solution to one of Minecraft's most enduring problems: instant access multiplayer. Mojang finally introduced featured servers to Minecraft. This allows players to jump into multiplayer instantly without having to do any research online. Better Together has been hailed as the most significant update to the game, so it's good to know that it's also one the best.
The Vita and mobile Minecraft editions were the only viable options for crafting on the move. However, the technical and practical limitations of these consoles made them less than ideal platforms for play. The Nintendo Switch allows high-fidelity Minecraft to easily be enjoyed at home or anywhere else. It also supports local split-screen play and intuitive control options.
This combination of portable utility and gameplay comfort makes Minecraft for the Switch one the best places to play it. It has also done wonders for the game's appeal, which is remarkable for a console that has only been around for a year. Although Better Together was delayed for the Switch until 2017, it still offers the ultimate portable Minecraft experience.
Switch isn't the best place for Minecraft to play, but that title still belongs to the Java version of Minecraft on PC. This is pure Minecraft, free from any restrictions, rife in opportunity, and well-maintained by one of the most active gaming communities. Java Minecraft is now free to do its thing in the Better Together age, as that update only affects Windows 10 Edition on PC. However, the abundance of mods, addons and community-run server servers allow the original version to be played in thousands more ways and forms.
Minecraft: Java Edition is a long-running, vibrant community that allows you to do things that no one imagined eight years ago. You can build fully functioning nuclear power plants, dive deep into RPG-like campaigns or just set the world ablaze with a Nyan Cat-themed tornado if that's what you like. The only problem? The one downside?
This praise for Minecraft on Java doesn't mean that Pocket Edition or its subsequent ports for console and Windows 10 are bad. In fact, Bedrock has made significant improvements since it was first released for IOS and Android in 2011. Better Together is the most recent and convincing evidence to support that claim. Pocket Edition on mobile has been an excellent starting point for new players to Minecraft's world of blocks and building. It is also one of the most affordable and accessible ways to play Minecraft.
Windows 10 Edition has not been a fan favorite among the PC crowd. You can understand why Java is preferred (sore restrictions on mods being a main sticking point), but the game's smoother performance, unique gameplay quirks, and unique gameplay are not without merit. Windows 10 Edition has become, like all the other Bedrock versions before it, more appealing than ever thanks to Better Together. This is because cross-platform play and third party servers are now available.
Microsoft's 2014 acquisition Minecraft has been a blessing for the IP. Despite the two and a quarter billion dollar price tag, it allowed Notch, the creator of Minecraft, to part ways with his idea to let Mojang rekindle its love for the franchise with new staff, new resources and the support from a new partner. With the implementation of new ideas and projects, Minecraft has been able to move up in mainstream gaming.
Minecraft Realms is a subscription service that allows users to create private, always-online, dedicated servers to share and enjoy with their friends. This might seem like a cynical way to commodify a key feature of Minecraft, even though it's been more difficult to set up than it should have been. Realms, despite the fact that Minecraft's majority of players are young, seems to me to be an admirable and smart idea that allows friends of Minecraft to play together in a safe place, away from the more sexist elements of the community. Even features as basic as a mini game and a marketplace are evidence of Better Together's ongoing efforts to keep Minecraft users engaged beyond the core Java community.
Mojang and Microsoft are also using Education Edition to recognize the game's potential as a learning tool. This edition has been in use in schools and classrooms for many years before this version was even possible. Education Edition is the perfect platform to teach computing 101 to children, with the real-world impact already evident just one year after its release.
Despite all the changes and evolutions, I still treasure the simple pleasures of Minecraft. Mojang has not forgotten the core essence of Minecraft. Its smart economy, its minimalist piano compositions and, of course the beauty of its design philosophy. Jeff Minter, a well-known anglo-developer, once stated that Minecraft can be summarized in five words: "Lego but in video games."
Minecraft was created by its users, who made "something" from it. Minecraft has been the perfect canvas to let anyone engage with their artistic side. It is instantly accessible, but intelligently caters to advanced experimentation. This is what makes it a timeless classic. Minecraft is an example of human creativity, which is why it is considered a "Welcome" rug to your imagination.