TL;DR – It brings life to a forgotten world, giving it a personality, a new direction. It also changes one of the games longest static features for the better.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Last year I took a look back at my time with Minecraft over the previous ten years. In many ways, whether I intended it or not, it was epitaph to my time with the game. Well, that may have been the intent, but reality had a way of changing that because COVID happened and I needed a way to connect with people in isolation and well what’s Realm between close friends. Since diving back into the game, we have our first significant update since the BEEESSSsss, so I wanted to explore as see how it changes the game for better or worse … it is the first one.
For those who have not played it, Minecraft is a Survival-Sandbox game; there is no traditional narrative to pull you through the game, bar the one you make for yourself. You mine for resources, and then you craft new items that give you access to new resources to mine and thus the circle continues from wood to stone to diamond and now even further. In a regular unmodded game of survival, there are three levels to the game, the Overworld the main world you spawn in, The End with its dragons and its pastel aesthetic, pastels everywhere, and finally The Nether, which is what we are focusing on today.
The Nether was the first new realm added to the game in the Halloween Update back in 2010. It was a dark, dangerous place filled with lava and Ghasts, giant floating balls of hate that like taking you out from a distance. It was an interesting realm, but that was it, however with the addition of Nether Quartz and Nether Fortresses, it became a place that you wanted to visit. The quartz was one of the best sources of experience, and you could finally make those great classical buildings. However, as time when on, it was clear that nothing stood out in the Nether. It was just lava and Netherrack as far as you could see. As long as you didn’t attack the Zombie Pigmen and kept a bow on you to take out the Ghasts, you were pretty safe outside of the Fortresses. It was an area of the game crying out for something more, and while there have been small additions to the realm over the years this is the first significant update since 2011, and it was well worth the wait.
On the surface the major change is the diversification of the different biomes in The Nether, no longer is it just a sea of red. We have Basalt Pillars striking through the sky from ceiling to floor becoming one of, if not the, most prominent structure in the game. Soul Sand Valley bathed in blue light, screaming faces, the bones of the long-dead, and unnatural flames. Forests of fungi in blood red and sickly green filled with surprises, many of them not pleasant. This variety is not only a refreshing change on an aesthetic level, but all the new blocks increase the crafting and decorative choices people have.
While it is good that there is more stuff in the game, I want to take a moment to talk about how it is presented. A lot of work has gone into the terrain generation algorithm to make these new areas feel tangible and real. Where you see this shine is in the Basalt Deltas, where basalt and Blackstone intermingle with lava pools and magma blocks to create these cascading ponds of death. This attention to detail with the terrain generation makes exploration more than just ‘where is that next bit of quartz’ and instead it makes every corner a new reveal.
While adding new biomes is a welcome change to The Nether, there are ways in which this update dramatically shift the way the game is played. In the past, The Nether was dangerous in places. You could get overwhelmed by Blazes and Wither Skeletons in The Fortresses, a Ghast might catch you out when you are building a bridge, or your left pinkie might just hate you for no apparent reason. But on the whole, most of it can be managed quickly enough. Now, you have skeletons walking around the place, magma cubes crashing into you, and Hoglins that will gore you and flip you into the lava, sometimes all of this is happening at the same time. This makes the whole area a dangerous place to be in, or at least one that you have to manage a lot more carefully than you did before.
Gold has always been the middle child of the Minecraft universe, sure you can make tools and armour out of it, but most likely you jumped right from iron to diamond and never looked back. Well, gold gets a real boost in this update because the updated Pigmen the Piglin’s who will very much attack you unless you are wearing Gold armour. I have never purposely made gold armour to wear before, and that level of vulnerability does add to the overall feeling. More than this for the first time since the game was launched, we have something more durable than diamond. Down in the bowels of The Nether, you can occasionally stumble upon Ancient Debris in a vein of two or maybe three if you are fortunate (I have not been that lucky). Which you can then smelt to get Netherite Scrap, then you can combine four of with gold to get one Netherite Ingot, which you can then finally use to upgrade a piece of diamond armour or tool. This process takes a long time, and after hours of mining, I only got enough to craft two ingots, so you need to be committed to getting more than just a set.
In the end, do we recommend Minecraft‘s Nether update? Yes, yes we do. Besides adding a metric ton of new blocks to mine and build with, which is always a welcome addition. It brings life to a forgotten world, giving it a personality, a new direction, and that is where the real triumph is.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Game Designer – Jens Bergensten
Game Creator – Markus Persson
Music – Daniel Rosenfeld
Developer – Mojang
Publisher – Microsoft