This page is a review of various Minecraft mods, examining, in particular, their ability in enhancing Minecraft from the point of adding more depth rather than simply more content. These are the kind of mods that Mojang should take inspiration from.
Most mods don't achieve this, although that doesn't necessarily make those mods bad. There a few "errors"* that mods make that will be used for critiquing the mods on this list (although there are exceptions):
- Games that go far out of Minecraft's core game mechanics. OpenComputers is a wonderful, and a very good mod by most definitions. However, it wouldn't be considered a good mod by our somewhat snobbish standards. Its mechanics are too complex for the average player, and it makes very successful existing features (particularly Redstone) become irrelevant or useless.
- Mods' mods. Actually Additions is a good example. It's a great mod, obviously; I've spent many hours documenting it, so no one can say that I don't like it. But it's definitely the kind of mod that is meant to be played with other mods in a large modpack, rather than on its own. Actually Additions does make some effort to avoid this. You can play it on its own, and people (including me and Ellpeck) have. However I don't think it completely can be lifted up out of this hole, simply because of most of the content and design choices made still seems to best fitted for large modpacks.
- Mods that add an excessive amount of decorative blocks. Chisel is a pretty blatant example of this. Creators who love having a million options probably might disagree here. However, in vanilla Minecraft, part of the fun is using the limited materials around you to make strong builds, rather than relying on the clutch of having access to 20 different types of Bricks. Players can better express their creativity by doing more with less rather than being given a silver platter. Adding more decorative blocks isn't inherently bad (see Quark or Biomes O' Plenty on this list) but they have to be added in a balanced manner.
- Mods that make the game easier without fully balancing it. I hate to throw a friend under the bus, but ArmorPlus suffers from this. It adds a lot of new armors, but they aren't really very well balanced. It might be expensive to get Obsidian Armor, but when you have it, the game just becomes easier and you aren't challenged with anything new. To his credit though, sokratis12GR has worked to improve this by adding new mobs and bosses to the mod, which is a surprising but good twist for an armor mod.
- Feature creep. Really this fits in with a lot of the stuff above ("mods' mods," "Mods that add an excessive amount of decorative blocks"). A lot of mods add more content without really expanding the depth of the game. Perhaps you can think of one.
- Completely genre-changers. Tale of Kingdoms fits here. Again, it isn't that these mods are bad, but that they don't mesh well with vanilla Minecraft's gameplay philosophy. Tech mods also inherently fit into here, considering vanilla Minecraft's technology is all medieval stuff.
There are mods on the list that will break the principles listed above, but will enhance the game in other ways that I think are notable.
* This aren't really errors per say, since most of this doesn't go into mod authors' calculations. Rather they are pitfalls in the sole purpose of making Minecraft, well, better balanced and with more depth.
The list[edit | edit source]
- The Aether might be the most popular mod in all of Minecraft. It was one of the first dimension-based mods and nothing added as much as depth and adventure to the game, so this isn't surprising. It's also surprising that Kingbdogz, one of the developers, was hired by Mojang.
- Every part of The Aether couldn't be directly added to the game, but that hasn't stopped people from calling for it. The amount of content the mod adds is just right. It would be the perfect companion to The Nether if The Nether didn't suck. If you haven't played it, you definitely should.
- The mod does have some flaws. The whole accessories thing feels kind of forced. Aether II tries to act like a total conversion mod, changing the main screen. It has also added some story/RPG-elements that are a real genre-changer and seem silly. The mod seemingly suffers from feature creep too, with newer versions promising a lot, but the authors being slow to deliver.
- Better Than Wolves partly inspired me to definite balance when it comes to mods. FlowerChild, in my opinion, is a bit of genius, although he may unfortunately be a bit of a jerk. Their forum thread Vanilla Minecraft News Discussion has a lot of good critiques of Minecraft's development. Not all are correct but I think if I was Mojang, I would carefully look at them.
- Better Than Wolves does a lot of things, and since I haven't played through all (or even most) of them, I unfortunately can't go through all of its mechanics, just the ones I remember.
- Better than Wolves gets rid of a bunch of the worst mechanics in Minecraft. Beds will become decorative, instead of letting you pass the night idly. The debug display doesn't list coordinates anymore, so there's a reason to use Compasses and Maps. Hardcore Darkness makes the dark terrifying rather than just inconvenient. Liquids don't magically produce more liquids. There's a lot of changes, so you can see the full list here.
- Better Than Wolves makes the vanilla tech tree a lot harder to climb. In vanilla Minecraft, you make a Wooden Pickaxe first, and then you throw it away about a minute later for a Stone Pickaxe. And then maybe five minutes later you throw that away for an Iron Pickaxe, and you're near the top of the hierarchy. In BTW it's much harder, since the durability is a lot lower, and smelting Iron Ore only produces Iron Nuggets.
- I didn't get far into BTW's tech tree to use, but the mod's Mechanical power is pretty solid. If Minecraft was to implement technology, something like this would be the right way to do, without drifting too far from the genre.
- Better Than Wolves isn't perfect. It might a bit too challenging. Minecraft is suppose to be a kids' game, and BTW is just too difficult. I'm really not a fan of the random spawn point mechanic. Minecraft's death system is really bad, but that mechanic does a disservice by making the game basically the same as hardcore mode, since I could never find my previous base. Unfortunately I haven't found any mod to make death properly balanced, at least yet. Zombies eating passive mobs is a great feature of the mod in my opinion, but it makes finding mobs a lot harder. Minecraft is part survival game, part sandbox and exploration game, and BTW shifts it a bit too much in the direction of survival.
- Better With Mods suffers from issues unique to it. It isn't sure if it wants to be standalone, or if it wants to be with other mods. Being on Forge is definitely a good thing, and I think BTW could mesh with a lot of great mods (like Biomes O' Plenty) but it doesn't fit very well in a modpack that isn't based around it.
- Biomes O' Plenty is a great mod, and adds what Minecraft needs: more adventure and more depth. I don't think I need to get too far into what it does right, since you know all about it if you've used it before.
- The mod does have some pitfalls. When the biomes converge in your mind and don't seem unique anymore, it's too many biomes. They have, to their credit, trimmed the list significantly in newer versions. ExtrabiomesXL, an older competitor, in my opinion added a reasonable amount of biomes (although it doesn't have as much cool exploration content). There were some biomes that sucked too, like the Wasteland, but most of those were removed.
- The removal of the Promised Land was a source of disappoint for many users, although it might have been for the best. Unlike The Aether, the Promised Land seems more like a mini-dimension, without a ton to explore.
- The Nether biomes were really great and probably an inspiration to Mojang in some of their newer versions.
- Biomes O' Plenty suffers from the ore-adding version of feature creep. Adding new ores isn't inherently bad, but these don't really do a lot other than stuff up your inventory. They can be used to make a Terrestrial Artifact, sure, but you only need one of each, and not every player wants to explore every biome.
- Alas, another forgotten mod to the ages. Some features of it were brought back into Charset, but not all. It added a lot of unique content and approached technology in a way no mod has really replicated. It suffered from the mod author removing and readding a lot of features, making it not have a very stable identity, a lack of documentation, and ultimately from not being ported past 1.7.10. It introduced the Barrel, which was a pretty reasonably balanced solution to storage. Sculpting was a very cool part of the mod also, adding further depth to the game.
- The Falling Meteors Mod is another sad mod that has been forgotten to time, not having been updated in 5 years. It's a bit of sci-fi mod, so it probably wouldn't fit in Minecraft perfectly, but the content that it adds is pretty balanced and interesting, and it definitely increases Minecraft's depth.
- IndustrialCraft 2 is an odd member of this list for sure, because despite being a very fun mod, it suffers from most of the "errors" I have listed, and obviously wouldn't make sense to add to vanilla Minecraft. However there a few things that I think it notably does very well.
- In particular, I want to give credit to Crop Breeding, which even the IC2 haters admire (see AgriCraft). It's a great example of adding more depth to the game while not muddling the game's overall complexity. It turns vanilla Minecraft's boring crops into a fun breeding game, where experimentation is encouraged. You can even grow Gold and Redstone, but it manages to be very balanced because of the difficulty involved. Unfortunately, crop breeding does have some issues. The Crop isn't very well integrated into the game, and crop breeding doesn't work with other mods' crops at all (I'll take some of the blame for this, for never finishing my IndustrialEx addon). Crop breeding is confusing, and it feels like it was never really finished. There's also just not enough reason to get into it, unless you use GregTech's crops.
- IC2's brewing system is another fun minigame. It encourages experimentation, and offers great rewards balanced by great risks. However, it suffers from the same thing crop breeding does, where it seems too confusing to get into.
- IC2 is also nice in that it makes Iron Ore worth mining. Unfortunately in vanilla Minecraft, once you have Iron armor and about a stack of Iron, you're done with it. The Beacon tries to balance this, but it only becomes relevant very late game, considering how hard it is to get Wither Skeleton Skulls.
- Natura unfortunately has fallen by the wayside in recent times, but it used to be a requirement for every major modpack. For a world generation mod, it made a surprising decision to not add any biomes, but instead enhanced the existing world.
- Unfortunately, a lot of these additions seemed out of places. Nevertheless there were some highlights, with the best of Natura probably being its additions to The Nether. The Bloodwood Tree was a clever addition; the upside down tree made sense in the cave-like terrain of The Nether. The Glowshrooms were interesting too, but the best additions are the mobs. The Heatscar Spider and the Nitro Creeper made the dimension much more terrifying (it's pretty boring in vanilla up until 1.16). The Imp, retrospectively, seems like a primitive version of Piglins, but it still added depth to the game.
- It's understandable that this mod hasn't made it through the newer versions. It never felt very spectacular or polished. But it was a loss nevertheless.
- If Minecraft was going to add a magic system to the game, Roots would be the way to do it. Unfortunately elucent threw the mod away and restarted it with Roots 2 (which he later handed off to another developer). Roots 2 was good, although I have some preference for the original. Needless to say, elucent's retirement from modding was met with sadness from the community.
- Roots is a relatively simple mod, but with a few powerful, albeit balanced tools. Perhaps the Time Shift would be a balanced alternatives to Minecraft's Beds. Spells like Life Drain can enhance combat, but without making it too easy on the player.
- Some of the Rituals and Spells don't seem very useful. Earth Spike for example just produces common raw materials. Maybe it could be used in a Skyblock-styled modpack/map. The Spells that can be used for combat seem too expensive to use outside of maybe boss fights, which there are only two of in vanilla Minecraft. Roots does add one more, called the Guardian of Sprites, and it seems cool. But once you're done with that, that's pretty much it. Of course, Roots was never finished, Roots 2 wasn't necessarily finished either, so the mod being imperfect isn't too surprising.
Thaumcraft (any of them)
- Thaumcraft is probably the most popular magic mod (or group of mods) there has ever been. That said, most of its content probably wouldn't fit into vanilla Minecraft.
- Thaumcraft added a lot of cool adventure content. Firebats were annoying as hell, but were a good addition to vanilla Minecraft's safe Nether. Taint was real cool, as well as Tainted mobs. The Eldritch was very cool too.
- Thaumcraft did have some flaws. The minigame for the Thaumonomicon was rather tedious. Scanning literally everything was rather tedious, and this had mixed results when combined with other mods. Thaumcraft is also another ore-adding pig, polluting players' inventories with more junk. Cinnabar and Amber are barely even useful to Thaumcraft players for heaven's sake!
- Twilight Forest is obviously a classic. It's an adventure mod that adds more to explore in Minecraft while remaining pretty balanced and fitting decently into the game. It adds a lot of bosses with unique mechanics, such as the Questing Ram, which you don't fight at all, and the Hydra, which is terrifying since it can grow heads back.
- Underground Biomes rightfully changed the boredom of mining to make the underground more colorful. This is how Minecraft should have implemented Granite and the newer blocks: by transferring them into large biomes that make it interesting to mine in different spots. However, it's worth noting that Underground Biomes' textures leave much to be desired.
- Quark is an obvious candidate for mods that extend the game well. Quark adds a lot of decorative blocks, but because many of this blocks are specific to certain biomes (like the Midori Block) and/or are expensive or difficult to acquire (like the Duskbound Block), it ends up successfully balancing itself in that it doesn't overwhelm the players with options but gives creative thinkers more to work with, but only if they're willing to grind a bit to get it.
- Quark's "Automation" module is small but significant. The Obsidian Pressure Plate, Weather Sensor and Ender Watcher add more depth to the game while remaining pretty well balanced. The Iron Rod is probably the most balanced and interesting version of a block breaker that could ever be added to the game. It could be used in a way that's overpowering, like to automatically mine for the player (like the IndustrialCraft 2 Miner). However because it needs an End Rod in order to be made, and because making a device like that would be very difficult, it doesn't suffer too much from this.
- The "Client" module manages to add a bunch of nifty features without falling into feature creep. I actually don't like the Chest Searching, since I think creating an effective organizing system is a good challenge in vanilla Minecraft, plus it seems unimmersive. The Subtler Shields isn't awful, but in my view, having Shields block out part of your view is actually a good way to balance them, kind of like how wearing a Pumpkin reducing your view makes the Enderman immunity more reasonable. I also don't like the changes made to Glass. Although the quest for a "clear Glass" isn't one I'm against, I think this should be done by adding more advanced Glass rather than messing with vanilla.
- The "Decorative" module simply adds a bunch of decorative blocks, and without managing to fall into feature creep. Some of these features were adopted straight into vanilla (like the plank-dependent Trapdoor and wool-dependent Bed). Although this may first appear to break the decorative blocks rule I made, it actually doesn't, because most of these are biome-dependent. As such, it encourages players to explore to get interesting decorative blocks, which means more depth, not less. I also want to give a shoutout to the Banner Motifs the mod adds, which add more depth to the game without being overwhelming.
- The "Management" module has some good features, but some bad ones too. Some of the inventory management stuff hurts immersion in my opinion, as well as removing the challenge of proper organization. The Delete Items tweak ruins vanilla Minecraft's balanced use of Lava or Cacti, or of suffering from items on the ground, plus it isn't immersive.
- The "World" module is where Quark truly shines. I would be surprised if Quark's Pirate Ship didn't inspire vanilla Shipwrecks. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be enough inspiration, because Quark's are vastly more interesting, and present a fun but somewhat challenging battle to the player. Mobs like the Ashen and Dweller making deep mining a bit more challenging (which is due), while the Foxhound and the Wraith improve The Nether which has been traditionally starved of content and adventure. Ender Biotite Ore is a good addition to The End, which is (in vanilla Minecraft) ore-less and too homogeneous, although Ender Biotite, much like Quartz, isn't super useful. Quark's underground biomes do a good job at Minecraft's traditionally boring underground more interesting, although they are often too small to seem like a real biome (although vanilla Minecraft suffers from size issues too). I don't like the "Blazes in the Nether" tweak, which makes Blazes spawn outside of Nether Fortresses. Honestly I can't imagine what Vazkii was thinking when he implemented it, since it removes the push for players to explore The Nether to get Blaze Rods. Same issue with "Guardians in Oceans."