Minecraft Mondays is a somewhat irregular feature focusing on mods for Mojang's block simulation game. We will try to highlight some of the coolest player-made content around, as well as discuss the core game as changes come up.
Well it's happened. The world has been destroyed by man's hubris, and there is naught left but a small floating island in the sky, and the hope that someone has the tenacity and patience enough to rebuild the world. That someone is you.
This is the premise of Agrarian Skies, a Minecraft mod created by jadedcat. What makes this particular mod so magical is that it takes the Skyblock challenge and wraps it up in a quest system straight out of an old RPG. Plus it makes dirt mean more than you ever thought possible. Come with me as I explore the world of Agrarian Skies.
The mod starts you out on a floating island, with a chest of supplies. Guard these supplies well because with three saplings you are meant to rebuild an entire ecosystem, brick by brick. You also have a book, and that book is your guide through the entire journey of rebuilding the world.
What's so awesome about this mod is the fact that not only do you have freedom of play, you also have strict limits on that freedom. When you only have access to trees and spend a lot of time doing hard labor, your food meter becomes a priority. I spent up several lives starving until I did some research on how to more efficiently start off the game so I wouldn't end up wasting time I didn't have. If you are clever enough, you can turn your small store of saplings into both food and supplies, the most essential of which is the humble barrel. Barrels allow you to turn excess saplings and crops into dirt, and that dirt is then used to help you plant more crops, get other materials such as cobblestone, and ultimately survive.
This game pack (it's actually a collection of mods, so that's a more accurate description), is also a study in good game design. You'll find quickly that all your tools wear down very fast, and the special ones need to be saved for special uses. So naturally you'll try to make your own tools, and then realize that you cannot craft an axe. This limit forces you as a player to make a tough choice: Do I use up my axe, trading the durability of the weapon for food points on my health bar? Do I choose the axe as a quest reward, or stick to punching trees and select something that might be the less obvious choice? All of these difficult decisions make for a gaming experience that feels less like Minecraft and more like Sim City. The decision making continues as you navigate choices on dirt use, cobblestone application, and when and where to expand your little island.
What's not so awesome about this mod? Well it's a time sink, in ways that the original Minecraft is not. Resource management games are also highly compelling, so it's tough to walk away. Just when you get one set of dirt composting, you'll turn around and see the trees in your grove have spawned, and you think: "I'll just work one more set." Before long hours have passed.
Also, the pacing on the quests could use a little smoothing out. At the beginning every quest takes just a few minutes to complete. Not long after that you jump to several hours of grinding to complete a quest, and while each quest helps you complete the next one, this long gap between quest rewards can feel a little sluggish. This does mean that quest completion feels like a huge accomplishment when it does happen, and that's a good thing.
Now the worst part of Agrarian Skies isn't the mod, it's the method of delivery. This was the first mod I found that used the Feed the Beast Launcher, and the experience is far from intuitive. If you're interested in checking this mod out, here are some tips on how to navigat the FTB launcher so you don't spend your first hour falling and dying over and over like I did.
First, the FTB launcher has no submit button. You navigate to the mod you want and then hit launch. There is no confirmation on which mod you are installing beyond the picture on the screen, so make sure you have the write mod installed. Agrarian Skies can be found under the "3rd Party Packs" tab at the top of the launcher. It's actually the first one listed (yay for alphabetization) so it's not that hard to find. When you're ready to play the game pack, make sure your screen looks like the one above, enter your Mojang profile information in the profile box, and hit launch. Then close out of the game entirely and relaunch the FTB launcher again. I say this because my install did not come with a world map, and you cannot launch this game pack without one. You fall, you die, you fall, you die, it deletes the world. Fun times.
Instead head to the "Maps & Textures" section of the launcher and hit the "Maps" button at the top of the screen. Your screen should look like this. Hit the "Install map" button and it will add in the pre-created world you will need to play Agrarian Skies. Everytime you screw up the game beyond compare (like, for instance, using up all your bonemeal -- don't by the way) you will need to come back and hit that "Install map" button to generate a new world. It will wipe the old one, and give you a new chance to try again. The same goes for if you end up losing all your lives. Reinstall the map and you're good to go. Here's a link to an intro video that will help get you started if you get lost along the way like I did.
One last note: There is a multiplayer version of this game pack that I did not try out. I imagine that it's wonderful and immersion-breaking at the same time. I'd hate to see what PvP looked like on those islands. Yeesh.