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Minecraft Adventure Update preview: It's a start

As completely and undeniably delightful as Mojang's indie blockbuster Minecraft is, there's a sense of emptiness that pervades its cuboid worlds. It's a void too large to be filled with replica Enterprises and scale models of the Zelda: Link to the Past overworld. It's a cavity left by the absence of adventure. Sure, the game's already got enemies and hidden treasures, but it can only really switch between binary states of peril and exploration. That, friends, does not an adventure make.

Fortunately, Mojang understands its already successful title needs a bit more adventure-meat on the bones. Its first step in breathing more life into its destructible, constructible game is the Adventure Update, which the studio was showing off at PAX. Fitting in with the game's iteratively updated release formula, the addition doesn't tack on all the things the title needs -- but it lays some compelling groundwork for the game's transformation into a fully-fledged RPG affair.

Perhaps the Adventure Update's most apparent addition is the two new player UI elements that populate the bottom of the screen: A hunger meter, and an XP bar. The former is a constantly-depleting gauge that regenerates health when full (and drains health when empty), and can be refilled by chowing down on any number of homemade meals. The latter grows when you collect experience orbs from fallen foes, unlocking Skill Points with each level.

We can only speculate what those Skill Points will be spent on, however, as that particular feature won't be included in this initial Adventure Update. Go ahead and try to stock up on XP, if you'd like, but when your character dies those points will vanish into the ether of frustration.

And it's starting to seem like your character will die a lot post-update. There's the necessity of sustenance, the Spider enemy's new ability to poison the player and the absolutely horrifying Enderman, a Slender Man-esque monster that teleports towards (and then murders) any player foolish enough to look at it. If you're unprepared for battle, get ready to die a whole bunch. Even if you are prepared, the Silverfish will probably still catch you by surprise. It hides in mineable blocks, waiting to attack anyone unfortunate enough to smash its home wide open.

To balance this increased danger, the Bow weapon is now a bit more useful for dispatching foes. Players can now hold down the fire button to charge up a shot, increasing its range and damage, making it perfect for taking out that faraway foe, but less than perfect for dispatching the Enderman who's already all up in your grill.

Then there are the randomly generated dungeons and villages, which will eventually be populated by Achievement-distributing boss monsters and quest-giving NPCs -- just not in this particular update. The promise of taking on tests of mettle in exchange for rare, raw materials that can be crafted into armaments in your campaign against a big bad monster is promising indeed, but the realization of that feature is still a bit further out.

The Adventure Update is a sturdy skeleton of what could be a wonderful game to be layered on top of Minecraft's sandbox world. If you're expecting that transition to occur with the title's next update, you're going to be sorely disappointed. But if you trust Mojang as much as I do, you'll see the Adventure Update as a delicious taste of things to come.

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